Have Sword, Will Pummel

Namco Bandai
Game •••• Graphics •••• Sound ••

This weapons-based, one-on-one fighting game boasts a robust roster of warriors, a slew of diverse settings, and more spectacular attack moves than you could ever remember. And for the first time in the series' history, you can compete online against opponents around the world.

More than 20 familiar faces from previous installments enter the fray along with 10 new ones - including some special guests from the Star Wars galaxy. PS3 players get exclusive dibs on Darth Vader, while Xbox 360 enthusiasts have sole control over Yoda. (Vader's size makes him a lumbering target, so the gaming edge goes to the young, agile Yoda of the prequel era.) Meanwhile, both platforms serve up the Secret Apprentice from LucasArts' new game, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. All three characters feature unique Force-based abilities. Vader suspends enemies in midair. Yoda launches into acrobatic attacks. And it's electric when the Apprentice summons up some Sith lightning.

You can also concoct your own original warrior with Soulcalibur IV's almost limitless character-creation mode. And with all of the game's characters, detail is exceptional - as evidenced by the new female warrior Hilde, who is covered from head to toe with an ornate suit of wolf-motif armor. (Don't worry, gameboys: Returning favorite Ivy wears little more than a bikini into battle.)

The varied, vivid environments are equally impressive. You'll notice how the volcano level uses a slick ripple effect to depict heat emanating from the lava that engulfs you. Sadly, the sound isn't on par with the 720p picture. Dumb, melodramatic dialogue is barfed out by excessively theatrical voice actors, and there's an overdone music score to match. At least your subwoofer will get a good workout every time a heavy blow slams a fighter to the ground.

All told, the infinitely customizable characters and the incredible backdrops still make IV the best Soulcalibur yet, and a great showoff disc for your HDTV.

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