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Review: Soulcalibur IV

Aaron Stack | 7 Aug 2008 21:01
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A long time ago (1997) on a console far, far away (PlayStation 1), there was a 3-D fighting game called Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi. It featured, naturally, a lot of popular Star Wars characters and locales, and promised to do for lightsabers and blasters what Soul Blade had done for traditional weapons in videogames. Reviewers, though, were not kind to the poor little game, and bashed it for its weak mechanics, imbalanced characters, and baseball bat-like lightsabers. Of course, these criticisms were warranted: Masters of Teräs Käsi was a horrible piece of spiteful programming, and an offense to anyone who owned a PlayStation. "Give us a Star Wars fighting game we can be proud to own! " came the cries of the much-abused Star Wars fan base, angrily shouted towards the heavens. The heavens, however, remained silent... until one day, many years later, they opened up, and Soulcalibur IV found itself sitting in the starlight and ready to please an entire legion of fans that had been wronged so long ago.

The biggest buzz about Soulcalibur IV has been the fact that it contains not only The Apprentice from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, but either Yoda or Darth Vader (depending on your console of choice). While this sounds great in theory, there are a couple of problems. First, gamers aren't going to have the ability to pit Yoda against Anakin Skywalker because the former is only available on the 360 and the latter on the PS3. This will hopefully change when downloadable content for the games becomes available, but it's still a little sad that both characters aren't available for each system. Vader and Yoda move like their film counterparts, with the man in black relying on brute force and ranged Force attacks as an edge while the Muppet uses speed and acrobatics to string together devastating combos. Yoda, thanks to his height, is a rather cheap character that can't be hit with high attacks or grabbed at all. The Apprentice plays as a speedy fighter with some dazzling Force attacks, which makes his style unique enough to be enjoyable, but his lightning blasts and invisibility are also incredibly cheap. Unfortunately, neither Frank Oz nor James Earl Jones reprised their roles as the Jedi masters' voices, so the nearly-photorealistic appearances of these characters lose a bit of gloss when they actually speak.

Meanwhile, the rest of the game is just what one has come to expect from the Soulcalibur series. All the gorgeous graphics (and these are truly gorgeous), great music, numerous characters and fast-paced fighting are back, but it somehow doesn't feel quite as epic as it once did. Gone is the map of the globe showing where fighters wander in their quest for the ever-elusive mystical sword, replaced instead with an anemic story mode that seems tacked on at best (which says something, because the story mode in the rest of the series was a little weak to begin with). To fill in this gap, there's a bevy of different game types (standard arcade, survival, and multiplayer), but it constantly feels like that extra something that made previous entries in the series great isn't quite there for this one.

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