Genre: Fighting Developer: Publisher: Classification: TBC Release Date: To be advised (future release) Platforms:PS3XBOX360
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The Good bits
Heaps of characters
The Bad stuff
Ring Outs are tough
Loading times are just a smidge too long
Random character creation instead of randomly selected fighter was a surprise
Kreese: I was originally going to elaborate on how Soulcalibur 4 rocks hard. The characters look amazing, the combat mechanics seem to mesh like a swiss watch movement, and there's enough extended playability to make the average fight fan dig on it. It may not be Metal Gear Theft Auto 4, but as a polished arcade experience it's hard to beat.
I was even willing to overlook the inclusion of a playable Darth Vader as some kind of lame cross promotional joke. Forgivable because this is not some also-ran, this is the latest edition in the mighty Soulcalibur experience. Unless like me you're given to chasing bodyboarders up and down the local beach with your katana, you won't get a more rewarding or intense sword fighting experience.
Then Joaby the Hutt shambled into work, carping on about control lag on the PlayStation3 version (which I too played). I didn't notice it, but then I'm old and not "gifted" with the reflexes of yesteryear. Against my better judgment I suggested we discuss our relative experiences so you get both sides of the coin.
Joaby: The most recent Soul game I played was Soulcalibur on my Dreamcast - maybe this is why I'm less than impressed with the way the game handles. I'm expecting more of the Soulcalibur experience I've grown accustomed to since the beginning of the series - I've spent more time with the Soul series than any other fighting game.
Soulcalibur 4 simply feels like it's playing at half-speed, which is not to say it's necessarily control lag, simply a slower game than what I expected. In a fighting game which relies (as it should) on timing, it's tough to get your moves right if you're punished for busting combos too quickly. I know you'll think I'm just whining because I can't play as well as I think I should - and I am. Still, I don't want to have to restrict myself to quick characters like Talim to get the gameplay I expect from the game - and I shouldn't have to, should I?
K: That depends on whether you want all characters to have the same speed. Sounds like a recipe for grand fun - oh wait - hasn't it been fighting game law since forever to have a mix of slow, harder hitting guys and fast, less powerful ones? Part of the SC appeal is a bunch of different requirements beyond just spamming throw button combos and sequences, amirite? And if you amp up the play speed won't that make counters and blocking for us non-Soulcalibur pros become increasingly random and less tactical?
Maybe I'm missing the grand plan, but Soulcalibur as a series rests in that "second rung" of fight games - King of Fighter, Street Fighter 2 series et al are the ones where lightning fast controller finesse was needed over "controlled mash". SC, Tekken, even Mortal Kombat are games that rely more on unloading chains than living or dying because you whiffed the last stage of your Stun Palm of Doom combo. Admittedly I'm not uber SC guy, but I enjoyed the steady pace of combat over spaz crazy mashfest SC2 style action. Admittedly it was definitely easier on normal difficulty than previously, I took three characters through the entire story mode before I opted to up the heat a little - but I did feel like I "deserved" to win more than in previous attempts.
J: Don't get me wrong, I've got no problem with the whole "Paper, Scissors, Rock", "Power, Speed, Reach" nature of the game, I simply feel the game should react as fast as I can. Although not to the same extent, I feel the game should play as I do - I put in my combo and my character does it, irrespective of when the combo has started. The difference between power, speed and reach should come in after each player has done their moves, but it seems to me like the game actually factors the speed into how the combos work, giving slower characters sluggish combos. Maybe it's a work of genius, where you play with drastically different timing for each character, but there's no way to incorporate Power or Reach into the controls of the game so it instead appears to give faster characters an advantage at the control level.
It doesn't matter who's right here though - fighting games are by their very nature divisive. There's so much more to this game though and I'm going to move on. I think the dynamic stages in SC4 are great - they look fantastic and the accompanying soundtrack always fits in. It's nice to see the return of some familiar scenes as well, like the traditional raft battle, and scenes like the laser gate battle look and feel amazing. The whole game looks great, but I think it's the stages which really show it all off.
K: Agreed, although part of me misses the days of near instant level load times - now you cop a short-yet-noticeable delay. For the dedicated it won't really be a pain, but I liked being able to end one fight and then go to a new stage and be swinging within ten seconds. Not any more. Here you get a little summary screen that tells you the style of fighter / key traits for your fighter and the oppponents (plural, as you often get multiple fighters coming in sequence). I don't know if this is the juiced up level structure, but I would rather no intermediary screen and BAM onto the next matchup, thanks. If I'm too inattentive to notice the fight has started, I deserve to cop a sword in the midsection.
Also niggling (for a average player anyway) is the difficulty involved in knocking a AI opponent out of the ring. Even ones that don't have the "ring out avoidance" trait/talent/skill seem to be very much on their guard for cheapsters like me rushing and booting them out for a fast completion time. Luckily they don't seem to be too adept at doing it to you either, or it would be a recipe for many smashed controllers I'm guessing.
J: The cheap and fast Ring Out move is a thing of the past, that's a certainty. It's hard to tell if that's necessarily a bad thing - though it did keep rounds much closer when players were afraid of nearing the edge. The character creation system seems very well done this time around, and it's even a little overwhelming for players who are new. It seems like the sort of thing you might leave until you'd played a few times through, as all the equipment has varying stats and abilities which might be a little confusing for new players. Creating anů Ivy-league endowed woman without any clothes might seem like an excellent idea, but she's gonna get her butt kicked.
The more you play through the more equipment you'll unlock as well - another bonus when creating your ultimate fighter. I love the idea of being able to create your own character, but it did cause some confusion when a mate and I went to play with "random" characters. We expected (as you do) randomly selected characters from the current stable of unlocked fighters - instead we were thrust into the ring with randomly created characters who looked like they'd be better suited to a level of American McGee's Alice.
K: Ultimately however the extra fruit is aimed at making you stick with the game longer (logically enough). And while I wouldn't go as far as to say SC4 has reached the exalted heights of Virtua Fighter it does pretty good in it's own right. The killer punch for me comes in that there's a distinct lack of top end fighting games on PS3 (and Xbox 360). Half the world seems to have jammed its head up its backside trying to make the next Grand Theft Auto, Gears of War, Halo, or some abstract/cute/platform/puzzler that will take over the world.
Sometimes all you need to achieve notable success is to take a fundamentally sound concept (in this case: fighting game with swords), make it look good, don't forget your roots too much and it's enough to grab an easy win. I'm not saying Soulcalibur 4 doesn't deserve to sell a bundle - rather the opposite. It's not redefining the fighting genre here, just giving a very polished account of itself. If you're expecting something transcendent you may be left grasping a little, but for PS3 owners crying out for quality titles, it's a pretty solid effort. Joabyonekenobi?
J: No doubt. Only time will tell whether the game's focus on player controlled speed will result in balancing issues, because true pros won't write the game off straight up just because they can't one-shot like they used to. If you're new to the series, Soulcalibur 4 has the looks and options to keep you playing for a long time, and if you're an old hand the game is a familiar fighting game with new tricks - instead of lamenting your inability to pick up and immediately win, you should be grateful at the opportunity to learn it all again. Oh, and don't go online unless you want to see Astaroth or Nightmare repeat the overhand chop continuously while your ping jumps between 200 and 400ms.