Tekken 7 has always been at war with itself. As if on scientific principle, for every story about loss and revenge, there must be an equal and opposite injection of comic relief strategically placed in the background, a diluting agent to avoid things getting too serious in a game where you can can watch a parent attempt to murder his child, and then go on to suplex a bear inside a volcano five minutes later. And for years, absurd as it might sound on paper, these colliding worlds have successfully maintained this tenuous balance. But with the release of Tekken 7, the bonds holding this marriage together are starting to break, revealing more than a few cracks in the foundations.
Idle onlookers would be forgiven for confusing Tekken 7’s story mode with another game at first glance. What was once a series of fights interspersed with the occasional cutscene has now become a hedonistic display of CGI that, while technically impressive, mostly serves to bloat the story and obscure the underlying battles waiting to happen. For every five minute brawl that does take place, you’re forced to kick back and watch many more minutes of melodrama between only a handful of Tekken’s otherwise varied cast. And to make matters worse, the overarching plot is told through the lens of the world’s most drab and disinterested investigative journalist whose sole purpose is to spoonfeed you exposition as he segues the narrative from scene to scene.
Thankfully Tekken 7’s saving grace rests with its near flawless execution inside the ring. After cutting through the chaff of words and finally getting down to business, going toe-to-toe with an opponent in the arena feels sharp, responsive and fluid. At times, during pivotal moments in a fight, time will slow down and the camera will focus on specific attacks that could potentially decide the winner of a match. It’s during these moments that we get to see just how intricately the characters are designed, as flying kicks and wayward punches slice dangerously close through gaps in each fighter’s periphery, demonstrating the effort put into the game’s hitboxes. In many ways, these split-second set pieces are as much a boast as anything else, a reminder of the years of experience poured into the development of the series.
With over 30 characters to choose from, the roster feels densely populated, and each character brings a unique and interesting style of fighting to the table. It’s a genuine pleasure to trade blows against any one of the game’s cast, be it fan favorites like Heihachi Mishima, or newcomers like the acrobatic mercenary Shaheen. While grizzled Tekken veterans will no doubt slip comfortably into the expansive cast of fighters, the practice mode is woefully simplistic, and there’s very little in the way of support or guidance for anyone that may have skipped the last few titles, making the barrier for entry needlessly higher for any lapsed or rookie players to get a foothold on the inner workings of the game.
For the most part Tekken 7 doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from its predecessor, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If it isn’t broken, why fix it? With that said, there are a handful of new mechanics thrown in this time around that are designed to add variety and complexity into flow of combat. Continuing on from the rage mechanic added in the most recent games—which gives low health players extra damage—two new rage specific moves have been added, each designed to help offer a second wind to losing players. Rage Arts and Rage Drives are powerful, one time use abilities that can be used by every character when they are on their last legs, allowing them to perform devastating attacks at the cost of their rage bonus. These additions might seem inconsequential at first, but they bring some welcome depth to each fight. It’s an interesting and thoughtful way to not only balance differing skill levels of players, but to also make things more unpredictable.
Despite this, I find myself torn when it comes to this game. Conceptually, it’s a mess, a tangled web of nonsense being spoken at you, instead of shared with you. Tekken’s impulsive personality has been replaced by the drilled-in severity of a a b-movie actor trying too hard to come across as anything other than awkward. And yet, hiding somewhere underneath the murky waters of the story is some of the best fighting action Tekken has ever delivered. Fights are an absolute joy to dive into, whether it’s against the AI, against pals on the sofa, or against strangers online, and the diverse cast of fighters means there’s someone out there for everybody. I just wish Tekken 7 didn’t like the sound of its own voice so much.
Tekken 7 was developed and published by Bandai Namco. Our review is based on the PlayStation 4 version. It is available for the Xbox One and PC.
Andy Moore is a gaming freelancer based in the UK. When he’s not writing, he can be found staring blankly out of the nearest window, or spending way too much time on Twitter.