Soul Calibur, as with many fighting games, has struggled over the last few years to maintain positive feedback with each new instalment. Soul Calibur 4 takes the leap onto the next generation consoles and comes packed with promises of an experience that many deem extinct. Any fighting genre fan will no doubt agree that the original Soul Calibur was one of the best fighting games ever made, and we can all only hope that the promises made for the latest instalment are kept.
Jumping right into the menu you will find a fantastic array of choices as modes are strewn throughout the game, showing far more than the typical arcade mode of simplistic one on one fighting. Worry not though, as Arcade mode is still there in-between all the other modes. Standing alongside it is Story mode, allowing you to experience the story of each character in the game (typically lasting no more than twenty minutes in length each) with varied fighting scenarios, such as 1on4 or 3on3. Secondly we have the Tower of Lost Souls, a mode specifically for endurance bouts of lasting several enemy encounters with a specified party of your own. The twist to this game mode is that each floor of the tower you progress (or descend), a different theme awaits. This could be anything from double damage right through to an increased ‘ring out’ chance (ah the lovable ring out mechanic survives). Last of the single player game modes is Training, which as self explanatory as that is, provides the chance to hone your skills against a CPU of your choosing.
This would not be Soul Calibur without the chance to obliterate friends and family, so swiftly moving onto the Versus modes which will no doubt get the most use by many. Two different versus modes offer basic play without equipment and weapon effects, and advanced play with equipment and weapon effects enabled. Whilst the difference seems minor, a player who has unlocked many items will easily destroy a new player wearing the most basic of equipment. Both of these modes can be taken online to complete with players from around the world, who will more than likely (as enjoyed first hand) provide the best chance of handing your arse to you on a silver platter. Working beautifully online, completely lag free, you will typically find yourself in a round robin style of match, where in a lobby of several the winner will stay on, as the next challenger watches you perform.
As with most fighting games, real life counterparts are required to truly have an interesting battle that does not either fall on the side of AI stupidity or insane god like human juggling. You will no doubt have many battles with the CPU that are extremely enjoyable, but I could not help but stumble on many occasions where the enemies would stand to a beating on normal difficulty, or keep my lifeless body in the air till death on hard difficulty; the balance could be extremely varied at times. And as with unbalanced bouts of ability come sheer frustration as more often than not a loss would come in the form of the beloved “ring out” declaration. It comes as a surprise that the fourth instalment of the series still possess relatively small stages and a large emphasis on knockback abilities to turn the tide of a losing battle.
On the upside, getting your arse kicked around a small stage by moronic AI is a whole lot easier to digest when it all looks so fantastic. Everything from the detailed environments to the bustling characters looks fantastic and fit perfectly in place. The female character models particularly deserve a mention, if just to give the poor developers who slaved to create the perfect jiggle for months on end a pat on the back. Character designs range from monstrous giants wielding weapons the size of normal men, to slender characters with speedy weapons, the crazed body spinning aliens and lastly the freakishly endless supply of under dressed females that are literally falling out of their outfits. All of these, of course, fall to the feet of everyone’s favourite pint sized goblin Yoda, who is available from the offset and proves to be a fantastic addition to the line-up with a great array of abilities. Whilst the characters do look fantastic as seen in the screenshots shown, the real beauty is seen when they are in full motion. The animations for all movement and attacks are simply remarkable.
Amazingly the best feature of the game is not found when using the characters, but creating your own. The depth and flexibility of the character creation system is remarkable and allows you to create any character you wish. You can tailor one of the current characters to fix your preferred system by altering their weapons, skills, clothes or general appearance. Alternatively you can jump right in and create a fighter of your own, right down from deciding if they should wear garters to how high pitched their voices should sound. The flexibility and creativity on offer is unbelievable, which will soon result in you encountering famous characters from other franchises when playing online (I particularly enjoyed beating Batman around with a large pole…).
Developers Namco Bandai Games should be proud as they have done a great job at bringing the series to the next generation. Whilst some aspects are sorely missed, such as tag team battles, larger stages and no ability to fight the commentator (one more “ring out” and I snap the disk!); other aspects take the game to the next level with beautiful graphics, a deep and intelligent character creation and fantastic gameplay all around. In closing, unlike most fighting games out there this one has soul and is clearly a calibur above the rest.