It’s difficult for fighting games to differentiate themselves from the competition in this day and age, but fortunately, Tekken has managed to not only survive getting a bloody nose by the likes of Street Fighter and Dead or Alive, but more importantly, cultivated its own unique bout of fisticuffs and remain a strong contender in the beat-’em-up space throughout its 22-year-history. Indeed, Tekken’s enduring popularity is a testament to its ability to continually evolve with each iteration, not to mention its ubiquity in the esports game space, where the best players from around the world frequently compete for big bucks in events such as the hugely recognised Evo tournament. With Tekken 7, developer Bandai Namco Games is once again looking to shake things up with a number of new gameplay mechanics, not to mention a slew of fresh faces to overhaul the series’ increasingly crowded roster.
PSU was lucky enough to go hands-on with a brand new version of Tekken 7 on the PS4 at a recent Namco event in London, where we got a taste of the new additions to the game in Arcade and Versus. While Tekken 7 story mode is taking centre stage in much of the game’s promotional material---there’s a whole mode dedicated to the Mishima Family saga on Tekken 7’s menu---this particular avenue was locked off to us for our preview, although what we played was more than enough to get a taster for the latest entry in Namco’s venerable fighting game franchise.
Right off the bat, the most striking feature of Tekken 7 are its sumptuous visuals, which have clearly benefited from the added horsepower of current-generation technology. Character models are highly detailed and packed full of nuance, whether be the wrinkles in Kazuya’s ridiculously overblown purple suite, to Marshall Law’s immaculately-sculptured pecs and bulging biceps. The action is incredibly fluid to boot, ensuring every gut-punch and roundhouse kick is delivered to wince-inducing effect, without any noticeable slowdown across each bout.
The stages themselves are also richly presented, from moody dojos that showcase some impressive lighting technology, to arenas on mountain tops that take a battering from huge rainstorms. As always, you can whack your opponent so hard that they can fall through the scenery to the area below, or batter them against walls for extra damage; unlike Dead or Alive though, these features are merely complementary to certain stages, and not the main highlight. The only niggle we spotted so far in terms of performance were the conspicuously long loading times before starting a match.
Tekken 7’s bread-and-butter brawling, meanwhile, is just as gripping as ever. I plumped for Kazuya, having played as him since being introduced to Tekken way back in ‘97, and got stuck into some arcade and versus action. Muscle memory immediately had me launching my opponent into the air, although it’s clear that Namco have made some changes to the way Tekken 7 handles juggles. Eschewing Tekken 6’s somewhat controversial ‘bounce’ attack, players are now in possession of a Tail Spin function, which knocks your victim to the ground in a spin, headfirst. Unlike the bounce function, this is limited to only a special move per character, so you can’t get away with setting up your opponent with health-draining juggles by hand-picking your favorite attacks; this creates a much more even playing field, as Tekken 6 and Tekken Tag 2 were often criticised for over-emphasising juggling.
The main highlight has to be the new Rage Drive however, which trades your super-charged Rage damage for a cinematic move that clobbers your opponent with a seriously damaging combo. For example, Kazuya channels his inner demons, quite literally, as he transforms into Devil Kazuya and whacks his victim into the air zapping them with a powerful laser-beam attack. It’s a great addition that not only looks brilliant, but can be used strategically as a final attack to finish someone off, or give you a serious helping hand if you’re in a spot of bother. They can be dodged too, so there’s also an element of risk to consider. The Power Crush meanwhile allows you to successfully attack while simultaneously receiving damage from your victim, while the final moments of a bout may be slowed down if both players attack at the same time, offering a dramatic conclusion as you glue your eyes to the screen to see who lands the final blow.
Then there’s the new Tekken 7 characters, which appear far more of an eclectic bunch than what we’ve seen previously. We were able to go up against Street Fighter’s Akuma during the arcade mode, which aptly demonstrated how the muscle-bound brawler has transitioned from a 2D landscape over to Tekken’s fully 3D world, to great effect. His distinct moveset definitely sets him apart from the rest of the Tekken crew, though Namco have balanced his attacks nicely without making him overpowered, yet still retaining his individuality. Other newcomers include the series’ first ever Saudi Arabian fighter, Shaheen, a fast-paced combatant who mixes up lightning-fast kicks with some devastating punches; it’s no wonder he’s become a favorite among Tekken 7 players in the arcades. The female brawler Raven, meanwhile, replaces the Wesley Snipes lookalike from the previous games, although her precise, Ninjitsu-flavored attacks are no less devastating than her predecessor.
From what we’ve played, Tekken 7 is shaping up to be a solid entry in a classic series that has done a bang up job of managing to evolve with the competition. Tag 2 was undoubtedly the apex of the franchise in terms of characters and probably took the juggle aspect a little too far, so this scaled-back approach in terms of roster and revamping the combo system, combined with the new Rage attacks, makes Tekken 7 an exciting prospect to say the least.
Tekken 7 is out on June 2, 2017 for PS4, PC, and Xbox One.