Titles are important. For example, the title of this article is simply “Soul Calibur 2 HD Online Review”, it explains what is on this page, what you’re going to read, what the number at the bottom (that you’ve probably already looked at) is summing up, and it satisfies us that we’re advertising our wares in an astute and genuine manner.
Soul Calibur 2 HD Online has a title that serves a very similar purpose. The title says: “This is Soul Calibur 2, in HD, and online”, but it’s unfortunate (and this admittedly sounds contradictory, but I’m hoping to clear that up in the next 800 words) that this is really all Soul Calibur 2 HD Online is. This is a piece of work so bare bones I’m struggling to fathom the skeleton ever being anything but bald.
The good first: Soul Calibur 2 is a fantastic game. Arguably the best 3D fighter ever conceived, this is Soul Calibur in one of its purest forms, free of the super arts and meter-building that infected the most recent iteration, Soul Calibur V, Soul Calibur 2 puts features such as the guard impact parry technique front and centre, and asks you to fight with its characters dressed in appropriate gear. It’s slick, balletic, fast and focused.
And Soul Calibur 2 HD Online is a faithful scrub up of the old PS2/Gamecube/Xbox title, retaining all of its predecessor’s features (including the rather lengthy single player Weapons Master mode that acts similarly to the trials found in the recent NetherRealm fighters Mortal Kombat and Injustice), while re-uniting two of the old guest characters for the first time.
Upon its initial release each console version of Soul Calibur 2 featured a unique fighter: Tekken’s Heihachi on Playstation 2, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn on Xbox and Link of Zelda fame on Nintendo’s game box. Two of these brawler’s – Heihachi and Spawn – are reinstated in Soul Calibur 2 HD Online, but Link is absent due to Soul Calibur 2 HD Online only releasing on Xbox 360 and PS3.
Admittedly this is a sour point for me as Link was actually my character of choice in Soul Calibur 2 (he had some brilliant juggles and a delicious ring-out grab), but the roster is still more than varied enough without the Hylian Hero. I settled back into Yun-Seong’s springy shoes fairly quickly, and with a cast ranging from the swift pokey Xianghua right up to the hulking, hard hitting Astaroth, everyone will find at least one face they’ll chime with.
On the subject of characters, though, this leads us nicely into the main disappointment with this HD Online version: there have been no “modern” alterations to the content of the game.
I should explain that it’s great that this title exists; I love Soul Calibur 2 and to have it available on Xbox Live and PSN is only good news, but Namco Bandai have made no attempts to modernise any aspect of the package and this is most apparent in its leaving characters like Lizardman and Assassin hidden behind unlock criteria. When one of the focuses of your re-made game is to have people taking it online, when such a feature is made the subject of your game’s very title, it seems like a short-sighted and lazy decision to leave characters locked for no good reason.
What’s more, the online implementation is the very definition of rudimentary. One on one only, no lobby system, and only basic equipment seems available online – you can’t play online with the funky unlockable weapons from the game’s “extra” mode. Some would call this pure, but when Soul Calibur V offers a solid online infrastructure, including lobby implementation, it just seems rude to forget about it here.
The connection quality in online matches is also rather spotty. Matches that promise a good link can be plagued by miniscule lag, which can be damning when you’re trying to time effective parries and instant punishes against aggressive foes. Soul Calibur 2 is a slick game, so for the net-code here to be lacking is a shame. Matches are typically playable, but you’ll suffer noticeable input lag more often than not.
But then aside from this added online mode, this is still Soul Calibur 2. If you were to download this you could ignore the online portion and just play Weapons Master mode, and then enjoy some swordplay locally with your chums, and you’ve got one of the best 3D fighters available presented in the same way it was several years ago, and with an extra character.
The HD visuals are passable – it’s just a clean Xbox/PS2/Gamecube game, nothing more – but the gameplay is absolutely classic. It’s a shame, then, that the actual stuff that’s advertised, the online stuff, is a bit of a let-down, because the bitter taste from that can frequently distract from the fact that this is still the brilliant game it’s always been, and a reminder of what makes Soul Calibur such a top series.
VERDICT: This is Soul Calibur 2; the graphics are displayed in a higher resolution, and you have a limited capacity to play the game online. The title Soul Calibur 2 HD Online isn’t so much a lie as an unfulfilled promise, but even the lacklustre implementation of web battling can’t change the fact that Soul Calibur 2 is still a big, beautiful, balletic, and brilliant 3D fighter, and arguably still the best entry in the Soul Calibur series.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.