Friday, 5 September 2008

Review: Soul Calibur IV

Format: Xbox 360 / PS3

Category: Beat 'Em Up
Players: 1-2
Publisher: Namco

Die by the sword

'Tis been awhile since I had a good session with a classic beat 'em up. In fact, the last time I went a few rounds was in Dead or Alive 4. I was rusty upon picking up the sword and unsure how sharp my skills would prove. Having never played a Soul Calibur game before this point the world around me was alien and the task of mastering this title was, at first, daunting. Then I just realised I was that damn good at gaming and had this sh*t beat within 45 mins.-ed

So, I'm being quick to establish that namco's latest is rather easy, even for journeyman sword wielders. It's also short on story and hardly anything groundbreaking. Graphically, it's just okay without being jaw dropping (like the first time you got a look at DOA3, amirite?). The dialogue for the story mode is as bad as any beat 'em up out there too. I opted to switch off the English translation as, mercifully, you can select to enable the Japanese voice over. The music is great and really keeps you locked into that fantasy mindset when in option screens etc.

It takes about 10 minutes to complete story mode with each character and on normal mode you'd have to be lacking in opposable thumbs to pull off anything but a pretty flawless beat down each time you take on the A.I. On Hard mode, sure it gets tougher. However, I can still pretty much smoke all comers.

Soul Calibur IV is not about an immersive story. It's not even about story mode. It's about unlocking stuff: swords, armour, characters, art work, stages, even photographs of plastic models; each painstakingly detailing the main figures from the game. Soul Calibur is also about the glorious Character Creator. This is one powerful and effective char creation system. It rivals the best 'wrestling' games out there and I'm showing my age by even stating, for the record, that that sentiment includes the 'glory days' wrestling titles on the N64.

Within hours I'd created a very convincing Blade, for instance. Just check YouTube for a wealth of player videos showing off their skillz with the character making. I've seen perfect Hulks, flawless Harry Potters, and even Heath Ledger's Joker. All look convincing and it takes a good system to pull this level of customisation off.

Soul Calibur IV has a decent fighting system too. It's not particularly technical when it comes to counters but blocking itself is vital. There is also just something very satisfying about using swords etc but I guess I'm about 5 years late in saying that considering this is the forth game in the franchise. There are a host of styles to chose from but it's quite patent that many are just gimmicky rather than potentially effective. The plethora of styles and weapons gives each fight a unique sense about it too.

Online, you can take IV into standard 1 on 1 modes that also allow up to 4 players to take turns fighting. It's very basic and with no tag mode I wasn't that impressed. I don't think many were expecting much out of it online though and this feature is just good enough considering the genre.

Out of all the unlockable characters, weapons, stages, and clothing perhaps the most bizarre inclusions are the Star Wars personalities of Yoda (360), Vader (PS3), and The Apprentice (both versions). Firstly, I was happy to see them. Secondly, someone needs to retire George Lucas, period. I got the sense whilst reading the in-game story behind Yoda's inclusion, for example, that Lucas had literally gone out of his way to justify to the world why this cross of worlds had occurred. You also just get this sense of holy sacrament whenever the Wars chars are involved with what unfolds story wise. It's like a Steven Seagal movie in the sense that you just know Lucas wants to make out his characters can and will pwn all of Soul Calibur's weaklings. I'm also convinced The Apprentice was just made to be way tougher to defeat than any other character in the game. This is perhaps a new stage in viral marketing; the aim being to send the message out that this guy is l33t and will be even l33ter in the upcoming game, The Force Unleashed. It's also a bit ridiculous that you can't give the lightsaber or 'force' style to any of your own created characters. As if relics of some greatness you can't access, these three characters are not to be edited or copied like the rest. Star Wars is Serious Business, after all.

There we have it. IV won't bring you to tears. It won't keep you up until 3am. It probably won't do much besides offer good old stress relief for a few minutes every other day. Upon completing it with every character, you can rest assured that arcade mode, versus, and the gimmicky 'tower' mode will keep you going for a good while. However, it's all about making your own brawlers and entering into battles against randomly generated A.I opponents - a feature that is available in versus mode. This is a solid weapons based beat 'em up and well worth a 'stab' - lol.-ed


+Solid fighting system
+Loads to unlock
+A very good character creation system
+/-That won't let you customise or use Star Wars content
-Weak and lacking story
-'Tower' mode could have been more

8.0 / 10

Hang in there, fellow gamers!

In a way, this is a continuation of my ranting from the previous post regarding the state of the games industry. However, I wish to offer light at the end of this year's dark tunnel for gamer. Firstly though, from what I have seen Mercenaries 2 is a terrible, unpolished, and bug ridden game that is actually inferior to the 2005 original. I'm not really surprised to hear this. I suspect the reasons behind Merc 2's failure are largely down to Pandemic struggling with the requirements and demands of 'next gen' programming. They were hoping PS2 era thrills would do it for the seekers of digital bliss. We've moved on.

I'm not looking to review Mercs 2 here. It would be unfair seeing as I haven't played it, but from what I can tell the game is abysmal and I'm no longer in the game of buying any old trash just so I can say I've played it. I only pick up worthy games nowadays.

In my last post I went on a rant about how Hell's Highway was shaping up. Well, it now looks like things aren't perhaps as gloomy for Gearbox's FPS. Apparently there is a co-op mode, according to this article anyway, and on top of this the multiplayer sounds pretty varied and large scale. Also, I'm now just beginning to sense the single player game really won't disappoint. It looks like a seriously mature and realistic experience from all I have seen and I can't wait to finally play it later in the month.

So, my message to the 'next gen' gamers is to hang in there. 2008 has been a terrible year for games up until now. We are all still playing those big '07 releases and waiting for the likes of Gears of War 2, Left for Dead, the aforementioned Hell's Highway, and wackier stuff such as the PS3's Little Big Planet. I'm sure that these titles will end 2008 with a gaming bang.

It is also interesting to see how 2009 is shaping up. Hopefully, early '09 will mark the start of a grand new step for the PS3. If Home, the free 3d MMO lobby-like Second Life clone, is as good as Sony are claiming I might even finally get around to picking up a PS3. That, alongside the release of Killzone 2, might finally mark a point where the PS3 can truly say it has something unique and worthy of praise over the 360 - besides Metal Gear.

Microsoft's pending Dashboard update for fall this year looks like a scarily Wii-like pretender in comparison. I just hope you can turn OFF the childish avatars upon updating the console and revert to the old layout. However, the idea of a dashboard party mode that launches into a game and therefore doesn't rely on that game to exist sounds very attractive - and it's about time this party mode as a console feature element entered the fray.

I'm about done with this one. I will review Hell's Highway later in the month. From then on I hope to be immersed in gaming and primed for Gears 2!