Tekken 7 review: Faster, Stronger, Sillier
Tekken 7-land is a very silly place. When pink-haired androids aren’t using their own heads as weapons, characters romp around with enormous pizzas across their backs. When the handbag-wearing panda isn’t looking for its owner, a demon-winged CEO is bringing down an orbiting laser satellite. Chekhov it ain’t.
Bounding about with all the tongue-wagging energy of a cocaine-fuelled Labrador
Not that you’re looking for drawing room subtlety in the world of Tekken, laden as it is with fighting grotesques and a small nation’s supply of hair gel. The series has never been known for its restraint, but Tekken 7 goes further than most – bounding about with all the tongue-wagging energy of a cocaine-fuelled Labrador. It’s a great deal of fun, with a varied roster and an enjoyably absurd level of customisation.
Tekken 7’s story mode centres on the long-running feud between spikey-haired patriarch Heihachi Mishima, his demonic son Kazuya Mishima and his grandson Jin Kazama. The whole thing is tied together by cutscenes, narrated by a journalist investigating the Mishima corporation after the death of his own family. Producer Katsuhiro Harada has said before that Tekken 7’s story would be darker than those in previous entries, and there certainly are gestures towards sombre subject matter and plot-arc finalities, but the narrative is ultimately too ludicrous to pack a real emotional punch. Instead, it’s at its strongest with tongue lodged firmly in cheek – revelling in lunacy when characters talk po-faced about militarised corporations then break into cackles of laughter.
While the game’s story may be impenetrable for newcomers, it’s ultimately a way to get a taste for the combat styles of Tekken 7’s various characters. Not that it makes learning the ropes particularly easy. There’s little in the way of training for beginners, except some general instructions and a dummy-combat practice mode. The good news is that Tekken is still very much Tekken, and if you used to stay up until the early hours playing Tekken 2 in a student bedsit, you’ll quickly slip back into the series’ emphasis on high-damage combos and counters. If you didn’t, then you’ll have to spend a lot of time rolling through moves against a CPU – not the most accessible learning curve out there.
Amongst the 36 fighters on launch are series regulars including Law, King, Lee and Paul, and new additions such as the cat-loving, Japanese-culture freak Lucky Chloe and a Saudi Arabian soldier called Shaheen, who wears a red and white checkered shemagh as if that’s the defining quality of someone from Saudi Arabia. Cultural sensitivity aside, it’s a nicely balanced roster that even makes room for Street Fighter’s Akuma, who turns up and looks grumpy in the story mode as well.
With a simple-to-understand system that assigns each limb a button, combat in Tekken 7 is easy to pick up. Beginners can get a lot out of button-mashing, although fights can sometimes feel leaden if you’re at the early stages of mastering the game’s many, many moves and combos. Helpfully, the action has been given an immediate sense of flow with the addition of new mechanics. The new “Rage Arts” system, for example, lets you set off a batch of special moves that can knock around a third of an opponent’s health off. It’s similar to Street Fighter IV’s Ultra attacks, while the new uninterruptible Power Crush moves are also reminiscent of Street Fighter’s Focus Attack system. Both are effective in adding an extra layer of flow and moment-to-moment strategy to combat, particularly towards the ends of matches.
Much like the recently released Injustice 2, there’s a lot in Tekken 7 for players that appreciate whaling on computer opponents but may be less keen on competitive multiplayer. Tekken 7’s Treasure Battle mode, for example, is where you fight CPU opponents to win in-game currency and unlock customisation items – ranging from new hairstyles to bizarre shark heads and back-clocks. There’s a surprising amount of tat here to adorn your characters with, and unlocking crazy new outfits can become a minor addiction. What could have been a gimmicky add-on does a great deal to set the tone for Tekken 7, with its emphasis on oddball paraphernalia and extravagant theatrics.
Less central to Tekken 7 is a Jukebox mode, which lets you play to soundtracks from previous entries in the series. There’s also a VR mode for the PS4 version that plays much like the game’s practice mode, with the additional ability to slow down time. Far from a first-person reinvention of the fighting genre, this is a standard face-on perspective of the fight, albeit one that lets you turn your head around a virtual space. It’s diverting for a few minutes, but not a reason to consider purchasing a PSVR headset.
Online play was relatively unpopulated at the time I reviewed the game, so it’s too soon to draw firm conclusions about Tekken 7’s ranked and unranked portions. Matchmaking seemed smooth, however, and there’s a nice warm up feature that lets you get some practice in before a match. We’ll keep an eye on how the online side of the game develops, but there aren’t any glaring problems in what we’ve seen so far.
Tekken 7’s story plays out like a steroid-pumped episode of Eastenders, but the lighthearted approach to combat is a lot of fun
Tekken 7’s story plays out like a steroid-pumped episode of EastEnders, but the game’s lighthearted approach to combat is a lot of fun to experience. Importantly, all its camp extravagance sits on top of a fighting system with enough depth to keep players up until the early hours, mashing buttons as they stare bleary-eyed at a demon fight a handbag-wearing panda.