Each new release in the Tekken series from software giants Namco always raises a few questions with me before I even play it, questions like what have they added this time?, will it be better than the last in the series? Will they have changed it too much?
Thankfully thus far Namco have always added interesting new features, improved the gaming experience by changing it for the better but not so much that it no longer feels like Tekken and with the exception of Tekken 3 the characters have always been quite varied in their fighting styles so it doesn't feel like they're adding new characters just to bring the numbers up.
Now the fifth instalment (but sixth game) of the PlayStation's defining beat-em-up series has another outing on the PS2 in the form of Tekken 5 and fans will not be disappointed, in fact I'd safely say that no-one who likes beat-em-ups will be disappointed, no-one at all.
Lets start with the most obvious point, the thing that most players will notice first...
With each release in the series Namco has pushed the envelope in graphical terms and Tekken 5 is no exception, the eye candy here is phenomenal from the character models to the backgrounds the whole thing looks amazing, the texture quality is unreal, the animation slick and the whole think looks as polished as you could hope for.
The backgrounds are much better than before due to the level of detail in the objects placed in them and around the fighters, you will fight in a field of flowers and have the petals fly off as the combatants collide with them set in front of a creepy church all set to a pulse racing dark operatic score, you'll duke it out in a burning building stage which just seems to make the match all that more frantic, the 'fight club' stage from Tekken 4 is back but is now much wider and the onlookers rhythmic grunting chant has been changed to bring a real sense of menace to the proceedings.
There is currently in my opinion no better looking fighting game available for the PS2, the graphics envelope has been pushed right through the wall of the sorting office this time.
And you are?
Tekken 5s character roster has the now familiar mix of old favourites and new arrivals, fans of the previous games will not be disappointed as all the favourites are back for another round of fisticuffs and happily for me my old Tekken 2/Tag favourite Jun Kazama has a new in game incarnation in the form of Asuka Kazama, a relation of Jin and Juns that plays somewhat like Jun and takes most of her signature moves but is different enough to not be a move-for-move copy of her. Another fresh face is Raven who comes in with the deadly fighting game combination of lightning speed and devastating power, Ravens appearance in one of his costumes would suggest that someone at Namco really really likes the Blade movies, these two aren't the only new additions but they're the most notable.
Every character now seems to move a quicker than previously and a lot more fluidly too as Tekken 5 plays at a faster pace than the previous games in the series, the gaming experience definitely benefits from this increase in speed as the matches seem much more frantic and brutal because of it. Players will be able to pick up a pad and crack out their well known and much loved moves and high damage combos and enjoy learning how to use the new moves and strategies that have been brought to each character.
Namco seem to have twigged that players like to be able to unlock extras for their game via an in game currency and this is what you have in Tekken 5, the familiar Racing Game gameplay device of Race > Money > Upgrades and stuff has been uprooted and planted into Tekken 5 in the form of Fighting > Money > New costumes, colours, accessories etc and brings that want-to-unlock-everything addiction to the game.
I have never liked the majority of the music in the Tekken series since Tekken 2, which had a good soundtrack in my opinion. Tekken 5s is better than the last few games though as all the music is appropriate either by carrying the same feel as the background of the stage it features on or by being pulse pounding fighting music. Some of it is quite catchy and catchy music seems to have been missing from the series of late although whether you enjoy getting videogame music stuck in your head is debatable, it is good catchy music.
As a nice bonus Tekken 5 features an Arcade History mode via which you can play arcade perfect versions of Tekken 1, 2 and 3. By messing around with the buttons I managed to get into the arcade options screen for Tekken 3 where they set the difficulty, blood colour and so forth for the arcade cabinets so I assume that your getting the original arcade ROMs on the Tekken 5 disc not the arcade mode from the home versions. You start off with all the characters unlocked in the past games and Arcade History mode itself does not need to be unlocked.
Coming back from the past few home versions is a remake of the Tekken Force mode in the form of Devil Within, Tekken Force mode was always a love it or hate it affair and Devil Within is no different, you can only play as Jin this time around unfortunately although the mode has been fleshed out a bit and now has its own title screen and difficulty settings.
For the majority of players the Devil Within mode will offer a welcome distraction from the traditional fighting modes although if you've ever really wanted to know what would happen if Jin decided to square off against a stack of teleporting cyborgs in an attempt to learn more about his past, then step right up.
The Tekken games are of course all about fighting and are not really story driven games, nevertheless the tacky plot is back in full force much to my amusement, really all Tekkens plot needs to provide is flimsy excuses for the protagonists to enter or re-enter the tournament each time and that's what it does thinking about it, I'm wouldn't be surprised if in the next game a plot line is like - "Bob was enjoying a cool drink when someone spilled it down him, his burning rage at this ensured he would travel to the King of Iron Fist Tournament and win" or something similar as the majority of the plot lines are like "X person was in Y situation when suddenly Z happened, they packed their bags and headed to the tournament"
But seriously now, the story mode begins with a brief explanation of the aforementioned X, Y and Z setup for whichever character you choose and then the fighting commences, throughout the course of the matches some fights will be preceded and followed by short spoken cutscenes which further the story, usually "I'm going to beat you up", "No I'm going to beat you up" Round One, FIGHT!
It's classic Tekken and for better or worse the series wouldn't be the same without it.
All the stories end with a short good CGI sequence which can be later replayed through the Theatre mode.
Tekken 5 is easily the best entry in the series to date in my opinion, the visuals are from the top drawer and comprise of quality backdrops, animation, character modelling and textures. The fighting system has been tweaked up and now seems faster than before and it still has that thing where you can pick up a pad and play for the first time and enjoy the game and not feel lost or you can spend time and learn the intricacies of each characters wide range of moves and combos.
The buying and unlocking provides another layer of things to do and gives you a reason to play thorough multiple times.
All in all a very good game indeed!