Review by Mushdog
A better fighter than SC3, but lacking in features
Having been a fan of this series since it's inception, I had very high hopes for this installment. Many people agreed that SoulCalibur 3 was a downgrade in the gameplay from Soul Calibur 2, but SC3 did have something great going for it. An engrossing single player campaign in the form of a lengthy story mode and a semi-cheesy strategy game. In this you used your Create-a-Soul character (a first for the series) to fight characters and unlock more parts. It was a very fun game, if only for the single player and create-a-soul aspects.
However, the AI in the game was schizophrenic; it would jump from simple to very difficult and back. Also, the game had balancing issues.
So, along comes SoulCalibur 4. The game that was going to play like SC2, and have the options that made SC3 so much fun to play despite it's inherent flaws. This did not happen; maybe I was expecting too much.
I've gotta say, the graphics in this game are incredible, as they usually are for the series. This game looks amazing; the character models, textures, and backgrounds look beautiful. The game looks as good running as it does in stills. There don't seem to be as many backgrounds in this as in previous games, but that's not really a big deal. As expected from this series, 10/10
While the game hasn't been out very long, it seems to be a positive improvement from the previous game. The game plays surprisingly well on the 360 controller. Returning characters have all received tweaks; some minor, some major (if you thought Ivy was difficult to play before, you haven't seen anything yet). Either way, most players will find new ways to play their old favorites, while new-comers shouldn't find it too hard to pick up and play. The SC series is loaded with beginner-friendly characters (Mitsurugi, Sophitia, etc). The New Star Wars characters are fun to play, especially the Apprentice, although Yoda seems more gimmicky than anything else. I don't have the PS3 version, so I can't comment on how Vader plays.
The gameplay is a definite upgrade from SC3, with the guard impact timing seeming to me to be much less forgiving this time (the developers have gone "just input" crazy, now requiring the player to just input guard impacts to get the same advantage as previous guard impacts. Normal impacts only give you a slight, slight advantage). Grab a friend who hopefully doesn't button mash and you're going to have a great time. The large roster of fighters, custom characters, and nice additions to the returning characters will keep you playing for a long time 10/10.
I'm giving this it's own section because IMO, it's what sets this series apart from other fighters (talking console versions, of course). The idea of finding and unlocking all of your characters weapons, each with their different abilities, was a lot of fun, and added a lot of replay to usually shallow fighters. The single player story mode in this game is a SERIOUS downgrade from the previous game. The character story modes last a total of five fights and can be completed in 5-10 minutes, depending on how good you are. No hidden battles, no multiple paths, and very little story. I know it's a fighting game, but why take some out when it was so enjoyable? All the character's weapons become unlocked, you just have to buy them. You also have standard arcade mode, but that only lasts seven fights. Very underwhelming. You can't adjust the difficulty in story mode (that I know of), and you choose between two difficulties in arcade, neither of which being all that difficult.
The big addition is the tower of lost souls. It consists of 60 floors you ascend, using either your custom characters or buffed standard characters in order to earn money and unlock items for create-a-soul. Honestly, this mode isn't much fun. There's no story, and the difficulty fluctuates from ridiculously easy to very, very difficult as you progress through the floors. It is the best way to earn money for Create-a-soul parts. There is also a descend mode were you take 2 characters and have to beat all 20 floors without dieing, defeating boss characters (who are ridiculously hard) every 5 floors. You die, you start from the beginning. This is the real challenge mode, and if you don't have your characters equipped with the right skills, is near impossible. For single player 5/10. Big let down.
This bring me to the other unique aspect of the SC series, Create-a-Soul.
SC3 was the first in the series to include a custom character mode, and it was a very good first outing. There were many parts and options for both male and female characters, and players could even give their creations custom weapons exclusive to the custom characters. Granted, most of these weren't useful or balanced, but it was still fun to play with them. The Create-a-Soul in SC4 is also a downgrade from the previous game, unfortunately. The character models look much better, and the scaling options are much more robust. However, there are less parts to choose from, especially for the male fighters, and all the custom weapons are gone from the previous game. Every character you make will be a clone of the standard characters. You cannot use the "souls" of the star wars characters or any of the bonus characters, even though the bonus characters are just clones of standard characters with their own unique weapons.
The biggest addition to the CaS is the inclusion of abilities attached to CaS parts. Yes, every part has it's own stats, that you must juggle in order to create stronger fighters. When playing tower of lost souls, it's imperative that you equip your character with parts that boost their stats (like health, attack power, or abilities that make you invisible, or increase block damage), and they end up looking ridiculous because of it (a mish-mash of parts, just so you can reach 200% health, kind of a necessity, or any of the other abilities you want).
The same is applied to standard characters, who also must be "created." You customize the standard characters using CaS parts and equip them weapons. Yeah, no longer can you just choose what weapon you want to play with before a match. Each character has edit slots where you equip them with different weapons, parts, etc. So if you want Kilik to use all of his weapons, you have to create a different Kilik for each weapon. Lame. You get 50 edit slots to play with; don't waste them. This mode was a huge disappointment to me. 5/10.
As previously stated, the gameplay is a lot of fun, and you can use your custom characters in both standard and custom modes (essentially meaning with CaS part abilities and equipped abilities off or on, respectively). However, team battle is STILL missing...........ugh.
Playing SC4 on Live is fun when there's no lag. The first time I played online, I caught so much lag, I couldn't even tell I was controlling my character. Overall, it's not bad though. You've got ranked and non-ranked matches. Be aware of the many button mashers online. Hey, SC can be very button mash friendly, but we know this.
Either way, SC4 is a fighting game, and versus mode's where the gameplay really shines. The omission of team battle cannot be ignored, however. 8/10
SoulCalibur 4 is a really fun, really good looking fighting game. Is it the best in the series? No, I still say Soul Calibur 2 is the best. SC4 plays a lot better than SoulCalibur 3, but lacks a lot of the previous game's features.
Overall SC4 gets an 8/10. If you don't care at all about the single player omissions, bump my score to a 9/10.
Hopefully with the gameplay tuned, the next game will include the depth that SC3 had to create the definitive SoulCalibur experience.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: SoulCalibur IV (US, 07/29/08)
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