Over the last fifteen years Tekken has Thunder-God-Fisted its way into the hearts of fighting game fans with addictively deep gameplay and a fantastic cast of fighters. It's been some time since Tekken 5 popped up on the Playstation 2, and Tekken has been the slowest of all the major fighting game franchises to make its way to the current generation of consoles. Nonetheless, better late than never, Tekken 6 has emerged to see if it can still hang with the big boys.
The console release of Tekken 6 is actually the equivalent to the arcade update to Tekken 6, subtitled Bloodline Rebellion. There are six brand new characters, and true to Tekken form, they're each able to stand out as fresh and interesting while still fitting snugly into the Tekken universe. There's Bob, the obese but speedy American who's uncannily similar to Street Fighter IV's Rufus. There's Miguel, effortlessly cool Spaniard, the mysterious and exotic Zafina, and the androgynous Leo (she not he). Lars Alexandersson adds yet another branch to the Mishima family tree as a son of Heihachi (strangely not Kazuya) and Alisa Bosconovitch is the android 'daughter' of Dr Bosconovitch, who has popped up throughout the series.
So what else is new? Well, fans will be relieved to know that the core gameplay in Tekken 6 is still fantastic, with a few small adjustments. Stages are now more interactive, several having breakable floors that will drop you down to another level. There are also 'Bound' moves which allow you to bounce your opponent off the ground in order to initiate juggles. The most significant of the new tweaks however, is the Rage mode. Rage is activated when a fighter's health is down to a low percentage, giving them a significant boost in power. This sounds great in theory; the idea being that players on the back foot are able to mount a comeback and steal a victory, thus making matches more exciting. Unfortunately Rage is a little bit too overpowered. If there's an even fight between players of similar skill, it's really to your disadvantage to be the first to damage your opponent to the point of Rage being activated. It feels like it unbalances the otherwise pitch-perfect gameplay and shifts the deciding factor in match to luck more than skill.
Visually Tekken 6 is solid but not spectacular. It runs nice and smooth but the appearance just seems a bit dated, and neither the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 versions match up to the game's appearance in the arcades, despite the arcade version running on Playstation 3 hardware. There's certainly nothing significant to complain about, and the ability to toggle motion blur on and off is nice. The fighter models look great and the animation is typically superb. The fight stages generally look quite good but the environments in Scenario Campaign are sub-standard.
Sub-standard is a word that will come up a few more times as we describe Scenario Campaign. Funnily enough, it's almost identical in execution to the Adventure mode in Super Smash Bros Brawl. You'll be taking the newbies Lars and Alisa through a fully-fledged story that springs from the war between the Mishima Zaibatsu and the G Corporation. You'll go through one stage at a time, fighting off a variety of goons, culminating in a boss fight with a Tekken character at the end of the stage. There are a few cutscenes and the voice acting isn't completely terrible, if you can overlook the fact that characters all understand one another despite speaking in different languages. Once you beat a character in boss form you can start playing as them (though the story remains identical). You've got two ways to move and fight; you can use the analogue stick but have a limited set of moves, or you can use the d-pad, which makes movement awkward, but gives you your entire move set as if you were in a regular fight. You can switch between the two seamlessly and this works well for the most part. The targeting system is workable but it's too easy to end up targeting somebody out of your range, and there's also an annoying delay when trying to switch the target from the enemy you just defeated to the enemy you want to attack next. There are a couple of weapons you can get hold of including a gatling gun, flamethrower and pipe, and these are spread out at sensible intervals. Though Scenario Campaign seems perfect for co-op, there's no ability to do so either offline or online. Purportedly online co-op will be introduced to the game via a patch, though it seems bizarre that it wouldn't be included from the get-go, and to not find a way to include offline co-op is criminal.
The other thing you'll be doing in Scenario Campaign is collecting items. Every character in the game has a vast array of items that can be either found or purchased to customize their appearance, some more extreme than others. These items have the additional purpose of giving a statistical boost to your character in Scenario Campaign. Boosts can entail anything from increasing your HP, attack and defense, to adding elements to your attacks, to increasing your item drop rate chances. This element of Scenario Campaign works quite well, and it's fun to deck your character out in potent but utterly mismatched gear.
But here's the thing. Scenario Campaign is a silly but ultimately quite playable side-game. Tekken fans buy the game to play Tekken. Something like Scenario Campaign is nothing but an amusing distraction. Tekken 6 disagrees with this notion so strongly that it shoves Scenario Campaign down your throat in every way it can. It invades the game. It's like inviting a good friend over to your house, but they bring along an annoying cousin. You still enjoy the time with your friend, but the cousin is yapping loudly and touching your stuff. It's especially telling that when you boot up the game, Scenario Campaign is the very first option on the menu. It's equally telling that the achievements/trophies are in the majority Scenario Campaign-related goals. You can't even earn character endings until you've jumped through some hoops, the four-stage Arena (a miniature Arcade mode) mode only allowing the use of characters unlocked through Scenario Campaign.
We mentioned the huge number of items available to each character for customisation.
These can be picked up in Scenario Campaign or bought separately. Surely if you dislike Scenario Campaign you can just buy them instead, especially since what you'll pick up for free is completely random. Unfortunately the discrepancy in the rewards between Scenario Campaign and regular play is vast. You could play through Arcade mode ten times and barely earn a fraction of what you can get mindlessly grinding for five minutes in Scenario Campaign. It almost equates to blackmail. You want to see character endings? Play Scenario Campaign. You want money to purchase items to customize your fighter? Play Scenario Campaign. You can't even farm items for two characters at once since you're stuck with Alisa as your partner on nearly every stage. It's a case of bizarre, almost arrogant fixation, the game's developers evidently so proud of their little adventure mode they completely forgot that Tekken fans want to play Tekken.
Tekken 6 comes with the typical array of modes, with Team Battle an especially great multiplayer option. There's the full-length arcade mode, versus, practice, and the arcade simulation of ghost battle where you can take each fighter up through the ranks (though rankings carry across and can be gained in most modes, including online). The end boss you'll fight in both arcade modes, shiny Egyptian demon Azazel, is just as cheap if not even cheaper than Street Fighter IV's Seth, and definitely cheaper than Tekken 5's Jinpachi. It makes you wonder whether there's a secret running joke amongst fighting game developers as to who can create the most obnoxious boss, because player enjoyment clearly isn't at the forefront of their priorities when they put these irritating monstrosities together. Our recommendation? Save yourself the agony, set the difficulty for the fight to easy, the bouts to thirty seconds, hit it a couple of times and run away. A cheap challenge deserves cheap tactics, and Azazel is as cheap as they come.
The big question when it comes to online play is whether the netcode is good enough to carry off the precision timing fighting games require. The short answer is, it tries. In our experience most matches had a minor amount of lag, making the game perfectly playable but far from delivering the precision and immediacy required by the hardcore players who know the frame counts for every move. Conversely there were matches that were completely unplayable. On the positive side it doesn't take long to get matches going and dropouts are rare. You're also able to upload your own ghost, which is supposed to be an AI approximation of your own fighting style and tactics. While the accuracy of the representation is vague at best, it's nonetheless a cool option, and you can also download the ghosts of other players. You can also watch and record replays.
Tekken 6 is a rock-solid fighting game. Scenario Campaign is a fun distraction with an overinflated sense of importance that becomes a blight on the game if you want to accumulate items and money, though if co-op modes arrive it will be a worthwhile multiplayer option. Online, while a lottery in terms of lag, amounts to a fun way to beat people up across the globe. But the core gameplay is stronger than ever, and with a cast of 40 fighters, each with depth and substance, and a more than sufficient range of modes to give them a thrashing in, Tekken 6 holds its own with the big boys despite being late to the party.