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Xbox 360 Review: Soulcalibur IV

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When Namco Bandai decided to bring Soulcalibur to the current generation of consoles, they apparently decided it needed a few small tweaks and improvements, because it seems that’s all they did. Unfortunately, the end result of those tweaks is somewhat debatable. It is a game that tries to be more about the fighting and less about the story, but along the way, Soulcalibur IV somehow feels like a step backwards overall, even though it makes huge leaps forward in some areas.

For the most part, Soulcalibur IV introduces the same old game play, but with a few new twists. Critical finishes, soul crushes and equipment destruction are all welcome, as they take away the old turtling problem that previous Soulcalibur titles had. However, the ability to switch weapons now has to be handled in character customization, not on the actual character select screens, which is a step back. Also a step back are some of the tweaks that have been done to the move lists, marking the second consecutive time this has happened in the series. For example, many of the combo chains I had for my main character, Voldo, are completely gone. The moves are still there; a lot are just mapped out differently, forcing me to re-learn half of them. It’s a pain in the ass, but Namco seems to have made up for it by providing a few new moves that can be used to link combos together.

Controls on the 360 are just as fluid as they were in previous incarnations of the franchise on older consoles. Controls can be remapped to your satisfaction, but the default set-up feels fine as is. However, with that said, using the left analog stick can at times be a pain in the butt, as it doesn’t always seem to read your input correctly. On a few occasions, this has resulted in me doing moves I otherwise did not want to do. Therefore, if you shelled out big bucks for an arcade-style controller, I’d recommend using it.

In bringing Soulcalibur to a new generation of consoles, the franchise has gotten a noticeable graphical upgrade. Stages look more detailed and realistic, as do the game’s characters. However, most characters have gone through re-designs, some of which are less than favorable. This is the case, for example, with Tira, who has gone from looking like the crazed psychopath she is to looking rather bland and boring. The game’s soundtrack is as good as ever, and the voice cast is pretty much the same. Yes, that even means some of the more annoying voices are still present this time around.

As for a story: there is one, but it is bare bones. In fact, it feels like there isn’t even one at all in comparison to the previous Soulcalibur games. The only new character introduced of any storyline importance is Algol, and he’s not likely to appear in future Soulcalibur stories.

He’s not alone, though. The 360 version includes both The Apprentice from Force Unleashed and Yoda as bonus characters. Having both in the Soulcalibur series is a bit odd, as they have the added bonus of Force powers that puts them a bit above the rest of the character list. On top of that, Yoda cannot be grappled because of his height. This has been reflected in online play, with a number of matches featuring Yoda along with other characters considered “cheap” like Kilik.

Character creation mode is deeper than in Soulcalibur III, featuring a wider number of pieces to choose from. Many of these have to be unlocked through Tower of the Souls and by gathering achievements. This time around, what you wear determines your HP level, as well as your attack and defense levels. They also provide points in one of five categories that can be used to assign special skills/bonuses. You can also design for style or look, if you’d like, but for the most part, you’re going to be trying to get enough points to unlock those skills/bonuses you really want.

On the rare occasion I got the chance to hop online, I found the experience to be good, except for the previously mentioned fact that a majority of online gamers are using the Star Wars characters or others considered “cheap,” and that there are some broken combinations that are impossible to block. Hopefully, in regards to the combinations, a patch might be added to make game play fairer. The achievements for Soulcalibur IV range from the incredibly easy to the near impossible. Hardcore achievement lovers will be spending a lot of time with this game if they want a full 1000 points.

Soulcalibur fans should be pleased by this game, as should those looking for a fighting experience different from Virtua Fighter 5. However, if you want a fighting game that has a deep story, you might be waiting until Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe or Street Fighter IV.

Pros: Incredibly beautiful graphics, improvements amongst character move sets and a deep character creation mode combine to form the Xbox 360’s best fighting game.

Cons: The Star Wars characters, namely Yoda, are terribly broken. Story and adventure modes have been gutted in favor of head-to-head game play.

Soulcalibur IV is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Partial Nudity, Violence, Sexual Themes and Mild Language. This game can also be found on: PS3.

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About Brian Szabelski