Friday, August 1, 2008

Soulcalibur IV Review (PS3 and Xbox360)

When it comes to fighting games, there seems to be three types of categories. The first is your over-the-top fighters like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat which rely on special attacks with out-of-this world characters. The second category is the complete opposite with realistic actions and move-sets that use real fighting techiques, like Virtua Fighter. The third category is your fighting with weapons, and the game that best fits that group has been for many years the Soul series of games.

Soulcalibur for years has been among the best known and probably easiest to pick up fighting games around. You have your selection of characters, each with a weapon, and you duke it out. Your basic moves are the horizontal or vertical slash, kick or grab. Unlike other fighting games where you press back to block, here you press one of the face buttons. To do grabs or other special moves, you’ll have to combine face buttons, but for the most part, it’s very easy to learn, but will take time to master.

The Soulcalibur games in the past have contained your basic arcade mode and a story based mode. Soulcalibur IV continues this, but the story mode this time around is extremely short, with only 5 stages. In previous versions you would have spent a lot of time in this mode, but this time, it takes the back seat to the other modes and can be completed in about 10 minutes. The two modes which you’ll spend the most time with are the Tower of Lost Souls and the Character Creator.

In Tower of Lost Souls, you take a number of characters (depending on the level) and travel either up or down a ‘Tower’ of enemies. The motr levels you go up, the extra in-game money you receive and bonus stuff you’ll unlock. This is a great and extremely challenging mode since as you progress further up or down (depending on the mode you select) the characters get much stronger and challenging. You will get frustrated, but it is a strong addition to the game. As you get further in the game, you will unlock points/money to use in the other solid mode, Character Creator.

Soulcalibur IV gives you the ability to essentially create a character from scratch. You’ll take a template and then you can adjust just about anything from armour, weapons and abilities which will affect your character that can be used in various modes, including online. There are already a plethora of interesting characters created by people that include famous fighters from other games and even a few super-heroes (check out YouTube for examples). At the same time, you can adjust characters already available and unlock characters that are not available from the start.

Just because there is a Character Creator option, does not mean that the selection of available characters is weak. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. All the characters, both returning and new, work really well. The only down-side to the characters is the bonus characters: Yoda, Vader and The Apprentice. Yoda just seems out of place, Vader is ok, but nothing rspecial while The Apprentice seems a bit too powerful for his own good. All three look great, but it’s better to stick to the regular cast when playing either against the computer or with your friends.

The graphics in the game are great but nothing absolutely incredible. The character models work well and so do the environments, as you would expect with a Namco title. A nice addition to the game is that character armour deteriorates as you fight. If your character attacks a certain part of the body (head, torso or legs) repeatedly, your opponent will lose that part of armour. This is a great little addition since you can essentially turn your opponent completely ‘nude’ and dish out massive damage.

The game’s sound is also great but I preferred to play the game with the Japanese voiceovers rather than the English ones. This is ok, except for the fact that if you play with either of the two bonus characters (Vader/Yoda and the Apprentice), they don’t speak in their normal language. The game’s famous Voice-over is still there and continues to narrate the game as you play. The in-game music is also still quite memorable and fits with the levels (meaning the Star Wars levels have famous Star Wars songs when playing in them).

Soulcalibur moves into the world of online fighting and thanks to the Character Creator, you can really have some interesting fights. Because of that fact, you might not actually fight against one of the main characters. The lag is hit-or-miss but for the most part, you’ll be able to play some decent matches, unless you have a ‘drop’ with the person you are playing against.

It is a bit of a disappointment that the Story mode was reduced, but thanks to the Tower of Lost Souls, Character Creator and Online play, there is enough use in this game that you will be spending a lot of time with it. You’ll want to play the other options because of what it will unlock with the Character Creators.

Thanks to the to the easy to learn controls, new players in the series will not take too long to get used to the controls and at the same time, veterans will have a lot options to master the game, giving it that great balance for all. I can easily recommend this Fantastic game and suggest if you have even the slightest interest in fighting games that you pick this up. With small selection of fighting games available right now, you will be playing this until the next Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter IV hits the streets and that won’t be for at least another few months.

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