When the PlayStation launched in the U.S. in the mid-'90s, it did so with three fighting games. Despite having the arcade notoriety of Mortal Kombat 3 and the heavy marketing that Sony did for Battle Arena Toshinden, it was Tekken, a recent arcade release, which captured the hearts and minds of fighting gamers on Sony's new console. The basic pick-up-and play nature of the game, combined with an extensive character roster and depth in combat, led to big sales, a devoted fan base, and a new identity for Namco as a premier developer of 3-D fighting games.
Over the years, the developer has taken the franchise to new heights in everything from the graphics to the number of characters to the modes, but the one thing that has remained constant is the solid fighting engine that drew in people from the beginning. Fifteen years later, after a new game from the series has gone missing from a home console launch for the first time in franchise history, Tekken 6 makes its way to both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, marking the first time that the game has had a multiplatform release. The question is whether the series has faltered all these years later or if it is still a strong contender at a time when fighting games are making a comeback.
It must be said that the game released for home consoles isn't Tekken 6 but Tekken 6: Bloodline Rebellion. This small bit of information may not mean much at first, but, like Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection, the subtitle addition means more than just a new CG movie to view. Two new characters enter the fray, bringing the total number of fighters to 40, a roster that's just as big as Tekken Tag Tournament but a bit more diverse since almost all of the characters here don't share the same move sets. The fighting system has also received two major tweaks. First, all players have at least one power move that can cause the opponent to bounce when landing on the ground, giving the player the chance to perform juggle combos. Second, the Rage system kicks in when the player is at very low health, temporarily increasing the damage he deals to his opponent. Both abilities give the fighting a little more depth and, in the case of Rage mode, help the novice come to terms with how the game works if he plays against a veteran fighter. While there's no way to turn off these new features, series veterans won't find that their games changed too drastically with these additions.
The game is split into three major components, two of which are offline. For just the second time in the history of the series, Tekken 6 takes the fight online. The standard ranked matches and player matches are here, as well as leaderboards for the various modes in the game. It's all standard stuff but the game does do two things differently that are pretty interesting. For starters, on either player or ranked matches, players are asked to choose a character before the game goes out to find opponents. The change doesn't seem very big initially, but then you realize that this cuts down on people always waiting to see what their opponent picks first before picking their fighter to counteract him or her, and it becomes something that you wish other fighting games did. The other thing it lets you do is upload and download fight replays and ghost data. Fight replays are self-explanatory (and already available in some fighting games), but ghost data is a bit more interesting since you can get a fair idea of a player's fight tendencies and strategies. It's not a bad way to brush up on your own fighting skills and prepare for a friend or rival in case you want to set up a fight against that person.
With all of this said, fighting games need to be stable online, and this is something that Tekken 6 does well most of the time. Out of the 30 matches played online for this review, a good portion of those played flawlessly on average connections. However, there were a few times when the game slowed down as the connection fluctuated during the match, and some matches stayed slow from beginning to end. There were fewer still that completely dropped despite the game reading an excellent connection. It's not a complete deal-breaker and the code isn't as bad as The King of Fighters XII before the patching, but it is something to note if you plan on taking your fights online.
Offline mode stores several other game modes that would normally be placed front and center on the main menu. Arcade mode is exactly the same game as you would find on the upright machine. You battle through eight waves of fighters until you meet the final encounter with the game's boss. Survival mode lets you take one fighter in a test of endurance to see how many people you can beat with just one life bar. Versus mode is the standard offline multiplayer mode fighting game that fans should be very familiar with by now. Team Battle mode is a variation of Versus mode, where players can build up a roster of fighters and play until one side is completely depleted of players.
Ghost mode lets you fight against downloaded and pre-built fighter data, sort of like an enhanced Practice mode, which is also included in the game. Finally, there's Customization ,ode where you can spend the money you earn in every other game mode, both offline and online, and dress up your character as you see fit. None of the items you equip any of the fighters with do anything outside of change their look, but the option to personalize your favorite fighter has been something the community has enjoyed for quite some time. Those players will be happy to know that the number of items for customization has grown since Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection and include both licensed items and items customized by famous art houses, like Clamp and Gabe of Penny Arcade fame.
The few issues you'll see in Offline mode are universal issues for the rest of the game and take away from the title's initial polish. For one thing, the game has long load times. On average, it takes about 12 seconds to load up any fight in any mode. Taking advantage of the installation option will shave it down to nine seconds, but when other fighting games have faster load times (including Namco Bandai's own Soul Calibur IV), Tekken 6 feels a bit slow. This feeling is amplified by the numerous load screens the game goes through for just about every activity. For example, when one wants to play a versus match, the main menu has to load for the profile's favorite stage and character (this cannot be turned off, by the way), and then load into character select before making a final load for the match itself. In the time it does to do all of that and finally get in a match, the player could already be in the second round of other fighting games.
Another issue has to do specifically with Ghost mode. While you can download someone's ghost data online, there's no way you can specifically fight that particular ghost data. You just have to go through the mode and hope that it shows up when you play. Finally, the end boss in Arcade mode is probably one of the cheapest bosses in recent fighting game history. Forgetting the massive structure of the boss for a minute, it follows in the tradition of other fighting game bosses as having too many powerful attacks in his arsenal. Not only are they unblockable, but he seems to be able to block any attack without any animation to tell the player that he is in blocking mode. Couple all of that with the fact that he can also take advantage of Rage mode despite his powerful arsenal, and you have a boss that ranks up there with numerous SNK fighting game bosses and Seth from Street Fighter IV as being too frustrating to play against, even when the difficulty of the game is set to easy.
Scenario Campaign mode is the new title for the game's adventure mode and another stab at trying to turn the fighting game into a cohesive adventure title. After giving the player a brief history of the series' story line from beginning to end, you play as Lars, a Tekken Force commander who has built up a small resistance army of his own to oppose Jin Kazama and his bid for world domination. During an attack on one of Jin's laboratories, he comes across Alisa, a scientist's deceased daughter who has had her mind and body transferred to a robot. After an explosion that destroyed his team and given him amnesia, the duo go on a quest to recover Lars's memories and stop Jin at all costs.
The game is played in a full 3-D perspective similar to that of most third-person adventure games. At its heart, though, this mode tries to emulate last-generation brawling games like The Warriors and The Bouncer by giving the user a bit more freedom when fighting. Standard moves the characters have in the other modes are available here, so you can bust out a 10-hit combo on a boss or minion if you wish, so long as none of the moves involve ducking or jumping.
Throughout the levels, you can pick up items to customize either Alisa or Lars and, unlike the customization items for other characters, these items contain benefits for this mode alone, such as increased health or the chance to inflict elemental damage. Interestingly enough, this game mode contains a good amount of the game's Achievements/Trophies, so players looking for those things would be advised to spend the few hours that it takes to complete this mode. There's also an Arena mode in here that acts as abridged version of Arcade mode. Having characters fight and win this mode will get you their personal opening and ending cinematics, just like the Arcade mode of the previous Tekken games used to do.
As stated before, the issues with load time do artificially lengthen the experience and, due to the numerous cut scenes in this mode, become one reason why this mode isn't as enjoyable as it should be. Another reason is the camera. Players cannot manipulate the camera in any way, and while the camera tries to do a good job of staying behind the player's back most of the time, it can get caught up in the level geometry during a fight and give you a close-up of a box instead. While the mode is meant to be based on classic brawling games, it decides to follow wrestling guidelines when in fights by making you lock on to the nearest opponent. While this is a good thing, the fights stop you from running or doing throws, which can get you in trouble if you happen to be fighting against multiple enemies at the same time. Finally, despite there being two characters on the journey, this is a strictly single-player affair. While there isn't word if a patch coming out soon that would enable online co-op, the fact that the disc itself only has this in single-player mode is a bit disappointing.
As far as controls are concerned, the series has never strayed away from being simple to understand. There are two punch buttons and two kick buttons, each one corresponding to the left and right limb of the fighter. This is where the pick-up-and-play aspect comes in, since players can figure out simple combos based on which limb they want to attack with as opposed to being at the mercy of what a strong attack would perform as opposed to a weak one. Both the d-pad and left analog stick are used for character movement. Anyone who's ever played a fighting game will instantly know that blocking is done by moving backward, and jumping is hitting the up direction, but 3-D sidestep movement is also possible by double-tapping up or down. Newcomers will feel fine with this control scheme while veterans will instantly pick up right where they left off. During the Scenario Campaign mode, the controls remain the same, but a lock-on button has been added to help determine who you'll fight against while in combat. Overall, there's nothing really to complain about as far as controls are concerned.
Tekken has always had the power to impress as far as graphics are concerned, and this entry is no different. All character models, from the fighters to the spectators, are beautifully rendered, with some nice attention to detail in the clothing. Every logo and decoration comes through clearly and legibly, especially the various Tapout shirts that some of the fighters seem to be sporting. Environments are also well done, with some nice particle effects happening in almost every place you can fight. From the final boss' lair to the war-torn streets to the rooftops of buildings, you'll see trash fly, embers float, and rain drop heavily and realistically.
What really impresses, though, are the lighting effects. Some of the environments, like the temple with the quick sundown and the fountain, show off great lighting effects that shine off of the characters well. The effects coming from the characters, like the final boss, provide the same amount of shine and equally impress. With all of this moving at a solid 60 fps, everything in this department would be great if it weren't for a few flaws. For one, the game doesn't have anti-aliasing, so some of the character models do sport a few jaggies every now and then. Also, while the environments are fantastic to look at, some of them do produce a carousel effect when you play there. The most obvious one happens in the mountains surrounded by sheep, where the part of the ground tends to rotate one way while another moves the other way as you fight. The trick may have worked back on the early days of the series, but it doesn't work all too well now.
Sound has been a strong point for the series from day one, and that tradition continues in this game. The effects hit just as hard as ever. Every punch, kick and slam on the ground comes through the speakers with the same clarity as before, some even giving the bass of your speaker system a workout. The music isn't stuck to one genre like before. This time around, you get a nice mix of techno, hard rock and remixed folk music with which to fight to. Admittedly, some of the musical selections sound a bit strange, but it's not a big reason to turn down the speakers, especially since the music doesn't last long enough to become annoying. As for the voices, that's where things get a bit tricky. You'll hear the fighters make their quips before and after and they don't sound too bad, though some of those voices can be drowned out by the music. When you get to Scenario Campaign mode, however, the voices start to become more audible, and this is where questions arise. Most of the voices seem fine, but then there are a few characters, like Eddy, who sound completely off, as if the wrong voice actor were cast for the role. Like the music selection, these gaffes are livable but are still cringe-inducing when they show up.
Is Tekken 6 a good fighting game? Absolutely. The multiple modes, great graphics and controls as well as tweaked, but still solid, fighting system make this a great entry in the fighting game series. Is Tekken 6 the best fighting game out of the recent crop of fighting games to have come out in the past two years? Absolutely not. The many load screens, load times, a few hiccups online and a very cheap end boss show that the programming team at Namco still has room for improvement. Still, those flaws aren't enough to dissuade any fighting game fan from picking up this game. In fact, anyone even remotely interested in fighting games would do well to give this a shot, as the only people who could conceivably be seen staying away from this are those with no interest in fighting games and those who simply dislike the Tekken series already.
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