Soul Calibur IV
Soul Calibur still burns!
Soul Calibur IV is a strong fighter, but its edge is beginning to dull.
- Truly splendid visuals with plenty of colour, Fast-paced fighting with tight controls
- The same game you've been playing for years, lacklustre online play and boring Story modes
This is a good game, but not a great one. I hope that the next Soul Calibur truly reinvigorates the look, feel, and energy of this majestic series.
Soul Calibur IV hits the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 with gorgeous new graphics, more detailed create-a-character options, and the same sword-clashing fights featured in the last four games. Speaking as a moderate fan of the series, I was hoping that Soul Calibur IV would reignite my passion for this well-respected fighter. What I got was more of the same, only prettier and more polished. Soul Calibur IV is undeniably the best version of an already great fighter, but outside of the Star Wars guest characters, there's little here that will surprise and delight newcomers or veterans.
Souls and Swords
In this fighting game, two players clash with exotic medieval weapons. You can win by slashing your opponent to ribbons, or by knocking him out of the ring. The chief difference between Soul Calibur IV and fighters like Tekken 5 is the presence of a Guard button, which you must hold in order to fend off enemy attacks. By tapping away or forward while guarding, you can deflect your enemy's weapon and open them up for a rapid counterattack. During these moments, Soul Calibur IV is at its best: the matches are fast, fierce, and very enjoyable.
Outside of the core fighting experience, though, Soul Calibur IV brings little new to the table. Single-player types can play the new Tower of Lost Souls mode, which is a welcome way to extend the life of the single-player game. In this mode, you fight a series of increasingly difficult opponents as you climb the tower, unlocking gold (spent on character customisations) and new items as you progress. Character creation is another high point: you can imbue your fighters with magical garments, or create a completely original character using colour selection tools and a huge number of outfit options. Online, I encountered a player who had customised his fighter to look like The Joker from The Dark Knight. And YouTube videos are already demonstrating fan-made Supermen, Solid Snakes, and Links.
Win Some, Lose Some
Other additions don't fare as well, particularly Soul Calibur IV's disappointing new online play. You'll find a smattering of online versus modes, but the interface and features are miles behind even Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection Online, a mere downloadable game. It's a surprisingly barebones implementation, but I'm hopeful that Namco Bandai will enhance this no-frills matchmaking with future game updates.
Visually, the game is just spectacular. From the fluid fighting styles to the kaleidoscopic arenas, Soul Calibur IV is one of the most lavish-looking games on either the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3. Speaking of which, there aren't many differences between the two versions, though the PS3 version looks a bit crisper and benefits from the DualShock 3's superior directional pad.
While writing this article, I looked back on my Soul Calibur III review and was alarmed by the similarities in both write-ups. This line grabbed me: "Namco can't continue to pile on more moves, game modes, and graphical enhancements; at some point, something's gotta give."
I'm sorry to report that Soul Calibur IV is inching dangerously close to that point of "something's gotta give." It's fundamentally the same game as Soul Calibur III, only with more fighters, an online mode, and more create-a-character customisations. It's remarkably well produced and visually sumptuous, but its appeal remains limited to hardcore fighting veterans and casual button-mashers.
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