Tekken 4 (PlayStation 2) review
"In fact, it's hard to seriously knock anything, other than the afore-mentioned Tekken Force. In Tekken 4, gamers will find an awesome revolution. Beautiful visuals and sound have never worked so well to complement a slick fighting system as they do here."
The Street Fighter games may have created it, according to Capcom, but the fighting genre has since evolved into the third dimension and Capcom hasn't made any serious strides to keep up. That's just fine with many gamers. Two dimensions are perfect for some frantic fights and some good fun. But for those who think the only good game is a three-dimensional one, there's a new genre king called Namco. The company entered the scene with Tekken, and since then has proven it can consistently provide some of the best fighting on any system. Now Tekken 4 has arrived. Obviously the most direct successor to and evolution from Tekken 3, this title has a lot to live up to. Fortunately, it does.
Before I go any further, I should probably make a confession. I'm one of those gamers that typically prefers to forget the third dimension even exists when it comes to fighting titles. I went into Tekken 4 doubting I would enjoy it all that much. Tekken 3 was a game I played but didn't really enjoy. Still, it seemed fair to give this next entry into the franchise a fair chance, and I'm glad I did. With visuals I wasn't sure the Playstation 2 could even handle, as well as as excellent performance in the sound department, Tekken 4 frequently looks and plays like a dream. For me, it's more enjoyable even than Soul Calibur.
With Tekken, of course, comes a huge back story. All the characters seem to hate one another, and they're all fighting in the King of Iron Fist Tournament 4 in order to accomplish various goals. Some of the stories are tightly related, others only loosely. But in general, every character has a reason to want Heihachi dead, even his son and grandson. That, or they want him out of the way of their dreams. There's one real plot strand, which is the most dull. It's about Heihachi's dreams of becoming all-powerful, and his descendents' efforts to put a stop to the evil in their blood.
At this point, some of you might be wondering why story is so important. This is a fighting game, right? Yes, it is. But there's a story mode. It's a sad excuse for one in that the only time you see story is at the end, but there you have it. Amazingly, Namco chose to differentiate between story and arcade mode. Basically, they're the same deal, except you're robbed of an ending if you play through the arcade mode, or you get an ending if you go through the story mode. For those playing alone, it's quite the simple choice.
There are other modes, too. Survival, time attack, practice, and the all-new Tekken Force mode. I was optimistic about this new choice. I could see how Namco might turn it into a mini-game with a cool street fighting adventure. Judging by the packaging, that's what the company meant to do. However, the result is perhaps the biggest failure on the disc. You take your character of choice through three-dimensional areas that are really just large arenas or mazes. Movement is blocky to an extreme. Along the way, seemingly endless groups of mindless enemies assault you. Your goal is to take them out, grab extra time and life, and make it to a boss encounter at the end of the stage. Once there, win before your time or life runs out. If you fail, it's back to the beginning of the long, tedious level. If you win, it's on to the next stage, which is more challenging and equally frustrating. Most players will probably do what I eventually did and try to forget Namco even included this extra. It's nice they're aware that gamers want extras, but in this case the addition feels completely hollow.
The good news is that everything else on the disc seems to fit. For one thing, there are lightning-fast load times. Between the average fight, you'll sit through maybe 6 seconds of loads, and never a black screen informing you that things are loading. Definitely something I appreciate, as most Playstation 2 titles seem to take forever progressing from character selection to actual gameplay. There are other fine touches that show Namco cares, too, such as the ability to toggle auto save on and off, the option to to sharpen the resolution, and the host of ways in which you can tweak the game in general.
None of this would matter, however, if the game still weren't fun to play. And 'fun' is a word more appropriate in the case of Tekken 4 than it has ever been when applied to any other three-dimensional fighter, if you ask me. The fighting system took me a while to understand, but soon I figured out the importance of the two punch and kick buttons. For those who somehow are as uninformed as I was when I began playing, you are presented with a left and right punch and kick. As you circle your opponent, you have to keep his or her position in mind and decide on the best kick, all the while being prepared to block the inevitable assault your foe is scheming about. Players who button mash their way to victory of course still exist. At first I was one of them. But then I realized how foolish I was for not grasping the system. It's kind of like typing. You can just hunt and peck for the keys, or you can force yourself to learn it right and perform much better and more consistently.
Speaking of button mashers, Eddie is gone. Those of you who have played Tekken 3 even briefly should know what I mean. However, he is replaced by Christie, a much more attractive version of the same fighter. Namco seems to understand that the largely male demographic likes to see hot women bouncing around, and Christie is about as hot as they come.
Like all fighters in this game, Christie moves fluidly. It's amazing how much effort must have gone into the development of character models. Namco makes it look natural, as if you're not really playing a game at all. Skin tucks in the right places, muscles twist in the back as a player turns, and so forth. It's quite fluid and even better, quite detailed. You can distinguish chest hair on some fighters, for example. And while I'm on the topic of hair, Namco seems to really think the stuff needs to move accurately. Only in rare cases does the hair look like it's actually part of a polygonal figure. It shifts in the wind, rests on shoulders, and in general behaves in a close approximation to actual hair. Very impressive. Namco obviously takes pride in this, which means the effect is slightly overdone at times. Still, it manages to look very nice.
As nice as the characters look, though, the environments look even better. The depth that went into some of them is astounding. Apparently, the developers have a thing for Greece. There are statues that look as if they were pulled out of some ancient temple. If I'm not mistaken, there's the famed one of Hercules fighting snakes as a youth, and more. Lions and monsters adorn rooftops in stone form, and best of all you can break some statues and other pieces of environments in general. This sometimes affects gameplay. You might be fighting in a parking garage, admiring the beautiful sheen and reflection on some cars, then find yourself punching at a block column. Eventually, it will collapse away, giving you more room to nail your opponent or, as the case may be, finish destroying the obstacle in time to receive a generous kick to the face.
With each environment comes a good musical selection. There's not really a whole lot of variety, but what's there is nice. And the sound department doesn't end there. Ambience is common in levels. My favorite stage is one fought in a forest, with rippling water and the sounds of crickets and other wildlife in the background. Everything meshes together beautifully. Then there are stages like the final one, where roaring crowds are in the background. And for those of you out there who prefer subtitles to dubbing, that's the approach the American localization team took this time. Some of the voices have been changed to English in parts of the game--with the actors chosen not quite sounding right at all times--but most of the dialogue that really counts is subtitled. Whether you like the game as a whole or not, it's hard to knock its audio.
In fact, it's hard to seriously knock anything, other than the afore-mentioned Tekken Force. In Tekken 4, gamers will find an awesome revolution. Beautiful visuals and sound have never worked so well to complement a slick fighting system as they do here. With developers like these in the world, there's no reason to think the fighting genre will fade anytime soon. And the next team to outdo this effort will just as likely as not be Namco. If you like the genre and you love your three dimensions, Tekken 4 is highly recommended. It will bring them to you as smoothly as possible. Of course, you Tekken fans already knew that.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (September 25, 2002)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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