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Soul Calibur 4

Developer: Namco Bandai | Publisher: Namco Bandai
Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 07/29/08 | Genre: Fighting

The Soul Calibur series is one of gaming's most celebrated fighting franchises. The series' unique weapons-based fighting system and lengthy quest modes have endeared it with fans around the world. Now Soul Calibur IV has been released and marks the first entry for the franchise on current generation hardware. Does the latest SC release live up to the expectations set by its predecessors?

The short answer would be "not quite." Soul Calibur IV certainly looks the part; the detailed character models and interactive environments look gorgeous with the 360's power behind them. Animations and special effects are also looking pretty, but further investigation reveals a few shortcomings that keep this game from reaching the level of greatness set by earlier entries in the series.

One of the big drawbacks is the incredibly short story mode. After receiving the game, I put the disc in the console and ten minutes later I was watching the credits roll. The story mode lasts a paltry five rounds. Those five rounds are also decided by single knockout and while you do fight multiple opponents in most rounds, they rarely last longer than two minutes.

The story mode being so short is disappointing, but SC IV does offer a variety of game modes to help mix things up. On the single player side you have story mode, arcade mode, training and Tower of Lost Souls. Then there are the multiplayer modes which include versus battle for local players and an online option that lets you compete in ranked or player matches with other users from anywhere on the planet. The game also features a museum mode where you can spend gold earned from playing to buy things such as character illustrations and promotional materials. Finally there is also the character creation mode which lets you customize existing characters or create new ones from scratch.

The character creation mode is one of the game's highlights as it lets you get pretty detailed with your characters. You can choose from dozens of different armor options and customize head gear, shoulder pads, upper and lower body armor, underwear, gloves and footwear. You can change the color of each piece of equipment and also add special gear to your character. You can choose the fighting style and weapon the character uses and you can buy additional armor and weapons with your gold. There are literally thousands of voice options for your character as you start with one of several base options and can move the pitch up or down within certain limits. Of course standard creation features are there as well such as choosing your character's face, hair style and hair color.

Unfortunately the other game modes aren't quite up to par with the character creator. The arcade mode is essentially a slightly longer version of story mode and the Tower of Lost Souls addition which has replaced the quest mode feels a bit weak too. The mode allows you to ascend the tower or descend fighting enemies along the way. As you go, meeting certain requirements can net you some treasure; the requirements vary, but you usually get some kind of a hint at the start of the match as to what you need to do.

The multiplayer additions to Soul Calibur IV are where we begin to see some of the real problems. The online play feels like it was added as an after thought and is a usability disaster. The quick match option is supposed to find you a match and pit you against another opponent, but more often than not, you sit there while it finds a match at which point the game informs you that the match is already full and you must restart your search. It makes you wonder why the game even bothered trying to put you in a match that's already full or why it doesn't automatically look for a different match. Instead you have to button through the popup boxes and hit the quick match button again.

The custom match option is even more of a pain than quick match because it allows you to set search conditions to find matches with opponents within a certain level range of your own and also with specific time details. Once you set your search conditions and begin looking for matches, the game will display a list of matchups that meet your search criteria. Here again we run into the problem where upon selecting which match to join it usually ends up being full already. To make matters worse, the game does not retain the conditions you set and boots you out to the menu where you will have to once more set your conditions and try again. This quickly begins to feel like a waste of time and leaves one wondering why the game doesn't simply retain your search conditions and refresh the lobby. The last option allows you to set up your own room and wait for players, but sitting around doing nothing isn't much more fun than buttoning through popups or repeatedly setting up search options.

To the game's credit, when you do finally manage to get into an online match it runs almost perfectly. I have yet to fight a match with noticeable lag. I found this very surprising and also quite refreshing after the choppy matchups of Dead or Alive 4. By battling online you can unlock multiplayer achievements and level up your skill. Each player starts at level 1 and as you play you will gain experience points toward the next level. Obviously you gain a lot more when you win, but losing will net you at least a little bit of experience as well.

There are some nice additions to Soul Calibur IV such as the armor damage and devastating finishing moves. Also, the impact attacks are nice against opponents who have an obsession with blocking. The fighters in SC IV can use certain skills as well. Certain equipment may change which skills you can use, but the skills themselves add a new element to the game with things like invisibility, unblockable attacks, HP bonuses and speed enhancements. If you find the skills aren't too your liking you can edit them in the character creator or you can chose to play without them in most modes.

Soul Calibur IV also introduces several new characters beyond the special Star Wars cameos. Hilde is an interesting new character who uses both a long range weapon and a short sword so that you're ready for any opponent. Algol is the new boss character and has the powers of Soul Edge and Soul Calibur making him a force to be reckoned with. Then there are also special bonus characters such as Angol Fear, Scheherazade, and my personal favorite, Shura. It seems like the developers have taken a page from Itagaki's book of bounce with these busty new lasses and we're certainly not complaining. When it's all said and done, SC IV has tons of fighters to choose from; over thirty in total. Even with the brief story mode, you could spend quite a while trying to finish the game with all of them.

Soul Calibur IV is a good game, but falls short of greatness with the underwhelming single player modes and while the online play is great when you finally get to play a match, it is simply too much of a hassle to bother with. I mean really, it can't remember your search settings? This seems like something that wouldn't have taken much more effort to flesh out but somehow got overlooked in the final product. It is also extremely annoying that the game attempts to put you in a match that's already full and then leaves it up to you to reinitiate a search. It is really a shame the team didn't address these issues; the game is fun to play, but it just feels like it's not quite finished.

By Ryan Schaefer - 08/18/08
ESRB Details: Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence

Screenshots for Soul Calibur 4

Heavenly Sword

Post-E3 2008: MAG: Massive Action Game