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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution

Published by: Namco Bandai
Developed by: Project Soul
Genre: Fighting
Players: 1-2
Rated: T (Teen)
Release Date: July 29, 2008
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Written by: Daniel Sims

From the beginning of this year itís been anticipated that 2008 would be when fighters completed the transition to this console generation and recovered from the slump of their increasingly insular nature. With functional online multiplayer and incredibly deep customization features, Soul Calibur IV seems to be the first major step in that wave of change as the first fighter to dominate friendís lists.

Soul Calibur has always been a fighter that balances depth and accessibility possibly better than any other, providing a game that is both inviting to average players and fulfilling for more dedicated fighting enthusiasts. Soul Calibur IV retains this feel in full.

Like previous iterations, Soul Calibur IV is largely an incremental update of the winning formula that Namcoís been using since 1999. While most of the minor changes made will only be noticed by the most dedicated players, most people will just see the newly added online play and tweaked single-player content as what renews this experience.

To keep players busy when thereís no one to fight with, past Soul Calibur games have provided impressive amounts of single-player content compared to other fighters through elaborate quest modes and lots of extra content like weapons, characters, stages, and artwork. Namco started to take things a little too far when SCIII tried to turn the game into an RTS, but in the midst of re-tuning things for IV theyíve found a whole new driving force behind the single-player experience of Soul Calibur.

Soul Calibur IVís main quest mode is the Tower of Lost Souls Ė basically just a trek through 60 floors of tag team battles (also new to this installment) which serve the same purpose as SCIIís Weapon Master Mode but without the storyline. Pretty straightforward, but what makes it so fulfilling is the insanely deep character customization.

Soul Calibur IV not only joins fighters like Tekken and Virtua Fighter in letting players customize their characters, but it leaps right over them. Through the tower and achievement-like objectives called ďhonors,Ē players can unlock hundreds of different clothing parts and accessories and spend hours creating new characters and altering the gameís main characters at levels never before seen in a fighter. That equipment, similar to the weapons from SCII but on a whole other level, also carries stats and enablers for skills that alter charactersí abilities, turning the Tower of Lost Souls into something not unlike an RPG.

At higher levels the Tower of Lost Souls does become extremely difficult though. Also, some players might complain about the absence of some of the flashier stuff from previous games like the Exhibition Theater and 3D character profiles, especially considering how beautiful Soul Calibur IV looks. The character customization nearly on its own however makes Soul Calibur IV a game that can easily be played for over 30 hours outside of the multiplayer.

Despite this, after those hours have passed, everythingís been unlocked, and the CPU has been mastered, what ultimately keeps any fighting game going has always been human competition. Online is the main component thatís saving fighters for those outside of the most hardcore, and the addition of it here and how well it works is whatís making Soul Calibur IV the first major force in the genre on this generation of consoles.

Soul Calibur IVís online functionality is pretty basic Ė just either randomly find a game or send and accept friend invites with no chat on the PS3, but what matters is that it works. Lag online is especially detrimental to fighters with timing as demanding as Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur, and the fact that I can fight online with friends the same way I would offline with only the most brief instances of lag says something. Devoted players may still prefer tournaments and such as the real way to play the game, but online has how become a reliable, functioning option for playing Soul Calibur.

Though Soul Calibur IV has some of the most visible additions to its core mechanics made in the seriesí history, it is the really devoted players who in time will see how those mechanics really changed the game, how characters have changed, and where their new potentials lie.

The two seemingly biggest changes made to Soul Calibur IVís fighting engine are armor breaks and critical finishes. If players guard too much or are hit with certain attacks, part of their clothing will come off and make that area of the body more vulnerable while also depleting whatís called the Soul Gauge. If this continues, the opponent will eventually earn a small window in which to end the round in a critical finish which is sort of like a fatality but in the middle of the match. On paper this sounds like it would change the game radically but in reality, it only happens when a very specific set of conditions are met and really only acts as an ultimate final failsafe against players who block excessively.

Possibly the only real disappointment with Soul Calibur IV is its slim addition to the character roster. The several bonus characters designed by manga artists are all clones of existing characterís moves, and aside from the Star Wars characters added, there are really only two new real Soul Calibur characters added here, one of whom is a boss.

The new regular character Hilde though seems like she could be a very good addition. Her lance and dagger make her proficient at both close and long range and the ability to charge after almost any attack promises some interesting possibilities. She also has a very sensible appearance about her thatís a needed break from a cast filled with overwhelmingly buxom females.

Out of the Star Wars characters, Darth Vader feels like the only one who was properly balanced for the game. Some might even say that he feels weak in the face of characters like The Apprentice from the upcoming game The Force Unleashed, whose abundance of quick and powerful but easy combos even makes the new final boss Algol feel like one of the least overpowered bosses to appear in a fighting game.

The tweaks made to the existing characters in the game include relatively minor stuff like how much Mitsurugi has stayed the same since Soul Calibur III, Kilikís new stance moves or his new transition, Yun-Seongís exploit for getting an easier critical finish on the CPU, and Xianghuaís possibly major new fake out stance. However the changes turn out, itís already evident that a lot of fans who left Soul Calibur after III are now returning for IV.

Bottom Line

As a fighting game, Soul Calibur IV is the same deep-but-approachable experience itís always been with tweaks to address concerins from III. As an experience however, functioning online play and single-player enhanced by an RPG-like level of customization make this game probably the most engrossing entry since the original.


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