Soul Calibur IV
It was the biggest game press launch for CES in some time as Namco Bandai Games decided to give a select group of journalists the first chance to play an early build of Soul Calibur IV, the latest game in their long running weapons themed fighting game series. The event's big secret was blown a couple of hours before the event began as another web site decided to reveal that the game will feature Star Wars characters Darth Vader and Yoda battling with the rest of the Soul Calibur cast. Vader will appear on the PS3 console exclusively while Yoda will be featured only on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which unfortunately means we won't get a chance to have that dream light saber battle between the two characters in the game (we hope that Namco Bandai will allow that to change via downloadable content sometime after the game's release).
Vader and a few Stormtroopers showed up at the event just after the company showed a trailer of the two characters at the Blush nightclub at the Wynn.
An early playable Xbox 360 build of Soul Calibur IV was at the event, and while Yoda wasn't at the CES demo, we did get some brief hands-on time with the three characters (Taki, Cassandra and Mitsurgi ) that were playable in two levels (a jungle like temple with hippos just outside the arena and a more conventional Greek-like arena). Fans of the series will be happy to know that the game pretty much looks like all of the previous Soul Calibur titles in terms of art design; characters look like their previous incarnations, and the locations certainly look much like similar arenas in the past. Of course since the game was running on Xbox 360, the graphics look pretty amazing event at this early stage. Character models are highly detailed, and the levels have a ton of impressive art textures. Animations still look a tad off and Taki's,um, tracks of land bounced up and down a tad too much (or just right, depending on your opinion). While it's great that physics is part of her character, it was really almost comical to look at which may be what the development teams intended. There was a little bit of interaction with the game's levels as your character breaks the ground beneath them when they go down violently on the ground. It doesn't look like there will be the kind of interaction that other fighting games like Dead or Alive has.
In terms of gameplay, Soul Calibur IV played just like previous games in the series; combo attacks with the character's weapons are fairly easy to execute for the simple combos, and the characters at the moment seemed evenly matched. The developers plan to put in some kind of finishing moves for each character that will make their final combos more complex than previous games, but they were not implemented in our build.
In chatting with Namco Bandai team members at the event we learned a little more about the game's plans. In addition to Vader and Yoda, a new original Soul Calibur IV character was introduced at the game's launch trailer. Helgie (I hope that's the right spelling) is a female character wearing an armored helmet and her own set of weapons. A couple of other new characters will be added to the game as well, but we weren’t given details on what they will be like. Of course a host of older characters from the game's history will reappear, and you can expect to be able to play them with their weird and complex back story as they all try to take on the Soul Swords once again in a massive tournament. Soul Calibur III's character creation tool will return for the next game as well and we were told that not only will people be able to make their own fighters, but items like weapons and armor will actually affect the character's stats, giving this an RPG-lite feature.
Besides the intro of Vader and Yoda, the biggest new feature for Soul Calibur IV will be the addition of online multiplayer for the first time in the history of the franchise. The developers aren't talking much about online features at this stage, but they did say that you will be able to take your custom fighters online to fight against others. Besides versus mode we were not told if there will be any other online play modes in the game, and there's no official word if things like leaderboards or other features will be added, although Namco Bandai does plan to organize online tournaments after the game is released. They also have plans to release a demo of the game before its release.
At the moment, Soul Calibur IV has a summer 2008 release date, but based on playing with the build of the game at the CES press event we think that date may be a bit too ambitious and we wouldn't be surprised if the date was pushed back to this fall. While it still looks and plays great, the build we got to check out is still a little rough. However, the promise of the full game will likely make long time fans of the series very happy if they can pull it all together and having Vader and Yoda among the cast will certainly bring in new fans. We will keep an eye out on the development of Soul Calibur IV as it gets closer to release.