We’re not buying the tagline. If “all fights are personal”, Tekken 7, then shouldn’t they involve at least a little personality? This is the latest instalment in a series famous for its brand of bizarre charm, all interspecies proposals and health-regenerating chickens. This time around, we catch ourselves crunching through the game’s story, modes and opponents, wondering when the fun will start. It’s not that Tekken 7 is a sub-standard fighting game – quite the opposite – but that the cold, complacent form in which it’s delivered makes it hard to root for.
Its core 3D brawling system is as strong as ever, mind. Crisp taps of the four face buttons turn into meaty onscreen blows. Whether an old hand or a novice, you naturally start to drum out a rhythm and test the system’s flexible options – one-one-two, two left hooks and a right – then combo into an experimental launcher or low sweep. The orange firework of a confirmed hit encourages, the white fizzle of a block denies. And Tekken 7 makes even basic punch-trading cinematic. When two players at low health throw blows simultaneously, a slo-mo zoom-in on hits (or, with delicious excruciation, on a miss) builds tension and adds style without being intrusive.
Two other additions, Rage Drive and Rage Art, yield even greater results. A good scrap is dicey and dynamic, building to a KO crescendo, and these new mechanics give players even greater control over tempo. A health bar at 25 per cent or less pulses red to signal your character’s Rage state. Either you spend the once-per-round buff on a Rage Drive – an EX-style move that gives you the advantage even if an opponent blocks it and can lead into some tricky set-ups – or try to land
Tekken 7’ s super move, the Rage Art. The latter’s more punishable than the former, able to be blocked or sidestepped. But if it hits, the damage output is devastating. Fast fights hurtle towards that last quarter of life where mind games and Mexican standoffs come to the fore. With simple inputs, and no meter management to fret over, even inexperienced players are able to quickly start feeling out the fundamental rhythms of a fight.
Barring the not-exactly-original inclusion of supers, however, this will all be sounding familiar to long-time fans. Tekken has repeatedly proved its mastery of the tactile, versatile, virtual fistfight. In truth, the changes from Tekken 6 to Tekken 7 are incremental, but the tweaks and flourishes shine nonetheless in their rightful showcase: one-on-one fights. Local multiplayer is, as ever, the lag-free ideal – but the netcode is barely distinguishable from it during our online tests, and a lobby system for up to eight players makes getting a fight club together easy. The altered ranking system works well, too; more experienced players are no longer seen as beginners every time they decide to try a new fighter, so matchmaking seems less frustrating and fights fairer. Unless you’re not a total newcomer, that is, because if you are then you’re probably getting smashed about to kingdom come. Basic mechanical accessibility is just about all the help you can expect from Tekken 7.
It’s every man, woman and panda for themselves: it seems Bandai Namco could barely be less interested in building up and supporting players, simply padding out the launch content with under-baked modes rather than offer any real training or guidance. Vague tips are meted out randomly at various points in the story mode. One loading screen attempts to explain what a Power Crush move is (think Tekken Revolution’s invincible specials). A small, sheepish button prompt might occasionally suggest you perform a Rage Art without giving any indication of what it is, or why you should.
The singleplayer main event, meanwhile, is all over the place. Diving deeper into the Mishima clan’s bonkers history is a tempting prospect, though, and the opening and final half-hour are the classic, campy Tekken we know and sort of love. But the majority is routinely awful. Too many fights are slogs through identikit Tekken Force grunts, dropped out of the sky like fun-nukes. There is – honestly – a thirdperson shooting section. On every difficulty, the AI’s grand plan is to spam the same strong move over and over. And while the Story Assist feature is an admirable concession for first-timers – holding L1 turns the four face buttons into shortcuts for special moves – the side-effect is that it effectively robs players of the real joy of learning how to play properly.
Individual character chapters seem like an ideal opportunity for some combo training, but no. There’s some enjoyment to be had here, at least – J-pop-idol newcomer Lucky Chloe aggressively tutoring fellow dancer Eddy Gordo is a highlight – but a few minutes of rushed characterisation leaves both lacking substance.
Arcade mode is a measly six-stage run through the same woeful CPU foes and is only good for grinding the in-game currency, Fight Money. It’s used to purchase cosmetic items (surreal headwear, for instance), or you can opt for the lucky dip of Treasure Battle, an infinite series of scraps where each win gifts you a piece of loot. It’s a nice idea, but so one-note and challenge-free that you’re always uncomfortably aware of feeding hours of your actual life to the void for a shot at a kooky hat.
Tekken 7 feels cynically put together, a solid but ultimately 20-year-old fighting system freshened up with mechanical twists and bulked out with gimmicks rather than gilded with the series’ signature personality. It’s not enough to be technically proficient: you need a soul and a spark. Tekken used to have both in abundance; Tekken 7 has neither, and it’s hard not to take this slow decline as a personal affront. Perhaps that tagline isn’t so wide of the mark after all.
You’re always uncomfortably aware of feeding hours of your actual life to the void for a shot at a kooky hat