Name: Soulcalibur IV
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
The original Soulcalibur is seen as one of the best fighters ever made, and back when it was released on the Dreamcast it received a perfect score from the normally implacable reviewers at Famitsu. Its sequel shocked the world when it was released on three separate platforms, each receiving an exclusive character to add to the mix. This time the game is pulling a similar stunt as Soulcalibur IV is released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with Star Wars’ own Yoda and Darth Vader working their way onto the 360 and PS3 versions respectively. With several other fighting series falling flat as they transitioned to the current generation, SCIV looked to be the beacon of hope (until Street Fighter IV comes out).
Soulcalibur IV plays nearly identically to the other games in the series, throwing two fighters into the ring to battle each other using powerful melee weapons. There are some changes from the predecessors, like the addition of the Soul Gauge (effectively replacing weapon destruction from Soulcalibur III), which allows players to execute thrilling finishing moves against players who overuse the pesky “block” command. There are several different modes to choose from in both single and multiplayer variations, and the game has a well functioning online system via Xbox Live.
The artificial intelligence in the game does very little to break from the fighting game stigma. On normal the AI is generally a joke, allowing for any player to beat it senseless without trouble. Once bumped to a harder setting, the AI can land ridiculous combos that cannot be dodged, mercilessly juggle you in the air, and keep you in a state of permanent annoyance. While it’s far from the excessively cheap AI mechanics of games like Dead or Alive it will still have some gamers gnawing at the plastic of the controller and spouting obscenities. However, unlike last generation’s fighting games, none of this matters due to online play. Thanks to Xbox Live you will always have an actual player to fight against, and even if your ass is soundly whooped, the games mechanics cannot be blamed. With an interesting experience and leveling system the game will also attempt to pit you against players of equal level, keeping an even playing field for newcomers and veterans alike.
Graphics and sound are as good as can be expected. The game features a fantastic musical score and voice acting, with the only exception being the awful droning voice of the announcer, who constantly spouts unnecessary information before each battle. It isn’t uncommon to hear such nonsense as “the path of the warrior is tied to his sword, and the sword’s life is tied to destiny” or something to that effect. Luckily, the other character’s voices succeed in overriding the announcers and the guttural grunts and moans of the combatants are as good as ever. Their character models are also fantastic, and the addition of destructible equipment, which weakens certain parts of the player, is a good way to tie the cosmetic changes in the battle to the technicalities of the gameplay. Levels and backgrounds don’t work their way into the combat in interesting ways like they do in some other fighters, but there is enough variation in the level design to keep the fights from getting bland.
For the first time in any fighting game I feel as though the character creator can produce players that seem to fit the game. It could be because of the huge library of items to choose from, it could be due to the limitations of copying styles, or it could be because the regular characters of the Soulcalibur series are so strange its harder to find someone that doesn’t fit than it is to find someone who does. The additions of Yoda and The Apprentice even fit the game’s atmosphere, despite being annoyingly cheap to the level of banning. Playing through the game’s multiple single-player modes unlocks money and different items and upgrades to spend them on, giving Soulcalibur IV a much longer shelf life than most fighters.
The game is far from perfect, that is to be sure, and it does little to further the dwindling fighting game genre. That said, the additions that have been added work in the game’s favor and make it the best fighting game this generation. The customization, online play, and great game mechanics make this title a must-purchase for any fan of the series, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to explore the genre.