Replay Value: 10
After one awful plague, the fighting genre has instantly been rekindled with titles such as Virtua Fighter 4, Capcom vs. SNK 2, Guilty Gear X, the upcoming Soul Calibur 2, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance (hey you never know), three 2D fighters from Sammy Entertainment (publishers of Guilty Gear X), and now Tekken 4. Virtua Fighter 4 reigned supreme when it was released. Yu Suzuki and his AM2 division were able to craft one of the finest fighting games ever created, and quite possibly the greatest fighter since Namco's Soul Calibur. Aliasing issues aside, Virtua Fighter 4 look absolutely gorgeous. The character details are arguably the best in a videogame to date, and the attention to detail was really there, as clothes flapped in the wind and featured detailed texturing that has thus far only been seen in Tecmo's Dead or Alive 3. The fighting experience was second to none. Deep, intuitive combat, mixed with excellent character balance, and overall fantastic gameplay that is sure to attract even the most jaded Tekken fan. It's no secret that the Virtua Fighter series and Tekken series hold one of the biggest rivalries on the videogaming front. Both have an equally broad fan base and equally inspired gameplay. But neither of the two ever appeared on the same console...until now. With Japan's February release of Virtua Fighter 4 and the recent March release of Tekken 4, for the first time both Tekken and Virtua Fighter share the same home and user base. While in 1993, Virtua Fighter was the first true 3D fighter, Tekken took what Sega did, one-step further. I admit I've always been more of a Tekken fan, than a Virtua Fighter fan, but in this case I can't decide between either one - Virtua Fighter 4 or Tekken 4.
Namco did it once with Tekken Tag Tournament, and they've done it again with Tekken 4; they were able to completely deflicker pretty much the whole image, and implement an effect that comes close to being full screen anti-aliasing. Not only that, but Tekken 4 can also be run with progressive scan 525i, which greatly increases the overall picture quality, and is especially noticeable on larger, more high-definition, TV screens (27'/32' Sony WEGAs, 32' Sony Trinitron XDRs, 43' Toshiba rear-projection HDTV, and etc). This feature pretty much eliminates any noticeable flickering and aliasing when the game is run on a more sophisticated television, and creates a really crisp and clean picture - owners of high definition screens should be pissing their pants by now. The overall look of Tekken 4 is practically perfect. Since Namco ported the software off of PS2 based arcade hardware, System 246, the result came to be quite expected, as Namco has always managed to make their console Tekken titles seem to look better or on par with their arcade counterparts (and it should be mentioned that the PS2 version of Tekken Tag Tournament looked light years better than the arcade version).
While Tekken 4 doesn't leap over any boundaries, it can't be denied that the game is arguably the better looker of the two - between VF and Tekken, that is. While Virtua Fighter 4 features incredibly complex character details, Tekken 4 isn't that far behind as its characters are also built out of an overwhelming amount of polygons and feature their fair share of complex facial details and such. Fighters such as Paul Phoenix are complete with 5 o'clock shadows, and Kazuya sports scars across his face, and even body. While these details may not be as incredible as the wrinkles on Lau's face (VF4), they are great nevertheless. Clothing such as baggy pants, hoods, strings, karate belts, and so on move and flap realistically, and so does the hair. The clothing detail isn't quite as extensively detailed as VF4's, but it's really nice to say the least. Also, it seems like Namco has borrowed a page from Tecmo's book, and added "physics" to their female fighters, not just for one asset, but both...oh my. Though the result isn't overly exaggerated, so no need to worry.
Unlike the previous Tekkens, Tekken 4 does not play on a 2-dimensional plane anymore. Rather, the action is in complete 3D; sidestepping and interactivity with environmental objects fully included. You can dodge an attack by tapping up or down, and then counter. You can pummel your opponent against a structure, be it a building, statue, wall, fence, tree, basically if you see it in the environment, it's there for your use. Aside from being interactive, some of the backgrounds are also destructible; such as the horse statue located on the rooftop stage, or the surrounding bystanders in the bar fight (they are actually knocked down, not destroyed, but you probably knew that). The mall stage in Tekken 4 has a shallow fountain of water, as does the jungle stage. Much like Virtua Fighter 4, the water looks unbelievably gorgeous and splashes and kicks up according to what the fighters do in it; it's quite impressive. The stages, overall are very nicely detailed. They feature a lot of objects, all of which are completely polygonal and three-dimensional. On-looking civilians are the most common, as well as detailed buildings -complete with nicely lit neon signs- palm trees, a jet, a bunch of stores, staircases (mall), parked cars, pillars and more. Following tradition, the game opens with an excellent CG video showing the infiltration of Kazuya's mansion as Heihachi's henchman break in, though they are stopped half way by the devil himself. Instead of using CG endings, the game utilizes more polished in-game models to create a more computer generated look, and it needs to be mentioned that the result does not come close to what is exemplified in the opening intro, or any other piece of CG material in that case. It's hard to say, but Tekken 4 does indeed look better than Virtua Fighter 4. Granted, both look really gorgeous, Tekken 4's extensive environments and crystal clear picture helps the game gain an edge over AM2's creation. As far as Tekken 4 being comparable to DOA3, I'd say the game holds up...really well.
There are quite a number of people who don't enjoy the Tekken series because it doesn't play like your everyday fighting game with simple joystick maneuvers or two button presses that equate to a 5 hit combo. Those people, in my book, suck in fighting games and should stick to playing Dead or Alive, rather than VF4 of Tekken 4. Proving to be every bit as deep as Sega's game, Tekken 4 once again returns with its incredibly expansive move sets and of course, the 10-hit combos. Seeing as how Tekken 4 features three brand new characters (I don't really count Christie, as she and Eddy share the exact same moves) the hardcore Tekken fan has 3 new move sets to master. Not only that, but Jin has a completely new set of moves, so in essence you've got 4 new characters to master. Unlike the previous Tekken games, this one isn't as character heavy. Although, the game still features 22 fighters, many of which need to be unlocked the good ol' fashion way, which is far more than any other 3D fighter out there, save for Tekken Tag. I find Steve Fox to be the best new addition in Tekken 4, and also believe that he is arguably the best Tekken fighter. His move set is a bit awkward as it has no kicks, just punches. For him, X and O act as the crouch and dodge buttons. Seeing as how he's a boxer, this makes perfect sense. When in a crouching (or a limbo-esque) position, you can uppercut an unsuspecting opponent, or do an attack that really takes its toll. I found this to be quite the excellent addition for a character such as Steve Fox, as it adds a lot more strategy and depth to him.
Now that Tekken 4 utilizes an actual 3D fighting plane, fighters are able to side step and dodge attacks like they never could before. As previously noted, players can pummel their opponents against interactive objects, and in some cases destroy or harm them some way. Aside from new features, Tekken sports something classic - Tekken Force mode. Yup, Namco has brought back Tekken Force mode, and have made the game three-dimensional, rather than a side-scroller, but you are still very limited as to where to go. You'll be attacked by many different enemies, and at the end of each of the three segments, you will have to fight a boss, and fend off 10 or so enemies. Luckily, the enemies don't completely surround you and attack you at the same time. They surround you, but they don't cheat you by ganging up on you. In some cases, if you don't attack the enemies all at the same time, then you'll be able to fight them one by one. The enemies will drop health (egg, chic, and chicken) and a power-up that increases strength for a certain amount of time. As with the previous Tekken games, Tekken 4 also features a Theatre mode, which allows access to viewing unlocked endings, and the two opening intros of Tekken 4. There are plenty of modes, including Story, Arcade, Time Attack, Team Battle (not tag team), Practice, and Training (learn the basics of the game with a guided tutorial). The Story mode has a very noticeable focus surrounding Jin, Kazuya, and Heihachi. Granted, each fighter has his/her own unique story/ending, it's just that the aforementioned three fighters are the main focus. Kazuya's ending is probably the longest in the game (roughly 3 minutes), complete with tons of dialogue, as is Jin's and Heihachi's. Their hate triangle is pretty engrossing, to say the least. All of the stories, in fact, are quite enjoyable, especially Craig Marduk and King's. The stories of each character open up with the use of still character concept sketches, to create somewhat of a comic book opening. The result is superbly pulled off, with text narration on the bottom, and a voice over narrating. Also, for the first in a long time, a fighting game has endings that make sense and also measure a very respectable amount of time, not just 10 or 15 seconds.
I would've loved to see a tag battle mode, but, for whatever reason, Namco kept that out. Either way, as a long time Tekken fan (since 1996) I can say that Tekken 4 is my favorite Tekken. The series has truly evolved, and plays better than ever. I'm not just saying that because "this is the new and kewl Tekken", but in all honesty I do enjoy Tekken 4 more than the previous ones - barely edging out Tekken Tag. Despite a missing tag feature, the return of Tekken Force, the awesome story intros and nice endings really make up for it. With a character such as Steve Fox, and interactivity with environments, this Tekken is arguably the best playing the series has to offer.
Tekken games never had voice acting in them before (well except Julia's ending in Tekken 3, where she finds her mother, Michelle), or any real dialogue between them. Tekken 4 on the other hand is filled with voice acting, both English and Japanese. The acting is rather good, though I do find Lei's voice rather funny when he shouts "freeze" with a Japanese accent in his ending and in Nina's. In addition to the voice acting, the soundtrack sounds wonderful as well, as it features a mixture of techno and acid rock - basically your everyday Tekken tunes. The sound effects have been recycled for the most part, but there are a few new ones to be heard. Overall, Tekken 4 sounds really nice, as the voice acting greatly helps the sound score land that mid-9 score.
I've already made various references in regards to the controls, so I'll simply skip that category in this review, and head towards concluding it. After about 15 hours or so with Tekken 4, I'm pretty sure that this is Namco's finest Tekken title to date. With a deeper and more engrossing focus on story, Tekken Force mode, 4 new characters, fully interactive multi-level fighting planes, the ability to dodge/sidestep, and lastly, Steve Fox (he deserves a mention of his own), Tekken 4's gameplay certainly lives up. Visually the game easily rivals Dead or Alive 3, while not in background textures, certainly in character detail, overall picture quality and of course, the "physics". Unfortunately for us yanks, Tekken 4 will not hit shelves until September. It's baffling to say the least, as the Japanese game is roughly 90% English, and that no Tekken game ever took this long to be brought over to the US (TTT is an exception, though). I enjoy both Tekken 4 and Virtua Fighter 4 pretty much equally. So don't bother asking me which is better. Pick up VF4 now, and Tekken 4 when it debuts later this fall, you have no reason not to. Tekken 4 is a nearly flawless fighting game