Soul Calibur 2
All three versions of Soul Calibur 2 are here - our detailed review tells you how good the game is, and what the home versions have to offer.
PS2, Xbox, GCN
EA Games (UK)
By Mo Imran
I remember the first time Ridge Racer fired up on my import PlayStation many years ago. I'd spent close to a thousand pounds to savour what next-gen gaming was all about, and after the initial ironic bout of Galaxian I was zipping around that famous track in all-out 3D glory. It was gob-smacking, jaw dropping stuff, and a moment you'll never forget as a gamer. However it couldn't last, and about a day and a half later I realised Ridge Racer, although an awesome technical achievement for its time, was a limited arcade game that didn't offer enough as a console conversion. I remember feeling the same after playing the original Tekken and Soul Edge. In my gaming neck of the woods, Namco was seen as the producer of fine looking, but limited entertainment software.
"The simple controls allow you to pull off swish moves, and the results bring a smile to your face."
I plug the Cube, PS2 and Xbox into the TV, and rather cunningly wire them all into my scart box so I can switch AV channels at the press of a button. It's a beat'em up so I stick with the PS2 for play-testing because I can hook up my ancient but trusty Namco joysticks. Fighting games should not be played on a pad, especially ones so anti-beat'em up as the Xbox and Cube controllers!
"Thankfully there are plenty of modes to add a bit of depth to proceedings."
Now we could begin with the arcade mode, but this is a beat'em up so sod that. I just so happen to have some of the UK's finest Soul Calibur 2 players (tournament winners no less) to spar against and I prove to hold my own against such worthy opponents, well actually I get pasted, but I blame the control system... the joystick... the Earth's correlation to the Moon, and so on. As with any fighting game, when you witness two expert players duelling you get to see the game in all its glory.
So before we start dissecting the game engine let's get other stuff outta the way. This is a Namco game so it looks stunning. Fighters dance, their clothing swaying realistically as their faces are lit up by the sparks of weapons clashing, and shadows are cast beautifully over richly detailed arenas. Equally beautiful is the movement, the animation in this game is exquisite, it could be video-gaming ballet, if the characters weren't brutally trying to kill each other. And the sound , ohh the sound! It's like having the ruddy Philaharmonic Orchestra beavering away under the hood of your console, complimented with the blood curdling screams of someone getting cut the hell up. Bliss. Oh, and did I mention that there's hardly any loading, ever? Double bliss.
Of the three formats the Xbox proves to be the most visually pleasing, but not by much. In fact it's a big shock how good the PS2 version looks next to the other, later released consoles. The Sony version just looks a tiny bit rougher in the resolution stakes, but makes up for it with the best pad, you could actually play the game on it, not something I'd recommend with the Xbox's plastic burger or Nintendo's Fisher Price controller.
"Arguably the best exclusive character is Link on the GameCube version, wielding his trusty sword and shield."
Soul Calibur 2 is weapons-based fighting game, and for this reason the controls are generally broken into vertical and horizontal melee attacks, with the kick button, and of course guard, adding a bit of variety. Once your reaction speed gets better you can even use your weapon to recoil or parry incoming attacks in order to get a strategic advantage. Characters can walk anywhere in the arena and have varying attack ranges depending on their weapon. Although there are fewer characters than were selectable in the prequel, this is no bad thing as all the characters have a unique style.
Raphael and Talim are the most notable new fighters. The former is a swash-buckling Spaniard (fluent in Japanese mind) and prances around like a Musketeer. Talim is your typical impossibly cute babe who just happens to wield a couple of riot-police style batons. Some supposedly new characters are actually new skins, Cassandra is essentially Sophitia from Soul Calibur for example. Necrid is a new character that is only available in the console versions of the game. Designed by comic artist extraordinaire Todd McFarlane (of Spider-Man fame) Necrid certainly proves to posses interesting fighting skills, and a quite freaky morphing limb that can shape itself into all manner of weapons.
Each console version of the game also has one exclusive character. The Xbox version features Spawn, another McFarlane design based on the popular comic-book anti-hero. Spawn is also fluent in Japanese it seems, and a dab hand at weapons based fighting too, which cannot be said of the PS2's Hiehachi. The Old Mishima warrior plays essentially identical to his Tekken style and does not wield a weapon (apart from his meaty fists) which just seems like a missed opportunity, and dare I say lazy programming from Namco in my opinion.
Arguably the best exclusive character is Link on the Gamecube version, wielding his trusty sword, with shield at the defensive ready, although his attacks share a little too much with Cassandra's moves for my liking. One other small point worth mentioning is the weird ageing process of some characters. For example Kilick looks nothing like he did in the prequel, it's like he's had massive amounts of facial surgery. Weird.
A good beat'em up will provide endless two-player thrills, but you still need a decent single player game for when you're all on your lonesome. Thankfully there are plenty of modes to add a bit of depth to proceedings, the usual arcade and two-player are complimented with time attack, survival, versus team battle and practise options. Of these the versus team battle mode is noteworthy because it adds a nice dimension to multiplayer gaming, especially if you can gather a couple of teams of four players for epic group battles! The practise mode is a godsend for newbies wanting to hone their skills, but it is no real improvement over the Dreamcast version of Soul Calibur, proving to be a bit limited in scope. This is a big disappointment considering the practise modes of games like VF4, that are packed with options to teach you the games nuances.
"Experts stick to short, safe attacks. Why? Because they beat all the fancy moves."
Other areas that are unlocked include a 'museum' that holds the character profiles and games endings. The profiles allow you to examine a character in detail, allowing you to zoom and pan around your fighter and their arena, as well as getting them to shout out all their signature phrases, Dreamcast Soul Calibur owners will remember similar goodies being unlocked in the original game. The endings may be a bit of a let down for people expecting Tekken style CGI movies. They're of the static 2D picture and text variety, but the illustrations do have a classy anime edge to them. All in all there isn't enough here to keep you playing for long and a good couple of days of play should see you unlock all the games secrets.
But this is a beat'em up right? If the fight engine is good who gives a fig about all these see-em-once-never-again modes? I don't for a start. A good fighting game lets me be as one with my chosen character. I am the stupendously good looking samurai, wielding my sword with grace and conviction, I have no care for paying the bills or what's cooking in the microwave, I just wanna slice this ugly barbarian dude up, and look cool doing it. Soul Calibur 2 delivers this by the bucket-load, the simple controls allow you to pull off swish moves, and the resulting on-screen pyrotechnics bring a smile to the face.
"Namco deserve the success because this is a mass-market game, beautiful to look and easy to play."
The sad thing is this game will be massive in the west, I predict it will easily outsell the like of VF4 Evolution, but I have to admit that Namco deserve that success because this is a mass-market game, beautiful to look and easy to play. There is definitely a decent fighting game here, but to me it just doesn't offer the depth I've come to expect from Sega's flagship fighting series. If you are a true beat'em up fiend than stick with Sega's superlative fighting game, it's hardcore baby! Oh, wait that sorts out PS2 owners, unfortunately Gamecube and Xbox owners don't have that luxury.
Kikizo would like to thank cex.co.uk for arranging the safe arrival of import Soul Calibur II.
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Soul Calibur II
Lots of footage showing Link from the GameCube version.
|Soul Calibur II Teaser Trailer||1.29min||10.1MB||MPG|