Soul Calibur 4

Brent Wallace

Soul Calibur 4 is the latest entry in Namco Bandai’s long running Soul series of fighting games. Ever since it first started with Soul Edge in 1996, the series has separated itself from similar fighting games by using a weapon-based combat system instead of the standard unequipped style used by other games such as the Mortal Kombat and Tekken series.

The results have almost always been spectacular, and Soul Calibur 4 does not do the series any injustice. While the game could have benefited from more game play modes, Soul Calibur 4 is still a game that will keep you entertained.

Soul Calibur 4 offers a small selection of modes for both single-player and multiplayer. The arcade and story modes both make a return relatively unchanged from previous installments. In both modes, the player advances through multiple levels of combat with the character of choice. As with previous Soul Calibur games, gamers can unlock extra content by playing and completing various challenges.

The new single-player mode included with the game is the Tower of Souls mode. When ascending the tower, you are challenged to make your way through a large number of floors, facing increasingly powerful enemies as you progress. As you go through the tower’s floors, performing certain acts at each stage garners some new equipment that can be used in the character creation mode.

When you have completed enough of the upper floors, the game allows you to descend the tower. When descending, you are required to take along two characters of your choice through as many floors as possible before being defeated. A nice competitive touch is that your score will be recorded in the game’s online rankings if you are signed into the Playstation Network or Xbox Live when you play this mode.

Soul Calibur 4 also has a basic versus mode for single player, local multiplayer, and online multiplayer, allowing players to play a single match with a few different settings including the number of wins required, the time limit of each round, and the difficulty of the artificial intelligence. Along with standard matches there is also a special versus mode which allows each character to benefit from their unique abilities and equipment.

Arguably the most engrossing mode in Soul Calibur 4 is the character creation mode. The character creation mode allows you to make your own character or customize existing ones. Although the fighting styles available for custom characters are exactly the same as those used by the main characters, custom characters can still stand out thanks to the abilities and unique equipment you can give to them. This all helps make an already impressive character roster into an outstanding collection.

One of Soul Calibur 4’s main draws is the inclusion of three guest characters from the Star Wars movies. The Soul Calibur series is no stranger to guest characters, but Soul Calibur 4’s guests are a hit-or-miss affair.

The Playstation 3 (PS3) version of the game possesses Darth Vader, who is the best guest character included simply because he is the most balanced of the three. The Xbox 360 (360) version of the game gets Yoda, who may seem a bit overpowered since a surprisingly high number of attacks go right over his head and he can never be grabbed.

Both versions of the game get Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, the antagonist who will appear in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed video game. Unfortunately, the apprentice is slightly overpowered, especially when you encounter him in the single- player modes.

It is unfortunate that Soul Calibur 4 does not offer new and exciting modes to gamers. The modes that are present are very similar to each other in the single player, and multiplayer only has the two variations of “versus” mode.

Fortunately, the game still has a high replay value, which is a testament to just how enjoyable the combat is. The variety and depth of the character roster also helps increase the game’s replay value, making the lack of variation between modes less of a problem.

The game play in Soul Calibur 4 focuses on the confrontation between two fighters wielding a wide variety of weapons, including swords, staves, giant axes and more. Being successful in the game requires knowing when it is best to block as well as when and how to attack. If a player fails to time his moves right at any point, he can easily leave an opening which can allow the other player to quickly turn the tide of the battle.

The newest additions to the combat from previous entries in the series are the critical finishes and armor destruction. Armor destruction allows players to destroy pieces of their enemy’s armor, which then makes that character take more damage for the rest of the game.

The critical finishes are new moves that any character can use to immediately end a round. If a character can deplete his enemy’s soul gauge by attacking more often than his enemy does, then he may get a chance to pull off a critical finish.

In reality however, critical finishes are nearly impossible to pull off during normal play, and they generally aren’t worth actively gunning for. They do still have a slight influence on the game by making it so you can not win by just blocking any more.

The nice thing about Soul Calibur 4’s game play is that there is a learning curve for memorizing every character’s move set, but it is only there if you want to climb it. As a result, Soul Calibur 4 is entertaining for both veterans of the series and newcomers.

Graphically, Soul Calibur 4 is excellent. The environments of the arenas are all beautiful to look at. The characters themselves animate fluidly and have a lot of detail as well.

Audio wise, Soul Calibur 4 has several music tracks that fit almost perfectly. The sound of the weapons clashing is incredible. The voice acting also lives up the series standards and is for the most part well done, although a few of the female voices in the game are annoyingly high-pitched.

Ultimately, although Soul Calibur 4 is not a perfect continuation of the series due to the lack of variety between the game’s modes, it is still another excellent entry in the series. Veterans of the series will undoubtedly adore the game, and newcomers should also be able to have a great experience at the same time.

Release date: July 29
ESRB Rating: T for teen: Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence
Retail Price: $59.99
Availability: Retail stores and online vendors

My Rating: 3 ´ out of 4 stars