Just like the story, very little has changed with the gameplay of Soulcalibur IV since its previous incarnation. After all, if it ain't broke, it don't need fixing, right?
Well, yes and no.
The controls remain virtually unchanged, and that's a good thing: it means you can pick the game up and start fighting straight off without having to relearn everything.
The downside is that there are still only a handful of fight locations, all of which remain resolutely unbashable, despite the inclusion of Havok-based physics this time round. It's a shame, as we'd liked to have seen the power of current generation consoles being used for more than just pretty graphics and wibbling boobies – and don't get me wrong, these are very pretty graphics. Running at 720p with nary a slowdown, the visuals are beautiful, and you'll find yourself completing fights just to watch the cutscenes.
Still, there have been a couple of changes to the gameplay. Soulcalibur IV introduces breakable armour and critical finishes into the fray . If a character blocks too much, there is a chance that their armour will be broken and ultimately reduces the power in their "soul gauge". When the soul gauge starts to flash, the opponent is vulnerable to a Critical Finish that delivers so much power it KOs them with a single blow.
In practice though, this isn't quite as great as it sounds: armour damage doesn't reduce the abilities of the opponent as much as you'd expect, and it takes a hell of a lot of blocking to allow a critical finish hit. Essentially, an opponent would have to spend most of a round blocking to deplete the soul gauge enough for a critical finish, by which time you've probably finished them normally anyway. That said, the animations used for the critical finish are outstanding and are just the fruit topping of the graphics cheesecake that is Soulcalibur IV.
In the single-player game, there are three main modes of play. Story mode introduces you to all the characters, including their sometimes incomprehensible backstories. These are disappointingly short, five-round battles against around a dozen or so opponents which are over almost as soon as they've begun.
At around ten minutes to complete each character's story, they serve as a brief introduction for new players to earn gold to spend on new characters and upgrades later in the game.
Arcade mode is the simplest mode of all, and harks back to the origins of the series. It is an eight-stage battle against increasingly powerful opponents, with the catch being that you can't use any additional equipment you may have bought for your character. It's the simplest mode of all, and probably not one you'll visit that often.
Most interesting of all the single-player games is the Tower of Lost Souls mode. You take control of between one of three characters and fight your way through a series of floors in a tower, each consisting of a number of battles. The problem is that each floor contains a particular type of enemy, so not only will you be chopping and choosing characters to best suit those enemies, you'll also be relying quite heavily on customising characters to enhance your chances of winning.
The other problem is that the health of your characters is not reset between bouts or between floors – which means that careful choice of characters becomes even more important. Each group of floors also has a number of unlockable treasures which are received after performing certain moves, combos or actions, such as switching between characters mid-fight.
Oh, and once you've got to the top of the tower, you have the option to do it all over again going down the tower too.
Talking of character creation (which I'm sure I was before you interrupted), it's possible to spend hours tweaking and enhancing your own custom character. You have to start with a pre-existing character's fighting style, but everything else, from their clothes to their skills is completely customisable. It's good to see that there is actually some requirement in the game to use customised characters, not just for e-peen competitions online.
So far though, all we've talked about is the PlayStation 3 version, which has a slow-but powerful exclusive character in the form of Darth Vader - but what about if you're on the Xbox 360? What do you get then? I'll let Joe tell you before we move on to the multiplayer discussion.