Soulcalibur IV hands-on: The first few hours

So, it's finally here. The definitive weapons-based fighter is back and we've been lucky enough to get an early taste of all the steel-clashing action. We've been practicing our combat skills over the weekend and have sunk a good amount of time into the PS3 version. So, want to know what our first few hours were like? Want to know answers to those questions burning in the back of your mind, like: Is the install worth it? What's up with rumble? If you're planning to pick up Soulcalibur IV tomorrow, you'll want to read on.

First up, let's discuss the install. The most important piece of information is that it is completely optional. There's no need to install, but it certainly doesn't hurt to go ahead and do it anyway -- it's only 2.6GB and will only take about 10 minutes of your time. You can install/uninstall from the options menu. The most noticeable area that benefits from the install is the load time for loading the fighting stage. Without it, you'll have to wait roughly 30 seconds on average for the stage to load up; with it, you save some time as it only takes less than 10 seconds for a stage to load. Another area is in character creation mode where character models will take several seconds to load without the install; they will load almost instantaneously with the install.

Now, let's talk about rumble. Yes, there is no rumble in the PS3 version, but this exclusion isn't really detrimental to the gameplay experience. The lack of rumble is hardly noticeable; we've been enjoying the game for several hours before we even found out that the controller wasn't rumbling. We were too busy checking out the new combat elements such as destructible equipment and critical finish.

Speaking of which, equipment and weapons can give bonuses to a character in story mode and in special versus battles. Targeting an area (high, mid, low) may cause a piece of armor to break making the character lose their bonus. The effects of equipment destruction, while tactical, also has a nice visual appearance. You can see some pieces literally break off and even remain on the fighting stage floor. The fighting overall is just fast and fluid and plays a lot like Soulcalibur II.

Character creation is a pretty meaty section. You have up to 50 slots for created characters or modifications of current characters (meaning canon characters with special weapons and equipment). Character creation is a good mode, but we do have a slight problem with it. The menus are a tad cumbersome as you'll have to go shuffle through several before getting to where you need to go.

Online multiplayer is a standard affair. There are ranked and unranked matches. An interesting bit is that you can host unranked matches with up to four players. This means that only two players fight at a time, while the others watch and wait their turn; it' not two-on-two battles. There is a lag at times; of course it depends on who you're playing against. You'll see a signal strength bar on various screens letting you know who has the best connectivity, so you could most likely avoid that problem if you pick and choose your opponent.

So what about Vader? He's pretty good, although he is pretty slow. The Apprentice, however, is wickedly fast. Vader is available right from the get go, and you'll need to unlock The Apprentice by using Vader in Arcade mode. The five anime-designed characters are unlocked by defeating them in Story mode. We're just laying out that information in case anyone wants some help completing their character collection -- you can collect them all in a day, really.

On a minor note, the game has already been patched (v1.01). It's a small install at 16MB. Anyway, that's it for now. We're still going to try out some of the other areas. If you've got any questions, just leave us a comment and we'll try to answer it.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.