A Tekken game, like a wizard, arrives exactly when it means to. What this means is that, for fans of the series uninterested in hunting down an arcade machine, the wait for a console version of a Tekken title can and does drag on forever. I have good news, fans of the Iron Fist Tournament — Tekken 7 has finally arrived and it was worth the wait.
In my late teens and early 20’s, I was a big fan of Tekken and its weapon-focused cousin Soul Calibur (when’s that coming back, Bandai Namco? I’m ready). Back in the PSOne era, my friends and I played more Tekken 2 than was strictly advisable, learning every move, mastering our respective characters. It happened again when Tekken 3 came out. My friends were made to fear my Xaioyu. We would good-naturedly mock the pre-fight cutscenes and settle arguments with our combos. As the decade moved forward and Street Fighter IV brought that series back to life, my fighting game tastes changed and evolved in a new direction. Jumping into Tekken 7 therefore felt like something of a homecoming.
This is a good time to remind you that Tekken 7, like the rest of the series, isn’t exactly a pick-and-up-and-play fighter. It’s more precise than it appears on the service, demanding impeccable timing and a knowledge how to properly leverage counters, juggling and lengthy combos. Ranged attacks that are part of a healthy base-line strat in other fighters are next to useless here because they can be sidestepped, leaveing you wide open and vulnerable to terrible, terrible damage.
Other mechanics don’t take quite the same level of adjustment. There’s EX moves which give your basic attacks a burst of extra damage, and the new Rage mechanic which allows you to access a suite of super moves beyond a preset threshold on the health bar. The Rage system took me a couple of hours of getting used to but over time, I began to figure out its nuances as well. Predicting its use while on the defensive, being able to know when it’s about to pop off, and be ready to punish such hubris becomes one of the game’s more satisfying facets.
The single-player campaign in Tekken 7 begins with the now well-known image of series villain Heihachi tossing his son Kazuya over a cliff as a boy. From this rather dark and grounded beginning rooted in family drama, the plot embarks on a truly ridiculous story about demons and possession and murky parentage and fighting bears and altering the course of intercontinental ballistic missiles with your feet. The story is insane. Not only does it know it’s insane, it flatly refuses to be less insane and I adore it for that. To its credit, the story also seems to understand that Tekken 7 will see players returning after a long absence and it works quite hard to get you caught up on all the shenanigans and introduce the new additions to the cast.
Beyond the campaign, Tekken 7 also has a proper arcade mode, a feature that its biggest competitor, Street Fighter V, seems to have forgotten about. It’s nice to have that feature back. There’s also a wealth of other modes that feed into Tekken 7‘s new gear system. This is quite similar to the Multiverse mode from the recent Injustice 2 — a seemingly endless parade of fights with every character you meet wearing some outlandish new costume. Every win you notch lands you currency and gear to customise your fighters. The difference is that where Injustice 2‘s gear drops affect individual fighter stats, Tekken 7‘s are purely cosmetic. There’s no stat changes tied to any gear you use. For purists, I’m sure this will mean a sigh of relief. For those looking for replay value, I’m sure that extra layer of depth will be missed a little. This, of course, isn’t to suggest there isn’t a lot of replay value here because there is. The amount of modes and things to try is broad indeed and will keep even the most dedicated players experimenting for weeks.
The one part of the game you won’t be in a hurry to play again, however, is its unbelievably sloppy PSVR mode. That’s right, you can play Tekken 7 with your PlayStation VR. Did you know that? I hadn’t heard much about it and I can only imagine that’s because the VR mode is an embarrassment. Rather than providing a mode of substance, or even a gimmicky Punch Out!!-esque view point, you get a camera that feels too close to the action and adds exactly nothing to the overall experience. A cheap bolt-on. Don’t waste your time.
I’ve only been able to test online play very briefly while conducting this review but what I saw was a reasonably solid netcode. There’s a pregame warmup screen which is nice, but it’s really only there to cover the game’s loading and attempts to connect you with another player which, in these early stages with low player counts, was taking a while. There are also only two online modes right now — ranked or unranked — and it will be interesting to see how Bandai Namco expand on that in the future.
Tekken 7 is a welcome return from old friend. With the exception of the VR mode, which can and should be forgotten about, this is a fighter that does everything right. I can see the pro scene embracing this one wholeheartedly and I look forward to watching them work the meta. Welcome back, Tekken, I’ve missed you.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Deep fighting; Tons of modes; Cosmetics are a hoot
Lowlights: VR mode; Lack of online options at launch
Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Available: June 2, 2017
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.