Soul Calibur IV is a polished and refined fighter sure to please.
- Great to enjoy with friends.
- Fairly easy to learn, requires practice to master.
- Amazing graphics complemented by a functional art direction.
- Creating characters is diverse, unique, and has limitless possibilities.
- Enough modes and online play to keep you busy.
- Practice mode lacks an option to streamline moves.
- Online needs a tag team option.
- Story mode is lacking any real incentive.
A trait more notable in fighters is their lack of story, and this is both true and false for the Soul Calibur franchise. Each character has an interesting story, individually, but when it comes to the collective timeline it is convoluted, confusing, and just throw-away. Fans of the series will recognize returning characters and new characters alike, but all of the stories fail to head anywhere promising, and often leave you wondering what was missed.
The story premise is somewhat structured, as there is even a feature in this game detailing what characters are allies, enemies, etc. but it falls apart. This is true especially for the Star Wars guest characters, who for reasons unknown can't cut through Calibur characters like butter; it is a Lightsaber.
The gameplay on the other hand is a welcome return. You are thrown into the game with a variety of options and modes, most of which I will talk about. For single player you will have a variety of modes in itself. Story mode, the most promising, is somewhat disappointing. It consists of five levels, where you are tasked with fighting up to four enemies per level; then it ends abruptly with a short cinematic and a sentence or two.
Tower of Lost Souls is also categorized here, where you can ascend 60 levels or descend 40 levels. Descending is simply survival, whereas Ascending pits you against a variety of enemies in different situations with optional objectives to complete for items. To finish it off, you have an extensive practice mode. The lacking feature here is the inability to stream moves (e.g. Virtua Fighter 5).
Outside of single-player you have Versus (just as it sounds). Down the line is Xbox Live, which hosts the leaderboards and online modes. Two choices are presented, Standard or Special; Standard being normal fighting, and Special letting you use the abilities, skills, armor, and weapons you've applied to characters to come into play.
Create A Soul, the create-a-character of SC, is present. With the varied options of being able to edit existing characters (to a certain extent), and creating your very own is almost unmatched. It begins with basing your character off a fighting style, another character from the game, then adding equipment, changing color, and supplying skills. To finish it off, you'll name it and give it a desired pose. As you might imagine, many players have already made many characters from existing games, movies, and so on. You can expect to see Altair, Sephiroth, Cloud, Joker, even King Leonidas; the list goes on.
Considering I am just about to touch on how gameplay works, you can already tell this is a large game with lots of content. Any gamer can instantly figure out Soul Calibur. You will swing with X and Y, kick with B, guard with A, and input those in different combinations [with the d-pad] to make, well, combos. 8-way run, the ability to move around the stage, can add lots of tactical strategy. For instance, a horizontal attack with hit someone trying to evade by moving left or right, but a vertical attack would miss and your opponent would be at an advantage.
Possibilities are also present in blocking, Guard Impacts can leave your enemy open and dazed. Then the new feature, Critical Finishers take away excessive turtling (turtling means being very defensive, guarding as much as possible). When the guarding opponent is hit enough, their orb will turn red then crush, and a round-ending "fatality" of sorts will then initiate upon pressing the left bumper. This is very hard to achieve, so it's there to balance the field between attacking and defending.
Multiplayer, as aforementioned, is online as well. I have played a hundred or so matches, mostly with friends, and 99% of it was lag free. With the ability to check out the latency of other players, it will help avoid unwanted lag at almost any cost. Although, according to many, the reigning champ in lagfree online fighting is still Virtua Fighter 5. Ranked matches are 1v1, Player matches go up to 4 people with a 1v1 going on while 2 others spectate. More options would have been nice, but what's there is enough to justify time well spent.
To summarize everything up for you: 33 fighters, SP and MP modes with online, and downloadable content on the horizon. If you are unsure, give it a rent. At 23 hours and going strong, I have yet to question my purchase. Fans of the series will love this game.