Staying at the top for 22 years is a tough slog, but Tekken has emerged victorious atop a mound of bloodied and bruised 3D fighters. The Virtua Fighters, Bushido Blades and even Soul Caliburs of this world have proven to be inferior opponents, allowing Tekken to take the proverbial King of Iron Fist crown for itself. However, with the advent of a decent Mortal Kombat game and the likes of Killer Instinct making a triumphant comeback, can Tekken retain its title as gaming’s premier 3D brawler?
I managed to secure a hands-on preview of Tekken 7 at this year’s Play Expo in Manchester, and while the game has seen various arcade iterations since 2015, this was an opportunity to see the game running on the PS4 hardware. The results were rather impressive.
A port of the Fated Retribution cabinet, Tekken 7 packs in all of the spectacle that the series is synonymous with. Smash attacks look decidedly brutal, with flashy animations that convey each devastating blow effectively. As per previous games, landing an attack displays red sparks, while stronger attacks resemble a fireworks display. Graphically, the game is incredibly strong, and these sort of effects only add to the visual experience. The effects combined with the fidelity really make this game as much of a treat to watch as it is to play. It’s what Tekken has built its reputation on, and Namco Bandai certainly aren’t skimping on it this time around, either.
The developers have put a serious emphasis on the animation, too. Movement is as slick as you would expect it to be, plus many characters have extra details that flow in time with the battle. Kazuya’s long jacket tails ripple behind him as he lays the smack down, while newcomer Gigas has a writhing mass of cables attached to his gargantuan frame, all of which wriggle around during combat like a ticklish octopus. The smoothness with which the Unreal Engine (a first for the series) copes with all of this is remarkable. Then there are the arenas themselves, all of which are very stylised and come with their own set of moving parts in the form of breakable walls, floors, and spectators.
In terms of additions, Tekken 7 has a couple of new mechanisms which veterans will be able to master. These arrive in the form of Rage Art attacks, which are desperate, last-ditch manoeuvres that help to balance the odds for players that are low on health. Then there’s also Power Crush attacks, which are uninterruptible attacks that will sail through an opponent’s defences. While you can still take damage during a Power Crush attack, your move animation will not be cancelled, allowing your fighter to push through the pain and deliver a damaging assault. While I didn’t get an awful lot of time to get to grips fully with Power Crush attacks, the aforementioned Rage Art attacks can seemingly be activated only in Rage Mode, but can be powered up further with the more hits you take.
The character roster appeared to be pretty healthy in the preview mode, with more characters likely to be included in the final release. Series stalwarts such as Paul, Law, Heihachi and King are all present and accounted for, while there are a few interesting additions to the roster that should help to keep things fresh. Josie Rizal is a Filipino kickboxer who looks like a halfway house between Hworang and Steve. Lucky Chloe is one of the more outlandish additions, who comes across as some sort of breakdancing anime sweetheart. Then there’s the aforementioned Gigas, whose sheer brutality makes Jack look like a Tonka toy.
Most interestingly, however, is the addition of crossover character Akuma, who Capcom have loaned out from Street Fighter to take on the Mishima clan. By all accounts, Akuma should feel pretty familiar to anyone who has used him in Street Fighter, and yet, he still doesn’t feel out of place in Tekken. He’s a fascinating inclusion on the roster, and is possibly the closest we’ll ever get to seeing that Tekken X Street Fighter crossover that we were teased with many years ago.
For those who may be used to the tag combos from the series’ previous iteration, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, you may be disheartened to hear that Tag Battles are a thing of the past. Here we’re back to good old-fashioned, one-on-one action, the way that God intended. Characters still feel distinctly like their past selves, sharing move-sets and timings as if they haven’t aged a day. After a moment of panic, I spotted my personal favourite character, Bryan Fury, hiding in the corner of the character roster behind a bandana. Selecting him was like selecting an old friend, as was the same with Law and King. Those old combos that you have stored in muscle memory will, for the most part, still work and still be viable strategies.
If there is one criticism to be made of the demo, it’s that the load times between fights feel pretty painful. The loading screens on the last two games have been a test of patience in themselves, and Tekken 7 doesn’t do a whole lot to mitigate that. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, especially since the wait is definitely worth it, but it does limit the easiness of the game to just pick up and play. Just make sure you select extra rounds to get your money’s worth with every load.
As everything seems to be coming together nicely for the console launch, this is undoubtedly the Tekken that we know and love. While its populist appeal may be behind it in the form of Tekken 3, number seven proves to be as fighting fit as it ever has been. If you’ve ever enjoyed the series in the past, you’ll certainly find something to enjoy in this version, too. Look out for it early 2017.