Soul Calibur IV isn't made up of a single story, but rather individual stories for each of the characters, each of whom have their own reasons for looking for the Soul Edge and Soul Blade. These stories are detailed in the Story Mode section of the game (more on that later). The character list in this game is mighty impressive too with virtually everyone from previous games returning including (in alphabetical order) Amy, Astaroth, Cassandra, Cervantes, Ivy, Kilik, Lizardman, Maxi, Mitsurugi, Nightmare, Raphael, Rock, Seong Mi-na, Setsuka, Siegfried, Sophitia, Taki, Talim, Tira, Voldo, Xianghua, Yoshimitsu, Yun-seong, and Zasalamel. Two new characters have also joined the lineup for this game, Algol and Hilde.
Blocking has always been a major part in this franchise but now, if you block too much, and either your head, upper body or lower body armour is hit by the opponent too much, that armour will be destroyed leaving you vulnerable. Naturally though you can also destroy the opponents armour.
Critical Finishes allow you to wear down the enemies Soul Gauge and, should it be fully depleted, allow you to then perform a single, deadly, move on your opponent. These Finishing moves look absolutely delightful too with brilliant animation, and some devastating moves.
As many of you would be aware the franchise has been injected with some new characters, the most exciting of which come from the Star Wars universe. While the XBox 360 game gets Yoda who is so small he ducks under attacks and also can't be grabbed at all, the Playstation 3 gets Darth Vader who is a much more balanced character and actually fits into the gameplay quite well, although his movements are a little 'stiff' in places. Both systems also get Darth Vader's apprentice who we will be seeing a lot more of in LucasArts' upcoming title Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. He is indeed a powerful character (perhaps too powerful) with abilities that include Force Lightning and being able to levitate enemies. Beyond that there are some other unique characters deigned by famed Japanese artists. These characters include Angol Fear (designed by Mine Yoshizaki), Ashlotte (Oh! Great), Kamikirimusi (Hirokazu Hisayuki), Scheherazade (Yutaka Izubuchi) and Shura (Hiroya Oku).
As we have just mentioned, for the very first time in the series gamers can now battle online. Not only can you use the standard characters in these ranked, or unranked, battles, but also your own customised characters. The lobby system though is quite poor and you'll be waiting a while for an opponent, or miss out on 'available' opponents as they are snapped up very quickly. When you do get into a fight though it is pretty much lag free. I would have love to see a rematch option though so you didn't have to search for someone through the lobby again.
The Playstation 3 is a machine which has plenty of potential graphically and for the most part Soul Calibur IV manages to impress. Menu presentation, cut-scenes and character models are among the best we have seen in a video game. Certainly the character design with the weapons and armour are probably second to none in the fighting genre.
Where I do have some very slight, and these are slight, issues are the backgrounds. While brilliantly designed and modeled there is a bit of aliasing, or jagginess, on some of the edges. This could, in part, be put down to the use of 720p resolution, but is noticeable in any case (and before you ask we are running this on a 46" 1080p LCD TV over HDMI cable). Another minor issue is that very occasionally there was a slight jump in the animations and some characters, particularly Darth Vader, seem less fluid then others.
Impressively the English voiceovers in the game are actually pretty good. Most fighting games have some pretty questionable dialogue in both scripting and delivery, but there wasn't that much of a groan factor here. One issue though is that the characters dialogue overlaps that of the announcer when the matches are complete making it a bit jumbled at times.
If you like your fighting games then this is a no brainer as Soul Calibur IV is one of the best fighting games in years. Graphically and sonically the game is superb, and the gameplay intense. We would have loved to see some more game modes, and longer Story modes, but there are so many characters to get to grips with here that you could spend months getting to grips with them all. Add this to your collection now!
Review By: Dave Warner