Tekken 8 Preview
Image: Push Square

We only got to play it for a weekend, but the Tekken 8 Closed Network Test has us drooling over the potential of Bandai Namco's heavy hitting fighter. This sequel has been a long time coming — it's easy to forget that Tekken 7, although still quite popular, is over six years old on PS4 — and at first glance, the eighth instalment is an impressive step forward for the series. Unlike Street Fighter 6, Tekken 8 is a current-gen exclusive — and it shows.

Even in this unfinished form, the game's a real looker. Character models in particular boast a level of detail that makes them pop beyond their surroundings, and the visual effects — meaning the sparks that light the stage whenever you land a blow — make Tekken 8 a treat to gawk at. Again, after six whole years of its now aged predecessor, this sequel is a sight for sore eyes.

But as nice as they are, we're not here to rant about graphics; it's the familiar yet emboldened gameplay that has us so excited for Tekken's future. Because we've played so much Tekken 7 over the years, we were able to slip into the fundamental flow of Tekken 8 with ease. This is, after all, a franchise that hinges heavily on legacy knowledge, and that's certainly highlighted here. If we wanted to be ultra cynical, we'd say Tekken 8 feels a bit like Tekken 7.5, but that would require wilful ignorance of some all-important adjustments.

The test's big talking point is of course the new Heat system. For the first time in series history, Tekken has a meter, and once per round, it can be burned to temporarily enhance your key moves, and give you access to a powerful special attack (that essentially replaces the Rage Drive mechanic from Tekken 7). A historically high damage series, Tekken 8 attempts to push aggressive play even further, and the result is a truly explosive fighting game. Heat bolsters your offensive output, opens up entirely new combo routes, and adds chip damage to your attacks, shaving off fractions of your opponent's life bar even when they're blocking.

Now, at higher levels, it's likely that this kind of emphasis on aggression will have an impact on how players approach Tekken as a whole. In past titles — and particularly in Tekken 7 — the general gameplan was to punish your opponent's mistake with an incredibly damaging combo, often forcing them to make that mistake in the first place. But with Tekken 8, largely thanks to Heat, you can reap unprecedented reward for staying on top of your foe, locking them down with Heat-infused moves until their defence eventually breaks.

The upshot of all this is that when you're dishing out the pain, Tekken 8 feels fantastic. Typically great animations and some super satisfying sound design — everything has a distinct crunch to it — are a potent mix. But having mechanics that encourage often extreme momentum can be a problem. During the test, we did find ourselves wondering whether offensive play was overbearing, to the point where blocking and backstepping felt ineffective, and, well, not much fun. In past games, precise movement would allow skilled players to create space that could be used to bait and punish their aggressors, but in Tekken 8, slower, shorter back dashes, coupled with much faster forward dashes, mean that it's harder than ever to put any kind of meaningful distance between you and your opponent.

Tekken 8 clearly wants you to be in your foe's face at all times, and while that forces some intense interactions at close range, it does ultimately suggest that the rhythm of Tekken has changed. Obviously it's far too early to say whether such a change is good or bad, but there's no denying that we enjoyed our time with the Closed Network Test — and we'll almost certainly be diving back in when the test resumes this coming weekend.

We should also point out that, yes, Tekken finally has rollback netcode. And at least in our experience, it makes one heck of a difference. The vast majority of our many matches were impressively smooth — and even when we were paired up with players in the US, the connection was actually decent. A quick matchmaking indicator tells you whether your opponent is using wired or WiFi, loading times are fast, and rematches are almost instantaneous — which is exactly what you want from a modern fighting game. It's all very promising, and we're hoping that the networking side of things is only improved as we rocket towards release.

Speaking of which, just how far along is Tekken 8? Honestly, aside from some fairly obvious balancing issues — which have probably already been addressed internally — the Closed Network Test felt polished. And on that basis, we can't see launch being that far off. Early 2024, perhaps? We might have a few more character trailers to get through!

Did you play the Tekken 8 Closed Network Test? Will you be playing the second session this weekend? Claim your main and start some crazy combos in the comments section below.