Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone




Namcoís Tekken 4 has to rank as one of the most-anticipated PS2 titles of the year. While it doesnít radically change the formula, fighting game fans should love all the changes such as walled arenas and graded floors that keep things interesting. Typically manic gameplay has returned, with the massive combos and crushing speed players have come to expect. Tekken 4 also sports an improved graphics engine that marks huge improvement from the previous games. This is a solid step forward for Tekken, but is it enough? The Laser finds out if these changes enough to keep up with the advances the other major fighing series have made.

Even though itís been one of the longest-running and most popular fighting series on the market, Tekken has never received the respect that other series get. The knock against Tekken is that itís just a mindless button masher, with little in the way of depth in its gameplay. This was true to some degree with the earliest installments, but the last few installments were really excellent. Namco has worked hard to change this perception, so while on the surface, it may seem to be more of the same, major changes, tweaks and new features have been added to make Tekken 4 easily the deepest and most satisfying in the series to date. Featuring both minor and significant changes, the gameplay is still familiar enough that veterans can jump right in. Set 20 years after the original, itís surprising that most of the cast from the original games returns, though they look a little older now. For example, Law has grown facial hair, while Paul looks a little older. Unfortunately, Heihachi also returns, as do some of the lamer characters. Luckily, the giant pandas seem to be a thing of the past this time around. Surprisingly, itís the new characters who seem to be the weakest entrants in the latest King of Iron Fist Tournament because they lack the style and pizzazz of the original cast.

Tekken 4ís gameplay and controls feel very familiar. In fact, the game plays a lot like the previous titles in the series, though there are some subtle differences that should shift your strategies a little bit. Despite featuring 9 modes of play, 4 new characters, and improved graphics, the biggest change comes in the structure of the levels, which now have breakable objects, graded floors and walls, which significantly changes the strategy behind the game. This makes it possible to block in an opponent and finish them off, as in Dead or Alive while the graded floors and makes the high, medium and low attacks much more important. This definitely keeps the gameplay fresh, while retaining many of the classic Tekken moves.

Contrary to the seriesí reputation as a mindless button masher, Tekken 4 has a surprising amount of depth and strategy. While some players will find the standard four-button layout limiting, you can configure the buttons to your liking, adding single touch combos to your arsenal. As always, the game play is much improved if youíve invested in arcade joystick, but Tekken 4 still plays well with the d-pad. Itís still easy to get into, but thereís a lot more underneath, especially when you factor in the combos, throws, chains each characterís unique attack styles. These strengths and weaknesses, differing attack styles and combos makes things interesting. Playing as different characters really helps you appreciate these differences, with some characters having stronger kicks, and some who are better at punching.

There are also innovative moves implemented for the returning characters, which should please veterans such as new kicks and throws, though thereís still an excellent balance between the characters. As usual, when youíre knocked down, you can perform a quick attack when you get up, which is pretty cool. You can also put an opponent off guard by changing your position, a process which has been vastly improved since Tekken Tag Tournament. Most attacking moves remain tied to the series famous multi-string combos. Tekken 4ís depth really becomes evident when you factor in throwing a and blocking maneuvers as well, which makes mastering the game require more than hitting buttons at random. Tekkenís trademark fast & frenetic gameplay remains largely intact with this new installment, which means most battles are over quickly. As is the tradition of the series, most matches are games of momentum. Once you string together a devastating series of attacks you seriously deplete the opponentsí energy bar, leaving them little room to recover.

While itís not as deep as other fighting games in terms of moves, thereís still plenty to like abou the game. There are nine different modes of play including Story, Time Attack, Arcade, Team and Vs. modes. Story mode is the most interesting and provides the player with a strong motiviation to keep playing. Time Attack challenges you to off a series of opponents as quickly as possible. There is also a straight-forward Arcade mode which is cool when you want to blow off steam in a quick match. These modes are all nicely tied together and add more to the experience. Tekken 4 also has some quite useful training and practice modes, which allow you to refine your strategies in a safe environment. This single player modes is excellent and allows you to concentrate on your timing, skill and overall technique and should make you a better player overall. A big help is that these modes display the name of the move and the damage percent on screen when you perform them, which is a cool feature other games have utilized.

One area where the series has never taken much criticism is in its interface, which makes the game easy to play for novice and elite players alike. Tekken 4ís controls are excellent, and have been so fine tuned at this point that youíd expect nothing less than tight and responsive inputs that make performing moves a breeze. Thereís a good flow to each battle as you gain and lose the edge with each attack. You can adjust the difficulty, but the opponentsí AI is puts up a surprisingly difficult challenge. A new version of the classic Tekken Force mode where you attack opponents in a scrolling adventure reminiscent of Final Fight, then face a final boss. While you only start with a few characters, more become available as you win complete various modes, with more than 20 available in all. There are also other cool features and you can unlock other hidden surprises such as extra costumes later on. While this is cool, itís not as clever as Virtua Fighterís Kumite mode and once again Namco is following the leaders, instead of coming up with new ideas. Still, itís a decent game that should satisfy most fans of the genre with solid action and fighting.

Tekken 4ís graphics and presentation are excellent and youíll immediately notice the improved visual appearance of the game. In addition to featuring breakable objects and walls, there are now rising floors. This is implemented beautifully and adds to the realism of the arenas. The look of the characters has been vastly improved, with upgraded models used to make their movements and motions appear even more lifelike, and bigger. Subtle effects such as realistic cloth movement, facial expressions and muscle structures make for some stunning character models and make for a vastly improved aesthetic experience. The fighting takes place in both in-door and outdoors environments. When you fight indoors, in levels such as malls, airports and other urban areas, youíll see silky smooth lighting effects. The outdoor arenas look fantastic with excellent sand and water effects. The level of detail is quite impressive throughout and the lack of the dreaded aliasing effect only adds to the smooth production values making Tekken 4 easily the best looking PS2 fighter to date, outclassing Segaís jaggie-intensive VF4 with a smoother, cleaner appearances. Itís not quite as stunning as Dead or Alive 3, but that game was done on different hardware, so thatís not a fair comparison.

The visual polish is all fantastic and really takes advantage of the PS2, but how does the game itself play and does it have the depth to keep the replay value high? The answers are surprisingly in the affirmative on both counts. While itís not as innovative as some other titles, Tekken 4 delivers a solid gaming experience. It doesnít have the extensive mode selection of other titles, but the game delivers the intense action players have come to expect in a tight and refined package of thumb-candy. The adjustments and additions to the gameplay might seem minor in isolation; players who are intimate with the series should definitely appreciate them. Itís a satisfying title that fans of the series should enjoy immensely, especially after the relatively disappointing Tekken Tag Tournament. While Tekken 4 isnít perfect, it goes a long way in making up for that previous titlesí shortcomings. It does everything a true sequel should and has an excellent fighting engine with a surprising amount of depth. With many different modes, hidden characters and challenging gameplay, this is an excellent installment in the series and is highly recommended for the fans.

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Dead or Alive 3 (Xbox)
Tekken Tag Tournament (PS2)