ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Hours Played: 12
Progress: Completed Story Mode with all characters
I still remember the original Soul Edge as one of the defining 3D fighters on the PS1. That generation spawned many great fighting games but the forerunner to what would eventually be the Soul Calibur series already set itself apart with solid fight mechanics, good graphics and weapons based combat.
Many fighting game fans have been looking forward to the next Soul Calibur addition to the series for the new generation of consoles. While the weapons based combat is still a staple of the franchise, its solid graphics, character design and innovation have won new fans over the years. The game’s innovation has come from a variety of different directions; Soul Calibur has featured an adventure-style story mode, a create-a-fighter mode and special guest characters. It is especially the latter which has garnered the series some hype and interest.
This time around some well known characters from the Star Wars universe make their introduction to the Soul Calibur arena in the form of Yoda for the Xbox 360 version and Darth Vader for the PS3 version, we reviewed the PS3 version of the game. New guest characters are great, however they’re only a small part of the overall game play experience. With Soul Calibur 4 the story mode has taken a step back to the more traditional: the player progresses from arena to arena with the boss character Algol, holder of the two “Soul” swords, as the final destination. The popular character creation option is back once again but hasn’t been expanded upon from the previous game. Any of the main characters can be used as the overall “template” for your customer warrior, and will determine the weapons style, body type and move set. The number of items and weapons available for customization out of the box is very limited, the player has to earn these items by playing through the story- and “tower” mode where you can either earn money to buy new items, or unlocking them by meeting certain match conditions.
In addition to some (mostly) well designed bonus characters and of course Vader, the main new additions to the line up are Zasalamel who wields an imposing sickle and Hilde: a heavily-armed young female knight wielding a lance and short sword. The character design in Soul Calibur 4 is solid; the fighters have detailed and imaginative costumes but are of course mainly defined by their weapons. The move set is a little less impressive, as there are only so many different ways you can swing a weapon, resulting in characters being more defined by their armament than their special moves. Vader makes a solid addition to the line-up, he’s a big and powerful character with fluid moves and a decent range. My main gripe with both him and Yoda is that they seem to clash with the feudal-Japanese setting of the game and take the player out of the Soul Calibur universe somewhat.
The controls consist of a light attack, heavy attack, kick, block and throw- button. Most moves comprise of a directional press of the thumb stick along with a press of one or more of the attack buttons. The game is fairly “button mash” friendly, allowing new players to get some traction right away, veterans will appreciate the counter and side step options as a way to combat this. The tower mode is a challenging diversion from the rather mundane story line and puts the player in various combat scenarios which usually involve holding out against numerous adversaries, with special items in the balance if certain conditions are met.
The graphics are solid, the character design is quite detailed and the animations are fluid. Polygon seeming could’ve been a bit smoother but the main problem with the graphics is that they don’t have enough “oomph” for a next generation fighter. The main point of critique I have with fighters is that they don’t always use their full graphical potential. Whereas most games use part of their resources to render exhaustive landscapes, stages, enemies and effects (think Oblivion for instance), fighting games have only the characters and stages to contend with. This means that the bulk of memory and processing power can be spent on the fighters and as a result they should look notably better than the characters in other games; Dead Or Alive on the original Xbox is a good example of this. Soul Calibur’s warriors look good, but not spectacular and the environments could’ve done with a bit more detail. The objects and scenery in the different stages are fairly simplistic, and unlike other fighters they’re not very interactive; warriors can’t be smashed through walls or floors to other levels and there’s no interaction with items or backdrops in the stages.
The audio is forgettable with bland music but spirited sound effects. The English voice acting won’t win any awards but there’s an option for the Japanese originals.
Gameplay-wise Soul Calibur 4 feels a bit empty: there aren’t many game modes and both the character creation and story mode have been done before. The tower mode is challenging but not incredibly innovative so it all comes back to the tried-and-true weapon based combat, which is still as fun as ever. The addition of online play severely extends the game life and the ability to see a wide variety of different user-created warriors is certainly a big plus.
Detailed characters and vibrant colors but mediocre stage design and effects hold it back a little.
Some grandiose stage themes, but in the end forgettable tunes and effects are bundled with poor English voice-overs.
Solid weapon-based combat doesn’t get old, not many game modes though and the ones that are available, aren’t very innovative.
Challenging tower mode, always entertaining versus mode and now online play make this the longest-lasting Soul Calibur to date.
Some truly new and innovative graphics and game modes are needed to bring the series back to “elite” status, but in the mean time Soul Calibur 4 offers a solid and dependable fighting experience with a good selection of well designed characters and the best weapon-based combat around.