In the wake of Namco's official announcement of the upcoming PlayStation 2 version of Tekken 5, we're finally able to share our thoughts on how the title looks and handles. We got a peek at the game a few weeks ago at a Namco press event but were sworn to secrecy at the time. While the work-in-progress version of the game was still pretty early, it offered a comforting taste of what Namco is cooking up for the latest installment in its flagship fighting series.
The roster of characters we've seen in the PS2 game mirrors what we've seen in the arcade game, with a host of returning favorites, including Marduk, Lee, Jin, Kazuya, Lei, Paul, Law, Julia, Christie, Jack-5, Nina, Hwoarang, King, Steve, Bryan, Xiaoyu, and Yoshimitsu. In addition, three new characters--Raven, Feng, and Asuka--join the fray with unique moves and their own personal motivations for entering the Iron Fist Tournament. Raven is an edgy fighter with a Rodman-esque look to him and an accessory-heavy outfit that includes a fair amount of leather and buckles. Feng is a buffed-up wushu fighter who is big on combos that cause a lot of damage. Finally, Asuka is a Japanese girl who handles a bit like Xiaoyu but whose forte appears to be grappling.
The gameplay in Tekken 5 for the PlayStation 2, while still being tightened up, seems to do a solid job of keeping pace with the arcade game. This latest entry in the series continues to expand on the classic four-button fighting system that has been evolving since the series first appeared in arcades and on the original PlayStation in the early '90s. While the system has developed more depth in its mechanics with each iteration of the series, Tekken 5 seems to be taking a back-to-basics approach. The fighting system appears to be taking the best elements of its predecessors and cooking them up in a tighter package that seems to follow the same pattern as Soul Calibur II's modest refinement of its predecessor. The arenas are probably the biggest addition to the fighting system, due to their varied layouts and the different ways you can make use of them. Some will be wide-open spaces, while others will have walls you can use to your advantage. Along the same lines, the arena size will vary some and most definitely force you to adjust your approach to a battle on the fly, based on the amount of space you have to work with.
As far as gameplay modes go, we were only able to try out the arcade mode in the PlayStation 2 game. However, it goes without saying that Tekken 5's console appearance will offer more modes to choose from. Namco reps on hand offered some basic descriptions of what else to expect, such as the typical versus modes and whatnot (sadly, this does not include online play), but they also hinted that the game will offer a variation on the action adventure style mode that's been evolving since it first appeared in Tekken 3, which is fine by us.
The control is, unsurprisingly, tight and mapped out well on the PlayStation 2 controller. Your two punches and kicks are laid out on the Dual Shock 2's face buttons. While the game is still being polished, the characters were all responsive. While the new characters will obviously require a time investment to fully master, we found that the combos from our old-school favorites, such as Paul, came out without a hitch.
The graphics in the game are already the most impressive in the series on the PlayStation 2. The characters all sport a high level of detail that includes moving hair and clothing, along with an array of other little touches to highlight their impressive appearance. Moving hair and clothing is par for the course these days, but the higher level of detail in Tekken 5 must be seen in motion to be truly appreciated. Besides looking great, the characters all move with a fluid grace that may be easy to take for granted, given Namco's high standards.
The stages on which you'll be using your snazzy-looking fighters are equally impressive and boast a number of bells and whistles. As we mentioned, the areas you'll be fighting in will come in a variety of configurations that will have a direct impact on how a match will play out. For example, the smaller arenas will box you in with walls and force you to go toe-to-toe with your opponent, while the large ones will give you some breathing room. You'll also notice a higher level of interactivity, which lets you do more damage to the stage itself, smashing stationary objects, breaking the concrete floor, and so on.
At the same time, the team has thrown in some other elements that show off how comfortable it is with the PlayStation 2. You'll see all kinds of things that will react to your battle in varying degrees, such as grass or random objects. Couple this with some inventive settings and a slick array of visual filters and lighting and you have one of the best-looking PlayStation 2 games we've seen in some time. This was all especially impressive, considering the work-in-progress state of the build we played. Although there were some of the performance issues you'd expect from a title in its state of completion, Tekken 5 already runs like a dream. The game's frame rate was already grooving along at the high end of the spectrum, except for the aforementioned hitches, which bodes well for its final release.
The audio in the game was far from complete, but it certainly seems to be on par with its arcade counterpart, and the cries and collisions from the game's roster of fighters are already sounding great. As with every entry in the Tekken series, plan on hearing a decent sampling of tunes as you work your way through the competition. The soundtrack is firmly entrenched in the Tekken music tradition and features a good assortment of styles that accompany the onscreen beatings perfectly.
Based on what we've seen so far, Tekken 5 appears to be well on its way to living up to the high standards set by all the home conversions of Namco's arcade titles. The game looks stunning and handles well, and the additional content being added sounds as though it should add a hefty chunk of value to an already appealing package. Tekken 5 is currently slated to ship early next year for the PlayStation 2. We'll have more on the game in the coming weeks, but until then, check out an interview with the developers and the first movies of the game in motion on our media page.