The potential for statistical image reconstruction methods such as penalized-likelihood (PL) to improve C-arm cone-beam CT (CBCT) soft-tissue visualization for intraoperative imaging over conventional filtered backprojection (FBP) is assessed in this work by making a fair comparison in relation to soft-tissue performance. A prototype mobile C-arm was used to scan anthropomorphic head and abdomen phantoms as well as a cadaveric torso at doses substantially lower than typical values in diagnostic CT, and the effects of dose reduction via tube current reduction and sparse sampling were also compared. Matched spatial resolution between PL and FBP was determined by the edge spread function of low-contrast (∼40-80 HU) spheres in the phantoms, which were representative of soft-tissue imaging tasks. PL using the non-quadratic Huber penalty was found to substantially reduce noise relative to FBP, especially at lower spatial resolution where PL provides a contrast-to-noise ratio increase up to 1.4-2.2× over FBP at 50% dose reduction across all objects. Comparison of sampling strategies indicates that soft-tissue imaging benefits from fully sampled acquisitions at dose above ∼1.7 mGy and benefits from 50% sparsity at dose below ∼1.0 mGy. Therefore, an appropriate sampling strategy along with the improved low-contrast visualization offered by statistical reconstruction demonstrates the potential for extending intraoperative C-arm CBCT to applications in soft-tissue interventions in neurosurgery as well as thoracic and abdominal surgeries by overcoming conventional tradeoffs in noise, spatial resolution, and dose.