After a mild departure from form in SoulCalibur III (not to mention the fact that it was annoyingly platform exclusive), Project Soul appears to have gone back to the drawing board with SoulCalibur IV and revived the focus on high-level competitive play that made SoulCalibur II the definitive fighting game of its time. We recently got some quality hands-on time with a demo version of SoulCalibur IV, and even though it was extremely limited in scope, what we did play was indistinguishable from a finished title.
Four characters were available for combat: Cassand ra, Hilde, Seong Mi-Na and Taki. Each had two available costumes and a full set of moves. Everything else was locked, though careful eyes would note that the player selection screen had a total of 20 squares on it. Cassandra, Seong Mi-Na and Taki handled similarly to their previous incarnations, so it was Hilde who caught our eye.
Slower than most of the characters, Hilde makes up for her lack of speed with a unique charge ability that allows for some creative countering. Whereas most characters simply attack when a button is pressed, Hilde will attack when you press a button and, if you keep holding it, attack again when the button is released. The longer the hold, the stronger the secondary attack. It requires a bit of manual dexterity, but the possibilities for skillful counter traps are endless, as Hilde's secondary attacks have a much shorter frame count than her initial hits. You can draw in an opponent and hit when he or she is most vulnerable.
Visually, SoulCalibur IV is absolutely jaw-dropping. If you've seen any of the trailers for the game, it's easy to mistake gameplay for pre-rendered sequences. It's that good. When you sit down for the first time, it's easy to get lost in the detail of the backgrounds as well as the detail of your characters. Each not only has a different costume, but every character's armor can be damaged and forcibly removed by an opponent.
The damage system works as a counter to turtling. A character who is constantly blocking will endure damage to their armor, which eventually breaks off. Lose all three pieces of your armor, and you are vulnerable to a devastating finishing move. This likely won't happen often during play, but when it does, you know you've earned bragging rights. In addition to armor, each environment also has destructible components.
Most worthy of note is that, aside from the physical controller, there were absolutely no noticeable differences between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 builds. The two games were running side by side, and it was impossible to tell which was which just by looking at the monitors. This is good news for those wondering which version to purchase, as it means the decision comes down to the exclusive content — namely Darth Vader and Yoda.
Much to our disappointment (and fruitless begging), neither of the famed Star Wars icons were available for play in the demo builds. They were only seen in the updated trailer, which revealed little more than a split-second look at their home stages. Both Vader and Yoda appear to be based in one of the Death Star hangar bays, with Yoda's stage looking out to space and Vader's having an Imperial Shuttle docked behind the combat area.
It's usually bad form to make a judgment call in a preview, but we'll take the risk and say that SoulCalibur IV is not going to disappoint. Anyone familiar with the series knows what to expect, and, barring any last minute foul-ups by the development team, SoulCalibur IV is set to deliver the goods in spades.
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