Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review: Soul Calibur IV

Project Soul

PS3, Xbox 360

In each instalment, Soul Calibur tends more and more towards the boob physics-based gameplay made infamous by Tecmo’s Dead or Alive franchise, and Soul Calibur IV is falling further and further into that same rut. As a fighting simulator, though, it still shines, despite the sheer improbability of many of the featured characters. But that’s hardly the point of the game.

Now, I’m not entirely sure what it would be like to be Nightmare, the Azure Knight who’s been fully corrupted by the evil spirit of the Soul Edge sword, but after playing SCIV, I have some idea how he’d react in a fight. So it’s less of a fighting sim (à la Virtua Fighter) than a collective orgasm for fans of the series, a fruitful (frightful?) mélange of improbable characters, fighting styles and costumes, all regurgitated in the caustic bile of Soul Calibur’s storyline. Look it up online – it’s utterly ridiculous and, in the best tradition of fighting games, entirely irrelevant to all aspects of the gameplay.

The Soul Calibur series has always been friendly to button-mashers, and it’s still very accessible for newcomers to the genre. SCIV is slightly more balanced, allowing guard breaks as well as a new function called ‘Soul Crush’, which punishes players who rely on ‘turtling’ – using a guard defence for too long.

There are 18 characters available to unlock, for feats as simple as beating certain sub-bosses, completing the story mode with other characters, or simply earning enough credits in the character creation mode. That mode, incidentally, is slightly improved from its appearance in SCIII, and allows for an amazing variety of homemade fighters complete with stat-adjusting accessories – whether the newly minted fighters look slightly different from their appearance in the game, or strikingly similar to Ronald McDonald, there’s a lot of scope for creativity.

Fans of the Soul Calibur series will appreciate the latest installment, although that’s a redundant statement, akin to saying that if you like anything, you’ll like something that’s almost exactly the same. As far as current-gen fighters, though, SCIV is probably the best available title in the genre, at least until Tekken 6 stumbles its way onto the PS3 at the end of next year. Fans of either series would do well to pick up SCIV either as a rental or at retail, as its distinctive use of weapons – and now, destructible armour – results in one of the most complete fighting games on the market. And with the added bonus of fighting as Darth Vader (only on PS3) or Yoda (360), as well as The Force Unleashed’s Secret Apprentice, the answer to an age-old question – who would win in a fight between a lightsaber and Soul Edge? – will be able to be answered.

[This review first appeared in Critic magazine.]

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