After a four year absence on consoles, the Tekken series has finally made its current-gen debut with its best entry yet. Tekken 6 offers new modes, expanded customization, and improved gameplay that is smoother than ever before. It also brings the series online for the time and revamps the usual Tekken Force mode into the Scenario Campaign mode - with branching level options and a more detailed plot.
The series has always been known for its fast pace, smooth controls, and extensive combo system - all of which are retained and expanded upon. The controls have never been more responsive, which is fantastic news not only for offline players, but online as well because if the core game had sloppy controls, it would be a complete nightmare to play online. The core gameplay is about the same as it always was, so series vets will have no trouble getting into it, and the series has always been newcomer-friendly, so no one should have much trouble starting out.
As usual, Namco has added some new things to keep the gameplay from getting stagnant. This time around, a “rage” system has been added, which gives you more attack power when you’re low on health. You’ll see a customizable color surround a character, giving you a clear visual indicator that their attacks will do more damage - making it imperative that you play defensively as one really good hit can either lead you to juggling against a wall for more damage, or send you flying into the air for an air combo. Either way, you have to do your best to avoid being hit with a full-force shot, even if you have a considerable amount of health left as it doesn’t take long for that to deplete. The debut of destructible environments to the franchise also freshens things up a bit. While the feature isn’t as prevalent as it is in the Dead or Alive series, Namco’s execution of it here is still well-done, and I think that having it in fewer stages helps make it seem like a special event when you come across a new area.
A “ghost battle” mode has also been added, and allows you to you face as many CPU-controlled enemies in succession as you want. Unlike the traditional survival mode though (which is also in the game), your health bar refills after each fight and results in this mode being perfect for marathon play. It allows you to improve your character’s ranking and in-game currency for items quickly, and takes away the frustrating elements of the survival mode by not stacking the deck against you. Beyond the survival mode, that kind of stuff is saved for the arcade mode, which sees you face A GIANT SCREEN-FILLING ROBOT - thankfully in a bonus stage, and an enormous dragon-like end boss that is thankfully less cheap (and far less frustrating as a result) than Tekken 5’s Jinpachi.
The aforementioned Scenario Campaign mode offers up the usual 3D beat-em-up gameplay that was used before in the Tekken Force/Devil Within modes in past games, but with a far greater emphasis on the plot than ever before. If you loved those modes, you’ll like this, but it does feature some problems - the camera is frequently in the wrong place, and you’ll frequently take needless damage due to the camera swinging behind an object like a big box that is behind you, instead of focusing on your character. The camera also makes it harder than it should be to grab items and weapons - which are quite awesome and include things like gattling guns. Multi-player online co-op was originally planned for this mode, but has been held off until a patch for it is released - unfortunately, it’s not available at press time.
However, one was released for basic one-on-one online play after it initially received some flack for being lag-filled. While I didn‘t experience a lot of problems with it, some did, and given how important timing is to fighters, excessive lag would have crippled the gameplay and ruined the fun for me. As it is though, you do have to be careful when facing people who use characters with cheap combos as those tactics are basically impossible to counter with any lag, and you’ll lose quite easily if you face off with someone doing that. The excessive pre-fight loading times also make the online (and offline) experience drag more than they should. While some of them aren’t that bad, the time it takes to load the menus is absurd, and it takes about 30 seconds to load before a fight. After playing a slew of loading-heavy racing games, these times don’t seem so bad, but after also playing VF 5, which doesn’t have them, they stick out badly here.
Character customization is back, so folks who loved adorning the series’ cast with whatever wacky outfit combinations they could think of will be happy. It’s made even better by the expanded roster, which is the largest in series history. As nice as this feature is though, I would have preferred to see it return and also be able to make my own character outright. Namco did a great job with that feature in the newer SoulCalibur games, and it would’ve been nice to see here as well.
The visuals are about what fans have come to expect from the series - the character models look excellent, and are slightly better-looking than VF 5’s. The animation is as smooth as its ever been, which is both good and bad. Those used to the timing of the moves from past games will have no trouble, but the animations don’t exactly stack up well compared to more fluid current-gen fare. However, the CG cut scenes continue the series’ tradition of delivering fantastic-looking cinematics. What sets Tekken 6 apart from the other entries in the series and puts it above all other fighters visually are its backgrounds - they are far more intricate and action-packed than any I‘ve seen before.
Among the highlights are a stage that takes place during a thunder storm that is just jaw-dropping as you’ve got a ton of stuff happening in the background like helicopters flying and explosions while the foreground is filled with fighting. Another one takes place in a water-filled tunnel that has been set ablaze - so you’re fighting in a gorgeous orange-lit body of water with flames in the background, and yet another amazing stage sees basically an action movie going as you’ve got cars smashing through parts of the background, people scurrying for safety. Then there’s the giant, wide open field of grass with sheep all around who run away after being accidentally attacked.
The series’ usual hard rock soundtrack is back, but is more diverse than ever before as it also includes elements of other genres as well - like yodeling in the aforementioned sheep-laden stage. The music is some of the best in the series, and the sound effects are easily the best. They’re much louder and more impact than before, which greatly adds to the experience.
After bringing the series closer to its roots in Tekken 5, Namco has continued that trend with Tekken 6 and the end result is a game sure to please fighting fans of any experience level. While it may not be the most packed console release in the series, as Tekken 3 packed in a ton of mini-games and Tekken 5 threw in the arcade versions of Tekkens 1-3, this is the best-playing entry in the series. The addition of online play adds greatly to the replay value as well, although it would have been further aided by actually being able to make your own character on top of being able to edit the existing ones. Still, this is a marvelously-crafted game, despite its few small shortcomings.