Review by RuckAthos

"It's Okay... Exceptionally Okay"

This review is for Soulcalibur IV on the XBox 360. Soulcalibur IV is a one-on-one fighting game that, unlike many others in the genre, utilizes melee weapons throughout. It is a visually appealing game with a wide selection of playable characters and, as of the time of writing, a flourishing online community.

Gameplay: 4/10
Soulcalibur IV certainly does not have the easiest controls I've ever seen. I've never played a Soulcalibur game before, but even so, I really fail to see the logic behind labeling your attacks as “A, B, K, G.” G made sense, being that it was used to “guard,” and when paired with another button, often performed a grapping maneuver of some sort. K, logically, stands for kick. But on a controller that has “A” and “B” as two of the buttons on it's interface, placing those corresponding actions anywhere else on the control pad made it a chore figuring out how to do any of the more elaborate attacks in a character's move set. It's also all but essential to lean the attacks of a character inside and out if you plan to be decent online; playing the game extensively for four days (and being no stranger to these fighting-type games), I got my butt kicked by most of my online competition, and usually because they were able to perform one nie unblockable move ad nauseum. As far as CPU difficulty, there are some entertaining challenges to be found in game modes like the Tower of Lost Souls, good for new and experienced players alike, but regarding the raw “normal” and “hard” difficulties found in story mode, there's not much to boast about. Performing one or two grappling maneuvers in repeated succession is usually enough to breeze through the normal difficulty. Having played the hard difficulty only once (to get the achievement), I had no problem beating the entire story mode within an hour on the very first night; not terribly impressive for a person new to the series.

Customization: 8/10
I'm adding this category because, being a very creative person myself, I greatly enjoy it when a developer gives me the option of doing any manner of customization in their game. In this case, you can revise and improve (or worsen, if you really want) the pre-existing characters. More importantly, though, you can create your own characters! The created characters are given a wide variety of clothing and accessories to choose from at the onset of the game, and even more as you unlock them through playing story mode, Tower of Lost Souls, and earning achievements. It really seems that a good deal of attention was paid to this create-a-character option, as the created characters (if given the proper attention in the creation process) can look just as realistic as those built into the game. My one qualm with this is the statistics attached to each article of clothing and accessory that the character wears. While it does contribute to a sense of realism (ie. you won't find a guy in a fundoshi with 200% defense and HP), it can prove to be a pain if you want your character to look a certain way. Nevertheless, I will praise the create-a-character function in this game for two important traits: 1) There aren't many (if any) accessories that don't fit within the game's universe, so in playing online and seeing other users' created characters, you won't come across much that will wreck the continuity. 2) Realistic physics is attached to every article of clothing that the character wears, from the way it flows when the character moves, to the way it should weigh down and restrict a character's movement. Bravo, Project Soul. You could teach THQ a thing or two.

Story: 2/10
Speaking of the story, I had heard it was short, but this was truly disappointingly minimal. Every character's story differs, but most of the back-story is revealed through slow-scrolling text which, if you're like me, you wholly ignore after reading it for two or three characters. Each character's story is five chapters long (ie. five matches, with varying numbers of opponents and allies, from one to four). By playing as certain characters, you will encounter other hidden characters in the game, which you unlock by defeating. Characters with history in the series may be paired up as allies or enemies in the story mode, which gives a nice sense of continuity to the game's universe, but it still isn't nearly enough to save the laughably-short campaign.

Graphics: 9/10
This game is very visually appealing. Bright and colorful levels, coupled with vibrant characters and ostentatious combination attacks, makes for a very sensually appealing game. Clothing realistically moves and flows with the character. Maybe that's no big deal to some, but I personally found that attention to physics appealing. While you're not going to be spending too much time admiring them in a fight, the various stages are all beautifully designed, with only a negligible few that stand out as being overly-simplistic.

Sound: 7/10
This shouldn't be a real deterrent; sound is a tough one to grade. There's nothing overtly amazing about the sound in Soulcalibur, but there's nothing it does to detract from the gameplay too much. In the beginning of each match and after the match is won, the characters will say something. Usually it's just a little generic quip, hyping themselves up or otherwise revealing a little about the character's personality. Once in a while, though, you get a real hackneyed gem like “my ally, the force is” or some equally silly and irrelevant comment. Some of the voice actors really seemed to enjoy performing their lines, giving their characters believable dialogue, whereas others seem like they were taken straight from the cast of Two Worlds and were only looking for a paycheck.

Replay Value: 6/10
Without XBox Live, the replay value of this game is very limited, unless you are a big fan of the series and addicted to achievement points. The shallow story mode probably isn't enough to keep anyone interested for very long, and even if you play through it with every available character, it still probably won't take you more than 10-15 hours making reasonable progress. With XBox Live, I still wouldn't speak too highly of the replayability unless you are a big fan of the series. I found it rather dull and repetitive after a couple fights, and like I mentioned before, if you don't know the ins and outs of your character, prepare to take a beating from those who do (which are not as few-and-far-between as you might expect). If you have XBox Live, are a huge fan of the series, and are completely achievement-obsessed, then I could recommend this game to you in good faith. There's nothing critically flawed about the gameplay; it just strikes me as shallow.

Overall: 6/10
This isn't an average. Overall, there's nothing wrong with the game, but there's nothing I found to be really special or unique; nothing I wouldn't hope for from Tekken 6 or Mortal Kombat vs. DC. Soulcalibur is a visually beautiful game, but in every other way, it just feels average or, as in the case of the story mode, simplistic. Fans of the series will probably find nothing wrong with it and, thusly, that's certainly the demographic to whom I'd recommend Soulcalibur IV. To the casual gamer though… look for something else.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 08/07/08

Game Release: SoulCalibur IV (US, 07/29/08)

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