Review by ThePatrick

"A great year for 3d fighters leaves Sony in control of the market"

7 years or so ago, when everyone was wondering whether the Sony Playstation would float or be another 3DO, the system's reign over the other big names of the market was solidified with a rash of extremely popular games. It has been argued that the biggest contribution to these games came from the Namco house, an old game software company that boasted rights to Pac-Man and Dig-Dug, among other titles.

In this time, Namco introduced its first 3d fighting game--back when there was only really one line to compete with, Virtua Fighter. Namco's game was sluggish, had strange, cylindrical polygons for its odd character designs, and a host of awkward, physics-defying moves.

A lot has happened in 7 years.

The latest installment, Tekken 4, finally came out after a drought of good 3d fighting games on the PS2, just six weeks or so after the amazing Virtua Fighter 4. This month, we see that the two are still in control of the 3d fighting game market, and that in this installment both camps have made efforts to further their games by leaps and bounds.

Just like from Tekken 1 to Tekken 2, and from Tekken 2 to Tekken 3, there's been quite a change-up in the gameplay system. For those who haven't seen or played the arcade version, I would say that this does take time to get used to. In fact, since I've lost a lot of my free time, I was a bit put out by the change myself at first--I just couldn't spend all day in an arcade re-learning a game again, as I had with the prequels.

There are three major gameplay differences. The first, and most striking, is the interactive backgrounds. I think it's apparent that Namco was trying to listen to the critics of the previous games. With the sizeable popularity of the Dead or Alive series, and its second game's use of backgrounds, it's pretty clear that they've decided to finally put the game in real arenas. You can knock people into walls, into breakable objects such as stone pillars and statues, and get your opponent on higher or lower ground so that moves are easier or harder to execute.

Secondly, say goodbye to crouching and jumping as you knew it. This is the feature that held me back the most when I was trying this game out. Straight up or down on the control stick/pad will now make you side-step into walking a' la Virtua Fighter 4 and Soul Calibur. The problem? The other games with this feature required you to double-tap down to walk into the screen, while Tekken 4 only needs you to hit down. So, crouching is now a problem. Players must get used to hitting a diagonal direction to crouch. Thankfully, defensive crouching and auto-parrying low-hitting attacks both make use of the diagonals, but there are a lot of times when I find myself wanting to drop low and side-stepping. This isn't something that can't be learned, though, and in my opinion doesn't destroy gameplay.

Thirdly, the damage of juggles has been greatly reduced. That's all right, because some characters seem to be able to hit you for hours still when you're in the air. Actually, it's more than all right, because now it makes the game even more of a set-up, mix-up game, and takes away certain characters' ability to drain nearly all of your health off of a tiny, easy, mid-hitting attack. Now, the first hit is still cut to 80% damage, but the ones after have been lowered to 40%. Similarly, counter-hits now seem to only do 120% damage as opposed to 150%. Following the tradition of Capcom games? Maybe.

Now onto the graphics. It goes without saying that the graphics are arcade-perfect--the arcade unit was actually running a PS2 port of the game. These graphics are amazing. In fact, they are pretty much on par with Final Fantasy 10's. These graphics are even an improvement over Tekken Tag Tournament's, which were pretty good if you compare them to Tekken 3.

The problem with Tekken Tag Tournament as far as graphics was there weren't too many places to showcase them. Well, Tekken 4 has the answer for that: character interaction. Characters now say things to each other before and after fights, with voice and everything. Maybe it's still not as interactive as Dead or Alive 2 was, but it's a nice good start.

Players will also be able to play a Story Mode, in which certain things happen plot wise in the course of the game and some rather nice, ''painted-looking'' artwork is displayed. Of course, 3d CG's are back, too.

So is this the best Tekken game ever? Well, that's a hard one to answer. The major problem I had when Tekken 3 came out haunts the series once again--namely, a lack of characters. This is the most noticeable flaw of the game. When Tekken Tag Tournament came out, I'll admit I played that thing more than any human probably should. But that was primarily because of the return of many great Tekken 2 characters who hadn't made the cut of Tekken 3. Tekken 4 only boasts the return of some of those characters again. But that's probably what happens when a major change is done to a game; I suppose it'd be too much to try and change everything up that much and make new and useful moves and 3d models for all characters when the character list is just enormous. If they make a Tekken Tag Tournament 2, with all their old characters returning, and with the graphics, interaction, and feel of Tekken 4, they'll have an unbelievably great game.

Now, that's not to slight the new characters in this game. Namco has added a few new faces to the line-up, including a capoeira girl in place of Eddie Gordo, a big bulky valetudo(sp?) character whose portrait looks like Goldberg, and of course, the new boxer-type character, who can dodge and weave and attack quickly with some very powerful attacks. Also, look for a completely changed-up Jin Kazama. For this new moves list, once again another martial arts agency has been named in Namco's credits. This time, a real karate school has been consulted for a pretty nice-looking, and pretty useful, set of moves.

If you enjoyed the Tekken series at all, or if you're just looking for fighting games and other games to just play around with, this is definitely a good buy.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/30/02, Updated 09/03/02

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