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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Tekken 5 (PS2)

By Michael Palisano

Namco's latest superb fighting game, Tekken 5 once again raises the bar for arcade-to-home translations on the PS2. The tight-as-nails fighting system represents a return to the series' roots, with a simplified, yet tightened approach that offers the technical precision with fewer gimmicks than the last game. The gameplay is classic Tekken, has plenty of depth to go along with the game's traditional flashy moves. Tekken 5's smooth visuals and beautifully rendered backgrounds make for an amazing looking title. Add in a bevy of bonus features and extras, and you have all the makings of a superb fighting experience that's a must-purchase for any PS2 owner.

It's hard to believe, but it's been nearly a full decade since Namco's first Tekken game graced arcades and went on to became one of the jewels of the original PlayStation console's launch back in 1995. To celebrate, the series fifth official installment offers a true return to form, eschewing the gimmicky multi-planed fighting arenas of the last game in favor of a streamlined approach. Fans who've followed Tekken through the years will be happy to learn that many of the game's most popular characters have returned for this anniversary title, include Jin Kazama, Paul Phoenix, Michelle, to face the evil Heihachi Mishima once again. Players will find many familiar faces along with a few new characters such as Asuka Kazama, Raven and Feng Wei. In all, Tekken 5 features a massive list of more than 30 characters, with more than a dozen available initially and many more unlockable as you progress through the game. The story this time once again follows the story of Jin and his father Hebachi, as they work out their issues between the forces of good and evil. Each of the game's characters has a role in Tekken 5's overall storyline, which unfolds quickly in between rounds during the game's elaborate Story mode. As players defeat opponents, small cinematic sequences unfold which tell their storylines. As an added incentive to keep playing, additional characters are unlocked when you complete this mode. Tekken 5 also includes several other play-modes such as arcade, practice, team battle, survival and versus. These modes should be fairly self-explanatory by now since they've become standard issue in most fighting games, but Namco has added a few surprises that go far beyond these standard expectations and we'll cover these in more depth later on.

Tekken 5's basic fighting mechanics have been streamlined and sharpened. Gone are the gimmicky multi-planed arenas from Tekken 4, instead the focus has shifted back to the basic fighting and fast gameplay, with an emphasis placed back on skill instead of flashy moves. The revised moves lists should still be familiar to most players, but each character seems to have undergone a slight tweak to make their controls a bit smoother. Players will find the biggest improvements lie in the dashing and moving commands, which are better intergrated now, making 3D movements feel more natural than before. The more advanced super-moves and flashy multi-hit combos that made Tekken are still evident, but they aren't as important as before, with timing and blocking increasingly vital to successful bouts. While previous games in the series have always struggled to keep a balance between depth and accessibility, Tekken 5's deep moves lists, and sophisticated AI offer a much deeper, more satisfying experience. It's got an excellent, deep moves list, making it surprisingly challenging. Playing at the earlier levels is a cakewalk, the computer controlled opponents at the harder difficulty levels put up quite a challenge, and can defeat even experienced players with seemingly little effort. The balance between characters has also been tweaked, with a much better set of match-ups that makes each battle seem more even than in previous games. There's definitely a lot of depth here, much more than the series' reputation would have you believe. Don't worry, this is far from the mindless button masher some would have you believe. The actual structure of the fighting hasn't changed much between previous games, but what has changed is the design and game's overall flow. The biggest change this time around comes with the addition of experience points, which players earn during each fight. These can then be used to customize the characters with different costumes and accessories, and can also be used to unlock many other hidden items. You aren't rewarded merely for winning each match and must earn these by fighting flawlessly. It's a clever, well-thought out system that rewards the player willing to put in the time to truly master the game's intricacies.

Suffice it to say, the brilliant gameplay that's made the series so appealing for the past decade is very much in evidence, but the basic two-on-two fighting mode barely scratches the surface of what Tekken 5 has to offer. Namco has included an astonishing array of added-value extras that is simply mind-boggling. Fans of the earlier Tekken titles will remember a cool mode called Tekken Force that was included in the translation of Tekken 3 on the PS1. Namco has resurrected this in the new Tekken: Devil Within mode. Devil Within is a basic hack and slash fighter that follows Jin on a long journey through a slew of enemies on his path to a final confrontation with his evil father, Heihachi Mishima. Most of the action takes place in corridors inside a large complex owned by Mishima Zaibatsu, with the player battling through slowly but surely. While it's too simplistic and repetitive to stand firmly on its own merits, the Devil Within mode makes a solid addition to the package. In addition to this mode, Namco has taken the unprecedented step of including complete, emulated versions of the first three Tekken titles on the disc, all of which are available at the start of the game. All three of these titles were landmark games upon release, and hold up remarkably well from a gameplay standpoint. The rough polygons of the first game make it appear dated by today's standards, but it's cool to see these familiar characters in their embryonic forms. The second and third titles featured impressive steps forward for the series, and it's definitely an interesting and exciting way to see how the series has evolved from a technical standpoint. Namco has also included a secret bonus arcade title, but we won't spoil it for those of you who haven't played the game yet. These extras are very impressive, and Namco could have justifiably packaged them separately as a stand-alone title, but their inclusion along with Tekken 5 makes this an even more impressive value.

Returning to the series' roots was definitely a great idea from a gameplay standpoint, and the extras definitely bring the Tekken mythology to life brilliantly. However, this doesn't mean the series is standing still. The technical advancements that Tekken 5 brings to the table are quite impressive, especially this late in the console's lifespan. From a visual standpoint, Tekken 5 pushes the PS2 to its limits to create one of the most visually arresting titles on the console to date. The characters move with a natural fluidness that makes them quite lifelike in appearance and action. Each character is rendered with a remarkable level of detail with facial expressions, muscle structures and fighting styles brought to life. Tekken 5's engine represents another impressive leap forward, with dizzyingly detailed environments featuring some incredible light-sourcing, realistic weather effects and richly detailed texture maps that make each level seem absolutely lifelike. All of this runs at a remarkably smooth and consistent frame rate, with none of the jaggies that plagued some of Tekken's earlier PS2 titles, such as Tag Tournament. From burning temples, haunted temples, snow covered mountains, dangerous arenas full of screaming fans, satellites, and gritty city streets, the variety of fighting locales is surprisingly expansive. The pumping techno music score accompanies the action perfectly without overwhelming it. Tekken 5's excellent voice acting brings the characters to life effectively as well. Overall, this is one of the smoothest, most polished PS2 fighting titles to date, surpassing even Sega's brilliant Virtua Fighter 4 and even Namco's own Soul Calibur 2 as the system's 3D action showpiece.

Truly die-hard fans of the series may want to check out the ultra-cool limited edition version of Tekken 5. It's one-hundred dollar price tag might seem excessive to some players, but it's definitely worth it. The included extra is a truly beautiful piece of industrial design in the form of a sturdy arcade stick from Hori. This controller features a beautifully screened marquee featuring characters from the game. It's quite heavy, but the sturdiness means it will survive heavy play and its performance is definitely arcade quality. The joystick is sturdy and the button configuration means it will work perfectly with the game. The limited edition also includes a neat CD case that has space for all the previous Tekken games as well. Its definitely a cool item, and one any gamer will probably love to have. It's definitely a cool collectors' item, and well worth the price when you consider that high-quality arcade sticks like this usually go for on their own. Still, players who decide to pass on the deluxe version, shouldn't pass on the standard edition of Tekken 5. It's easily the best looking title in the series to date, and its smooth intuitive controls, excellent play balance and depth make it an addictive, challenging fighter that shouldn't be missed. What's most impressive is how much Namco has squeezed out of the PS2 this late in its life cycle. It truly is a technical triumph that takes the console to levels never before thought possible and marks a superb 10th Anniversary title. When you factor in Tekken 5's numerous, superlative extra modes and it's inclusion of four complete arcade games as a 'bonus,' this nearly ranks as a mandatory purchase for any fighting game fan.

Grade: A

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