Jul 22, 2008

What do the Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid, Grand Theft Auto and SoulCalibur franchises have in common? All four brought to us some remarkable games that are both innovative and trend setters in the genre. To the delight of gamers worldwide, all four had new releases come out this year too. DMC4, MGS4 and GTA IV received some rave and excellent reviews from every corner in the gaming world. SoulCalibur IV, to the relief of the series’ fans, is following those footsteps as well. Some eye popping graphics bundled with a deep variety of gameplay styles and an extremely appealing modification mode make SoulCalibur IV one of, if not the, best game in the glamorous series so far.

Those who purchased the first game in the SoulCalibur series on the Dreamcast know that what they played on Sega’s console is the best fighting game every created. The game looked unbelievably good back then. The fighting styles and characters’ personal stories were just a few things that kept gamers up for days, battling each other nonstop. The series has been on a decline recently however. It is not like parts II and III were bad or anything, it is just that the first game was so good (Let us call it perfect from now on) that it was nearly impossible to follow it up with anything better. SoulCalibur IV manages to mix some of the best aspects about the original with some innovative and new ideas creating what just might be the perfect fighting experience.

SoulCalibur IV starts off just like all the games in the series with a straight forward menu, a beautiful interactive background and a kick ass intro video introducing you to the SoulCalibur world. For the old time fans, you will have the option to fight it out against a friend, play the arcade/story mode or try out the appealing new mode called the tower of lost souls. New comers might want to try out the training mode first to work on mastering the moves of each character. To improve and win in a game like SoulCalibur you need to pick a character that matches your style of gaming and work on learning that characters’ specific set of moves. Mashing buttons to win might work every now and then, but if you plan on advancing and finishing the game you really need to understand that every button you press matters.

The fighting is split up to many styles and weapons. So your fighting style will change depending on the character you have picked. We do recommend that you try out all styles and characters however. Playing as a huge character with a humongous weapon or a smaller fighter is two completely different styles of gameplay, so different that they could have made two or three games out of SoulCalibur IV alone. There are three areas you can aim for during a fight and those are high, medium and low level targets. Hitting the same target over and over again will result in you breaking the piece of equipment on that specific area (Don’t worry, no nude scenes to look forward to, well unless of course you’re a fan of the SoulCalibur female cast’s unique anatomy in which case you'll be disappointed). You will be causing more damage to your opponent if you hit the equipment-less area. This addition to the gameplay brings up more tactics to the series. Staying put and guarding for the whole match while praying for a ring out is not an option anymore.

SoulCalibur is a fully 3D fighter as you might have figured out. So the movement of the characters and how they look and react is very important to the gameplay. The characters movement is very smooth and the game leaves very little for fighting fans to desire. The number of moves each character poses is huge and the time it will take for you to master them is very long, giving the game a big plus in the value department.

The set of characters is extremely diverse. Take Maxi for example, the fast and active fighter (personal favorite)who will knock you out before you even think twice about your next move. Larger characters such as Nightmare and Rock are also at your disposal. Playing and finishing the arcade mode with each character will reveal some info regarding that specific character. You also have a whole museum filled with unlockables that reveal more and more about the game and series overall. For every fight you play and finish (win or lose) you will rewarded with golden points which in turn can be used to purchase museum’s items, new characters and items to be used in the character creation/modification mode.

The Arcade mode is the same mode you have seen in every fighting game released in the past ten years. Here you will have four stages to beat, each consisting of more than one character for you to take care of. You will be able to choose from two difficulty levels to start with, normal and hard. Both levels are very different. On normal going into a fight while not knowing what or who exactly you are going up against is fine. You can mash some buttons and pray for the best. On the hard difficulty however that won’t cut it. You need to figure out the weak points of your opponent from the first glance and be careful about your moves. You can be aggressive or defensive for example depending on the situation.

The tower of lost souls is the mode we have been busy playing the most since we got our hands on SoulCalibur IV. The tower is made up of 60 levels you can either ascend or descend on. Going up you will have to fight a set of different characters with different attributes and abilities on each level. The first few levels might be too easy, and you will start getting cocky beating up on those poor lizards. Reach some higher levels and experience some of the best fighting you have seen, ever, oh and some of the hardest too. The thing we loved the most about this mode is not how challenging it is or how bad it kicked our asses, it is because how you need to adjust your style for each enemy on hand. You will find yourself going back to training to pick and choose the perfect character and weapon combination for that specific level. Having a solid single player game is one thing many good fighting games have failed to deliver in the past few years, but SoulCalibur thrives on that.

The multiplayer mode does not need any introductions. Invite some friends over and brace yourself for an ultimate evening of fighting and furious competition. Every game to hit the market these days seem to come with some kind of modification/creation mode for you to mess around with. That mode in Soul Calibur though is the best we have seen in a long time. You might not notice anything new, but the level of detail and what you can do with your favorite character is nothing short of fantastic. Using the golden points you gain from the games you play you can purchase new items to dress up your character (or undress him/her if that is your thing). You can even change how the weapons look for each character. Oh and you will also be able to try out the new look in a fight before you confirm any changes. The custom made look will appear as the 3rd option for the character on hand.

The game promises to feature an exciting online mode but sadly and due to some server maintenances issues, the game is not up and alive online yet.

Graphically the game is simply jaw dropping. Even with all the graphical masterpieces we have seen recently, Soul Calibur IV stands out on its own for many reasons. The environments you fight in look fantastic and you just can’t wait for the fight to begin because of how amazing the arenas look during the characters introduction. The characters are fully detailed. Each and every item they carry on, to the hair styles and weapons, it is all just perfectly done. Slowdowns do not exist in any of the game modes we have played in SoulCalibur IV. The cinematic you experience between different stages are worth playing the game for on their own. The menu and presentation style are also very well done with everything clear and waiting for your orders. If you are planning to sell your TV, playing Soul Calibur IV for the buyer might just seal the deal for you. Yes, it looks that good.

The game is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and that is the way it should be played. Every hit, scream and cry will be heard clearly and in timely fashion while you enjoy the battle. The music is not really worth mentioning but that is just asking too much from a fighting game, the dramatic background music is enough to get you in the mood to fight.

Diehard SoulCalibur fans might still not be satisfied with the 4th installment in the series. While they are stuck in the past comparing it to the Dreamcast game, the series have evolved in SoulCalibur IV and yet managed to bring back some key elements we enjoyed throughout the series. You shouldn’t call your game collection a “collection” without a great fighting game on the roster, and SoulCalibur IV fits that title perfectly. And keep all the good stuff we had to say about this game on one side, remember that with the PS3 version you will get to play as Darth Vader himself! So what exactly do you want more in a videogame?


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