Tekken 4 Preview

Namco's excellent arcade brawler comes to the PlayStation 2. Exclusive impressions and media inside.

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Now that Tekken 4 has been kicking around the arcade for a few months, Namco is working on the home conversion for the PlayStation 2. We had a chance to check out an 80-percent-complete build of the game and see how things were coming together. While we weren't able to access all the game modes, it looks as though Tekken 4 will stay true to Namco's standard practice of offering a solid selection of extras, which makes the game more than just a simple arcade port. Even though the game isn't complete, it is definitely shaping up very nicely--offering even more to appreciate than its arcade counterpart.

Looks like there's going to be trouble.
Looks like there's going to be trouble.

While the build we played wasn't quite final, it did provide us access to the full character roster. Tekken 4's lineup stays true to the standard set by the previous entries in the series and mixes traditional martial artists with more fanciful brawlers. Veterans Hwoarang, Yoshimitsu, Julia Chang, Lee Chaolan, Ling Xiaoyou, Lei Wulong, Jin Kazama, Paul Phoenix, Kazuya Mishima, Nina Williams, Bryan Fury, Marshall Law, King, Heihachi, Kuma, Panda, and the Combot are joined by three new faces. Vale tudo fighter Craig Marduk, capoeira queen Christie Monteiro, and British boxer Steve Fox step into the ring and add an engaging bit of variety to the fighting styles on tap. We were also able to check out a number of the stages in the game, including the beach, airport, Shinjuku, jungle, mall, laboratory, parking lot, rooftop building, and arena areas. Finally, the game already featured the full CG intro seen in the arcade, which sets up players for the game's story.

People wearing animal outfits are just looking for a fight.
People wearing animal outfits are just looking for a fight.

While we were able to access only the single-player arcade mode, the game looks set to offer a pleasing amount of variety in its modes. In addition to the arcade mode, we saw the story battle and Tekken Force options that Namco has recently revealed, as well as others, which we're not allowed to reveal just yet. The return of the Tekken Force mode alone is a welcome addition, but the promise of a story mode to explore with each character looks to offer quite a bit of heft to the game's replay value.

Steve and Jin face off at the beach.
Steve and Jin face off at the beach.

Graphically, the game is coming together very well. This isn't too much of a surprise, given that the arcade unit is based on Namco's System 246 board, which is essentially PlayStation 2 hardware. As a result of the arcade game's lineage, the conversion to the PlayStation 2 console has gone quite well. Character detail is extremely high, thanks to the generous number of polygons used to model them. At times, clothing and hair move albeit a bit stiffly when fighters duke it out. The little details, like belts and straps that move as fighters battle, complement the fluid character motion, which is well done as always.

The characters in Tekken 4 are well done and highly detailed, but they haven't been improved as much as the fighting arenas. For the fourth installment in the series, Namco has done more than merely give the arenas a graphical facelift. Stages now feature boundaries, varying height levels on the ground in some places, and even a degree of interactivity. The new features give stages a decidedly different feel from those found in previous entries in the game. In some arenas, like the indoor garage area that confines the action to a tight area surrounded by spectators and boxes, the close quarters require a much more aggressive approach to keep from being dropped like a bad habit. You'll also notice that in some stages, you'll be able to break objects or even knock down spectators, which is a cool diversion to indulge in during a fit if you feel like showing off.

Although the physical design of the levels has changed, the look is still as slick as ever. The game features clean textures and some very well-done water effects. In addition to the crowds of cheering spectators, you'll find helicopters and some environmental effects, like mist hovering above the floor in the laboratory. The lighting in the game is still a bit weak--you'll see the standard colored flashes and particle effects from your blows, but lighting within the stages themselves doesn't impact the characters as dramatically as we've seen in other games on the PlayStation 2. The lack of shading keeps the characters looking brightly colored and a bit garish at times, but it works for the game and is on par with the arcade version of the game.

Yoshimitsu's kicks should really be avoided at all costs.
Yoshimitsu's kicks should really be avoided at all costs.

In terms of gameplay, Tekken 4 features the biggest tweaks to the fighting system that the series has seen to date. As with every entry in the series, Namco has gone through and tweaked returning characters a bit to fine-tune the game's balance. But the character tweaks are just one component of the changes in the gameplay. As mentioned, the enclosed stages impact the pacing of fights. The close-quarters combat changes the nature of fights, and the walls in the stages come into play during battle. To be most effective in the tighter areas, you'll have to become well acquainted with another of the game's new additions to the fighting system: position changes. These changes let you get out of a tight spot by grabbing your opponent and swapping positions. Once you've gotten the timing down, the move will be invaluable if you get backed into a corner. Another feature in the game, the slide move--which has been used in previous Tekken games--has been tweaked to allow greater ease of movement. You'll find that you'll be able to move around your opponent a bit more easily. The combination of walls, position change, and tweaked slide moves definitely bring a new dimension to the fighting in the game, which keeps things fresh.

Dueling in the laboratory stage.
Dueling in the laboratory stage.

Our time with the game definitely left us wanting more. The control is rock solid, and the graphics are coming close to arcade perfection, although there's still some tightening that needs to be done. Even so, the game is the best-looking Tekken game on the PS2. We did come across one pleasant surprise: how much the game shines when you're playing it at home on a console. The new additions to gameplay offer subtle enhancements that are best appreciated after the kind of extensive play that the game will get at home. We'll be anxiously waiting for the game's Japanese release later this month to fully explore what the game has to offer. Unfortunately, US gamers will have to wait until this fall before they'll be able to play Tekken 4 at home. Look for more on the game in the coming weeks.

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