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Soul Calibur 4
Soul Calibur 4

PlayStation 3 | Xbox 360
Genre: Fighting Players: 1 to 2 (2 Online)
Developer: Namco Official Site:
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games Classification: M15+
Soul Calibur 4 Review
Review By @ 12:45pm 19/08/08
In the world of videogames, four seems to be a far more charming number than three. Just look at the host of fourth installments we've seen or are on the horizon already.

Call of Duty 4 changed the CoD landscape forever and set the benchmark for modern console first-person shooters to come. Grand Theft Auto IV reinvigorated Rockstar's famed series with a bigger, more robust world, new technology and a Russian immigrant and Devil May Cry 4 showed how stunning the devil-hunting world could look on next-gen consoles. While before all of these my favourite action title of the last few generations, Resident Evil 4, reinvented a stagnant survival horror franchise and combined some of the most intense action moments of the last few years with gripping fear and terror in an action/horror title for the ages.

And then there're the upcoming fourths.

Guitar Hero World Tour is officially the fourth installment in the series and looks to change the upper-popular music game landscape all on its lonesome, and despite not changing much in the mechanics department, the Street Fighter series has come into the next-generation with a much needed (and lauded) face-lift that is more than welcome from my short time with it. Then way off in the distance we have the reimagined Prince of Persia, which - not counting the shareware PC classics - is on its fourth leg of reinvention and is in a prime position from our stand-point, to do for the adventure game what Resident Evil 4 did for action and Call of Duty 4 for the console FPS.

What am I getting at? I just like the number four tacked onto the end of games. It usually means a series has either found its stride or has taken a leap of faith leading it to even greener pastures, and the proof as it were, can be found in the collective pudding of all the aforementioned games. Which brings us to Soul Calibur IV.

So I wasted a bunch of your time just then to qualify my disappointment with SC4. I'm going to cop a huge scolding from the die-hard fans as it is, so I might as well do my absolute best to paint a clear and concise picture for my reasoning, least of all because the above games are of such a high quality.

The reality is there have been excellent fourth installments in games and shit ones. The situation when it comes to this number, on the negative is dire. If a series can't find itself after four iterations, chances are the developer, concept, publisher or gameplay mechanic are/is broken. Meaning it's either time to hit a genre or series benchmark, or break for the fence of reinvention with a mind to clear it in a single hurdle and keep on running. If none of this matters, your game is going to suffer.

Soul Calibur is looking tired. There was a time when Project Soul were one of the hottest designers in the fighting game field, with an incredible eye for visual flair and short tangent story-telling that more than worked in favour of the genre. Their CG intros were always marveled at while the eccentric and impractical character design sated fans and relayed the team's ardent style of development, escalating them to a realm beyond Tekken, Virtua Fighter of Street Fighter. In fact it's almost safe to say, Project Soul were a team ahead of their time.

Unfortunately they haven't remained ahead of their own curve, and the industry has not only caught up, but arguably surpassed them. This is fully evidenced with Soul Calibur IV, a game that maintains a sense of series consistency through archaic design. I honestly don't think it was the team's ultimate goal to make 'just another update', but that's exactly what they've done here.

It's most notable as soon as you turn the game on. The CG intro looks old and slap-dash (there are modern games that look better running off their own in-game engine) after which come the menus which feel contrived and slack in design. In fact, everything right through to playing any one of the game's modes is just *too* familiar. Even Street Fighter, while using the same (arguably unbroken) fight mechanics has stepped into the next-generation in terms of presentation and flash, but not so here.

It's also worth talking about the character creation system that came with Soul Calibur III and its obvious LITEening here. Whereas in the previous iteration you had a fairly extensive creation system with a robust manifest of fighting styles and techniques to choose from, SC IV has lightened the load, so to speak and only offered a choice of paralleling an existing character's style. This takes away much from the steps planted with the first game - you can't offer up a host of customisable features and then take them away! What are you Namco, a character creation tease?

Game Modes have equally remained marginally unchanged. You have the usual Story and Arcade modes, whose features speak for themselves. Training speaks for itself, and the Museum is really only there for aficionados of the series. A new mode, however, called Tower of Lost Souls let's you challenge specific fighting conditions and enemies to gain special rewards (such as items to view in the museum), and does offer up something a little different to what we're used to.

Speaking of which - one of the other noted additions to the game (and something many fans are pretty pissed about) is the inclusion of Darth Vadar, Yoda and The Apprentice (from The Force Unleashed) as unlockable and playable characters. It's true they don't really have any place in the overall story, and playing as Vadar against the likes of Kilik or Mitsurugi does feel pretty foreign, but I stand by the cheese factor, and that it's really just a crazy fan cross-over, after all, Spawn and Link have been in previous iterations and you could argue heavily neither of those characters had any place in the main story. Perhaps the way forward for Project Soul would be to only include these types of characters in Arcade Mode and leave them out of the 'precious' Story Mode altogether.

In terms of actual gameplay, the series' rock-solid fight mechanics are still well and truly intact. So my ramblings until now might have little bearing on you. However, owning the previous game then really means you don't necessarily have to pick this one up. It's tight and on-the-ball, and if it ain't broke don't fix it, but if the packaging looks old and archaic, it could be time to look at livening things up.

They've certainly tried here. Without shifting the tested formula, online battles are one of the key new offerings, but unfortunately there are more than a few complaints about dropped matches and people even being dropped into games at the end of a battle. You can remedy this usually by simply hosting your own match, but it's something that needs to be addressed pretty quickly.

Active Matching Battles is also a new (well, actively updated from previous) feature, that has you taking on one team with your own team of fighters. You can switch on-the-fly now, which is a welcome addition, and you're no longer waiting for the next player to come into another round as a fallen enemy is immediately replaced by a benchwarmer. It actually mimics Mortal Kombat, to a certain degree, which is kind of odd and creepy given this series' Eastern roots.

But all said and done, I can't help but feel like this is still just the same old game, and instead of hiding it with a face-lift or arbitrary features, Project Soul haven't even tried to mask its age. And that's what it comes down to, with Tekken V, Virtua Fighter V, Street Fighter IV and now this, it could actually be time the fighting genre, as a whole, went through a much needed revamp, even beyond cosmetic. I'm not one to try and break a golden set of fighting game rules, but if all you're doing is paying full-price for what is essentially just an expansion, then something needs to be done. Soul Calibur IV certainly maintains its solid fighting mechanics, but has done very little else to elevate the series in any way, and even the small gesture of adding Star Wars characters has left the community in an uproar - here's hoping a change is on the horizon.

What we liked
  • Still very solid fighting mechanics
  • Darth Vadar Vs Yoda
What we didn't like
  • Looks and feels old
  • Character Creation has been toned down too much
  • Online match-making is a bit of a joke
We gave it: