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Tekken 8

Tekken 8 Hands-on: Intense, gorgeous, and a very promising sequel

We've spent some time with the fighting game as part of a trip to Bandai Namco's Lyon headquarters.

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When the popularity of a game series begins to wane, it's hard to rekindle the spark among fans. Often developers make big changes in the hope of reaching new players, but there are countless examples where this has backfired and they have lost the fans they had left.

This could have been the case with the lacklustre Tekken Tag Tournament 2 from 2011, which became something of a low point for the series. Four years later, however, Bandai Namco, with Katsuhiro Harada at the helm, struck gold and delivered Tekken 7. Right from the start, we got a phenomenally stylish and well-filled game, which since then has been taken care of extraordinarily well, and has become something of a rebirth for the Tekken series and also its best-selling installation ever with over ten million copies out in the wild.

Tekken 8

A steady stream of new content has continued to be released, patches debuted that show that they follow the esports scene and, above all, new relevant guest characters were added. Where Bandai Namco's other blockbuster Soul Calibur too often gets more fanciful (like when Darth Vader and Yoda fought), here we got Akuma and Geese Howard who really fit into the ensemble. When Tekken 8 was announced in September last year, the interest was therefore great. How would Bandai Namco follow up on this gem?

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Gamereactor went to Lyon last week where I visited Bandai Namco, played an early version of Tekken 8 and also met and interviewed Katsuhiro Harada. Before the digital melee started, I also got a brief presentation by producer Michael Murray who clarified some of what has already been said earlier, namely that Tekken 8 is about aggression. They have tried to achieve this in different ways, where perhaps the most distinctive is "Heat". However, the developers have more tricks up their sleeves, such as the fact that the only way to regain some life is to make perfect blocks or deal out some serious blows.

Tekken 8

But let's go back to the Heat system. It's about ten seconds of insanity where you have the opportunity to be extra aggressive and deal some nice damage. It's so delicately designed that the countdown pauses if you floor your opponent, so if handled correctly you can get a lot out of your ten seconds. The Heat activations also come in two versions, with the Heat Engager allowing you to rush your opponent to get under their skin. As long as you are Heat-activated, you get several timing advantages, but also new opportunities.

There have also been clear efforts to broaden Tekken's audience, such as better colour coding for who is who and in what stance. There's also a new control scheme of the kind that many fighting game enthusiasts sneer at - Special Style - with a kind of auto-combo that you can control with repeated button presses. However, as with Street Fighter 6, the developers claim that their beginner system is so sophisticated that professionals can also use it successfully. Only time will tell if the latter is the case, but the fact is that the beginner system felt pretty good.

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I had the opportunity to play many hours and Bandai Namco confidently let me and other journalists and influencers play freely with ten characters. This intensity Bandai Namco talked so much about, I felt was very clear from the first match. This is a game where you get close to each other and I feel that it is more difficult to use depth moves and throws compared to Tekken 7 - although it may also be as simple as that I am not used to Tekken 8 yet.

However, it is clear that it offers more variety. Among the selectable fighters were Paul, King, Jun Kazama and the Swedish champ Lars Alexandersson. Personally, Bob is my favourite in the Tekken series, but here I saw no evidence that he is coming, other than a hot dog vendor in the New York level selling Bob hot dogs. I hope it's not a homage as a result of the character being left out of Tekken 8. Be that as it may, Lars was the character I initially played with, before I eventually found that Paul and King were the ones that suited me best.

Tekken 8

Both have been around since the series started and have been among those I have played the most. Especially Paul feels more powerful than before, but also more agile. Possibly a necessary choice since the battles are so very intense here. I would also like to add that his hair situation is worse than ever, but that is possibly more of an observation on my part. Tekken is still Tekken and it was easy to get warmed up. I also noticed that Nina Williams is, and remains, a difficult character for me to play and I didn't really manage to accomplish anything with her. I will have to put myself in hard training once the game has launched.

However, without being able to time it, I felt that Rage Art attacks (which work basically the same way as in Tekken 7) are getting too long. The Tekken series isn't the biggest culprit, but these long automatic combos are becoming a bit of a nuisance and I wish there was an option to drastically cut them down. Clearly they are graphic fireworks though, from Jun Kazama's friendly and bright attack containing kind words and doves of peace to Kazuya Mishima's almost comically evil one, it's still well done.

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Something the Tekken team is very proud of is the graphics. This time they have changed the graphics engine from Unreal Engine 4 to Unreal Engine 5 and redesigned all the characters from scratch. This is really noticeable. The fighting genre was for a long time at the forefront when it comes to graphics, but has fallen behind on that front in the last 10-15 years. Today, it is arguably Mortal Kombat 11 that offers real technical eye candy, but the fact is that Tekken 8 will not disappoint anyone. On the contrary.

Tekken 8 is downright gorgeous. From the fiercely detailed and elaborate characters (who are now so well made that their spectacular eyebrows are more eye-catching than ever) to the unbelievably gorgeous backgrounds, it's clear that we're in for one of the biggest leaps in the series. I particularly liked the New York level around Times Square, where the time changes from afternoon and sunset to a bustling metropolis with lots of lights and hustle and bustle.

Tekken 8

After playing for around five hours, I feel that what surprised me the most was how complete the game felt. I do not believe that there will be any excessive delays, but what will be needed in the case of Tekken 8 is of course a lot of fine tuning to make the characters as well matched as possible. In addition, it is not possible to play without reacting to the intensity. Fighting always requires you to be on edge, but this was something extra. When I've got my opponent on the ropes, he's completely open to attacks, and I feel like this will need to be tackled so as not to create an impression of being too helpless, but that's something that time will show in greater detail after the pros have really had time to put it through the ringer.

For now, it's worth repeating that Tekken 8 promises a lot. There is no doubt that this is Tekken for a new generation. It is gorgeous, intense, and feels very good to play. If Bandai Namco delivers this with its usual elaborate campaigns and extra content and a respectable character gallery, there is no doubt that this can be something very special.

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