Developer: Studio Gigante
Release Date : March 18, 2003
Ever since DOA 3 was released alongside Xbox, fighting fans have been waiting for the next great fighter. Sadly, this is one of the genres in which the Xbox has really been lacking. Microsoft seems to understand this and has worked hard to pump out some first-party fighting games of late. The first two fighters from MS, Kakuto Chojin and Kung Fu Chaos, both missed their mark. Is the third time the charm for MS?
Coming from the mind of Mortal Kombat co-creator John Tobias and developed from the ground up exclusively for the Xbox console, Tao Feng has a lot going for it from the get-go. Studio Gigante really wanted to offer something new in the fighting genre, and in many ways, they have. Upon startup, you will see that Tao Feng offers the now-standard modes of play for a fighting game, quest mode, versus, team battle and training. Quest mode will be your main mode of play and will take you though the game's story. You will pick one of two warring Chinese sects to recover six ancient artifacts that will grant their owners everlasting life when pieced together. There are 12 fighters in the game to pick from, and depending on which sect you select, you will have to fight the six fighters from the rival sect, each with their own piece of the artifact. At the start of each fight, you will view a short cut scene that explains your fighter's role in all of this and help move the story along. The story itself is pretty cut and dry and not really different from other fighters on the market, but the good voice acting really helps to keep it interesting. The quest mode is set up in a unique way that makes it really deep and will keep you busy for a good 10-15 hours. The other modes, however, offer nothing new and are the same standard ones that have graced almost every other fighter out there.
Once you get into a game, you will notice a few things that are different right away. There are no rounds or time limits, just health indicators in Tao Feng. You will fight until either you or your opponent exhausts all three of the indicator bars, at which point the match winner is declared. This makes for some really long matches, and when all is said and done, you will feel like you have really earned the victory. The lack of rounds really keeps the fighting flowing, since there are no breaks other than the few seconds it takes your fighter to recover and get back up after one of your health bars has been taken out. Each fight is a real battle to the finish. Even if you have quite a bit more health then your opponent, the tides can turn quickly in Tao Feng, and you could find yourself facing defeat instead of your opponent.
There's a reason for this, and it just so happens that reason is also the biggest problem with Tao Feng. What is that reason, you ask? Well to put it mildly, the AI in Tao Feng is insanely difficult to beat. The computer is near perfect in its fights and will be quick to take full advantage of any slip-ups on your end. The game has three difficulty settings, but the differences between them are massive. There is no "middle ground" in Tao Feng, as the medium setting starts off really easy for the first two fighters, but gets extremely difficult after that. In contrast, the AI's "easy" setting is borderline brain-dead. Often you will see it standing around not blocking, doing small three-hit combos and not using its special Chi attacks even though its Chi meter will be full. Speaking of combos,
Tao Feng's gameplay is completely based around combos. It is not a bad thing for a fighting game to base its gameplay around performing combos, since most do in some way or another, but you HAVE to have some way to break those combos. Most games make use of a "combo breaker," which is a move you can pull off in the middle of an opponent's combo in order to cut it short. In Tao Feng, there is no way to ever break a combo once it's been started. For a fighting game whose gameplay is totally dependent upon doing combos, this is a big flaw which is further magnified due to the incredibly tough AI. Since the AI is so good, there will be many times when you miss a block, and all you can do is watch as the computer does a 10-hit combo on your ass. The combo system itself is pretty clunky, as the combos don't really flow together, and while the smaller ones are pretty easy to pull off, the larger ones take very precise timing. Having said that, to make it anywhere in Tao Feng, it is an absolute MUST that you learn some of the bigger combos! The smaller ones just don't do enough damage to be able to use exclusively.
Fights in Tao Feng boil down to both fighters trying to find an opening where they can pull off either short-form combos or long-form combos. The bigger the combo, the more damage you will inflict and the faster you will fill up your Chi meter. Chi is Tao Feng's name for your special attack. Every time you land a punch or kick, your Chi meter will increase. Once full, you will be able to perform one of your character's three special Chi attacks or heal a damaged limb. Most of the Chi attacks are impressive to watch and can even be added to a combo to really do some damage. One of the areas that Tao Feng really does something new is in its limb damage system. In Tao Feng, you can damage your limbs by excessive blocking or getting knocked into the many hazards in the levels. The limb damage system is divided up into upper limbs (your arms) and lower limbs (your legs). Before your limb is damaged, you will get a damage warning to let you know that one of your limbs is about to be taken out. Once damaged, all moves with that limb will only have 50% power. This is a really great feature for a fighting game that gets rid of blocking whores and adds a lot of depth to the gameplay by making you use other means to avoid an opponent's attack. Another really cool thing you can do in Tao Feng is perform attacks off of objects. Every level has many different objects you can do moves off of at the press of a single button. You can even do moves off of walls, which really helps you from getting pinned down in a corner.
The controls in Tao Feng are great. As I stated before, the button layout works well and is easy to learn. The bigger combos are hard to pull off, due to the timing involved, but the controls will not hinder you at all. Some of the most impressive moves in Tao Feng, like object attacks and performing your special Chi moves, are all done with the press of a single button. Fighting games demand good control, and Tao Feng has no problems here.
The most impressive and noticeable aspect of Tao Feng is its great graphics. Studio Gigante has done an amazing job with the graphics engine and really shows off the power of Xbox very well. I will go on record and say that Tao Feng's characters are the most detailed models in any fighting game ever, even DOA 3. All of the fighters are made with a massive number of polygons, so as well as being extremely detailed, you will never see any jagged edges when they move. Further adding to the level of detail in the models is Tao Feng's real-time damage system. During the fights, you will see cuts, gashes and bruises appear all over your character's body. It's an impressive visual touch that really shows how much abuse the fighters are taking.
The levels in Tao Feng are just as impressive. Just about everything can be interacted with in some way. If you see it, chances are you can be tossed into it. The textures on both the characters and levels are very detailed and high resolution, definitely some of the best textures seen on Xbox to date. The lighting and shadows in the levels are also quite impressive and look very realistic. All of the special effects for the moves are very well done and are a treat to see. The only downside in the graphics is the frame rate, which does encounter some slowdown here and there, but nothing too major and nothing that will affect the game play. If I really nit pick, I would say some of the levels are kind of simple in design and could have been a little more exciting, but that is really going out of my way to find something. Overall, Tao Feng is one of the most impressive looking games on the Xbox and is a great show piece of what Xbox hardware can accomplish. This one will definitely impress your friends.
Soundwise, Tao Feng also does a great job. All of the sound effects are crisp and high-quality, doing a great job of expressing the full power of a move. The voice acting is also very well done and sounds great, and the music fits the game well and gets the job done.
Tao Feng is a good fighter with a few pretty big flaws that keep it from being great. If you have a lot of patience, you can overcome these flaws and really enjoy the game. Tao Feng is, without a doubt, one of the toughest fighters I have ever played. It WILL piss you off, and it WILL make you mad. Tao Feng takes a long time to master, and even the best gamers out there will find this one tough. If you are one of those hardcore fighting fans that really wants to be put to the test, Tao Feng is the perfect game for you. If you are not a big fan of fighting games then you might want to rent it before taking the plunge. Studio Gigante has built one hell of an engine from scratch and despite its flaws, it's a very good first attempt. With better balance, easier AI, and a smoother combo system, Tao Feng 2 can easily be one of the top fighters out there. There is a lot of promise for this series.