There was a time when Tekken was easily one PlayStation's most beloved franchises. Namco's fighting game series was a household name back in the 90s, but it's never quite enjoyed the same level of success since. Tekken 2 and Tekken 3 basically wrote the book on 3D beat-'em-ups, but PS2 sequel Tekken 4 didn't catch on as well as it should have, partly thanks to some questionable gameplay alterations. And although Tekken 5 was great and Tekken 6 was solid, it's always felt like the series has been struggling to reclaim its former glory.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 - the property's most recent release - launched all the way back in 2012, and despite being a super slick fighter boasting numerous interesting mechanics, its spin-off status has meant that it's always seemed like a stop-gap on the way to a brand new, mainline Tekken title. It's been a long time coming, but five years and one whole generation later, Tekken 7 is finally within touching distance - and we've played it.
If you've been keeping up with the Tekken 7 arcade scene - it's been available in parts of Asia for up to two years now - then you'll likely know a lot about this anticipated sequel. It brings all of the stuff that you'd expect: new characters, new stages, new gameplay systems - but it's the decision to harness the power of Unreal Engine 4 that really sets Tekken 7 apart from its predecessors.
The game looks downright gorgeous in motion. Crisp visual effects rattle across the screen with every blow that connects, and character models look fantastic across the board. What's more, the stages - both old and new - are seriously pretty, perfectly setting the scene for some intense brawls. Unreal Engine 4 is proving to be a versatile set of tools, and Tekken 7 seems to take full advantage of its newfound tech - it's the next-gen Tekken that we've been dying to see for years.
We spent around three hours with the latest build of Tekken 7 on a standard PlayStation 4, blasting through as many of its modes as we could - and the good news is that we found it incredibly difficult to tear ourselves away. As with previous games in the series, Tekken 7 just feels so good to play. There's a heft and crunch to the property that instils its fights with a satisfying rhythm - and that appears to be more prominent than ever in this latest entry, partly thanks to the aforementioned visual effects and some superb audio design.
It's the reworked rage system that leads the way, though. When your health bar drops below a certain amount - around 15-20 per cent - you'll enter rage. Attacks deal more damage and some moves gain additional effects, but it's the newly implemented rage arts that punctuate the action. These are essentially Tekken's answer to super moves, dealing out large chunks of damage via suitably flashy animations. Unsurprisingly, rage arts look great, and they're easy enough to pull off to the point where they'll add a fresh layer of enjoyment to more casual battles.
Moving away from gameplay mechanics, Tekken 7's biggest headline is its story mode, which promises to bring the mental Mishima narrative to an end. A far cry from Tekken 6's divisive scenario campaign, the aptly named Mishima Saga combines full cutscenes and varied combat - it even throws a handful of quick time events into the mix. Its structure is nothing particularly original - it's still a series of fights bookended by cinematics - but it's handled well, especially since cutscenes seamlessly segue into gameplay.
There's plenty of dialogue and some nicely choreographed action scenes, and although we didn't play through the whole thing, it's safe to say that the game takes its story telling duties quite seriously. Numerous plot points from past titles are touched upon and explained, and the deliberate pacing keeps things engaging. All in all, we doubt that it'll take fighting game story modes to a whole new level, but it's certainly shaping up to be one of the genre's better attempts.
Alongside story mode, Tekken 7 offers up a few more offline time sinks. You've got your standard arcade and versus modes, but the main port of call for many will likely be Treasure Battle. Basically, it's Ghost Battle - a mode from previous titles that had you fight an endless supply of opponents - but with added loot. This time around, treasure chests pop up on screen after every successful bout, rewarding your efforts with customisation items or fight money. Some battles even feature special conditions; turbo mode, for example, speeds up combat considerably, and a high damage mode really ramps up the danger. We can see it being horribly addictive.
When it comes to single player content, the game should boast a solid selection of modes to get stuck into - even if series mainstays like team battle, time attack, and survival are all currently missing from the main menu. We're holding out hope that they'll be added before launch.
We didn't get to spend a huge amount of time with Tekken 7, but the fact that we couldn't put down our DualShock 4 perhaps tells you everything that you need to know. This feels like the Tekken that the series has long deserved - the game that should make people stop and remember the good old days of Tekken 3. It looks fantastic, the gameplay is glorious, and there's a level of polish on display that makes the whole thing feel like a huge step forward for the series. PlayStation's most iconic fighter may be about to take back its throne.
Are you looking forward to Tekken 7? Have you had a chance to play the game yourself? Unleash your rage in the comments section below.
[ Special thanks to Ruby Rumjen and everyone at Bandai Namco UK for making this article possible ]