Jin Kazama has turned evil. It was inevitable, even if it seemed unlikely. You’d never think he’d actually go through with it – he’s practically a saint compared to some of the other characters – but the temptation was too great. Jin has taken control of the Mishima Zaibatsu, but he’s not interested in using it for the sake of justice or peace. Instead, he used the corporation to build an unbeatable army and intends to conquer the world with it. He’s accomplished more than any of his predecessors; not even previous owners/villains Heihachi or Kazuya have shown this kind of ambition and lust for power. It’s kind of ironic, in a way. He’s dedicated his life to undoing his dark heritage, yet he’s repeating the mistakes that defined and tainted the lives of both his father and grandfather. With a new King of the Iron Fist Tournament underway, it’s only a matter of time before he has to face the consequences.
It’s not all about Jin, though. Tekken 6 has forty playable characters, and each one of them has their own story and motivations for entering the tournament. Not only are all the old standbys like Nina and King still around, but several new challengers as well. Overweight vigilantes, rebel leaders, and spiritual mediums shake up what is already an unusual lineup of fighters. Many are out for the bounty on Jin‘s head, while others are there for a chance at attaining glory or testing their fighting skills. Many of the plotlines are intricately intertwined, creating a surprisingly complex tale of revenge and redemption. With such a huge ensemble cast, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything the story throws at you. There’s no reason to be intimidated by it, however; thanks to the lengthy Campaign Mode, you’ll get immersed in the Tekken universe through the perspective of two of its newest characters. By playing through the Campaign, you’ll meet the rest of the fighters and gain insight to what Tekken 6 is all about.
Actually getting through it, however, is something else entirely. Despite its length and importance to the story, Campaign Mode is utterly boring. Rather than pitting you against foes one on one in the traditional fighting game format, the game forces your character (you can switch to different fighters after you defeat them) to team up with one of the newcomers and take down your opponents in classic beat’em up style. You’ll have to punch and kick your way through a bunch of linear levels, taking down hordes of inept lackeys along the way. It’s a nice shout out to old school brawlers – health-boosting chickens, metal pipes, and flamethrower pickups appear frequently – but it lacks their charm. The worst part is the camera; it shifts on its own as you move, and there’s no way to control it. It can be pretty awkward, especially when you’re surrounded and can’t get your bearings as easily. You can focus on a single enemy and switch targets, but game is inconsistent in following your commands. It’s balanced out by some terrible AI (some of your enemies won’t even notice you standing next to them), but the difficulty level steadily rises with each passing stage. The game rewards your perseverance with the characters’ stories, extra costumes, and bonus cutscenes, but it’s not enough to make up for annoying gameplay.
At least the game doesn’t force you to play it. Even if it makes up a considerable chunk of the content in Tekken 6, it’s still a distraction from the real meat of the game: the Arcade Mode. The layout is fairly straightforward; you choose a contender, fight a few opponents in best of three matches, and take down an annoyingly cheap boss. Each button corresponds to your character’s limbs; while mashing the punch button might get you a feeble jab, pressing different buttons in succession will trigger all kinds of devastating combos, throws, and counters. The trick is learning how to use these attacks to their fullest extent. Do you follow up a two-hit punch attack with a low kick, or do you try to juggle them into oblivion? Tekken 6 mixes things up even more by introducing moves that can bounce aerial enemies off the ground, thus turning the most basic combo strings into something far deadlier. If you’re a seasoned veteran, this latest addition is a great way to learn and develop new strategies. But if you’re looking for something with a little less finesse, the newly-adapted Rage system boosts your fighters’ attacks when they’re nearing death. Since each fighter comes with unique and extensive movesets, it’ll take quite a while to master all of the little nuances and techniques that make the combat so engaging.
It’s not like you’re limited to the Arcade challenges, either. If you want something a bit more challenging, the Ghost Battle Mode lets you take on characters whose fighting style and strategies are influenced from real players. If you’ve got gaming friends online, their information can be downloaded as well. It makes for a far more engaging experience; if you go in expecting another crappy AI opponent, you might be in for a nasty surprise. The rest of the options are more conventional; Versus, Time Attack, Survival, and Team Battle Modes are all great ways to test your gaming prowess. Or if you need a break from the competition, you can waste time dressing your characters with all of the extra clothes you’ve earned in the Campaign. The level of customization is pretty impressive, considering how the characters get everything from differently colored outfits to sunglasses to haircuts. With so many features, there’s more than enough content to keep solo gamers coming back.
It’s a good thing, considering the online multiplayer. It’s not quite as unplayable as The King of Fighters XII, but it’s pretty bad. It’s the lag. It’s too slow and unresponsive, and it severely cripples the gameplay. Tekken 6 is all about timing; your combos require quick, specific inputs to connect properly. If the game can’t read them fast enough, your greatest strategies and mastery over your characters mean absolutely nothing. Not to mention what it does to the pacing; the regular gameplay focuses on flowing from one move to the next, offering extremely fast-paced combat. Once you get online, however, that steady flow dwindles into a trickle. It’s such a shame that such a potentially awesome multiplayer experience was handled so poorly.
It doesn’t look particularly interesting, either. The character models look decent – fans will recognize the homage to Tekken 2 in Jin’s fight – and their movements are fluid enough, but there’s a lack of polish. Facial expressions, the textures of the clothing, and other little details aren’t quite up to par with what you might expect for a PS3 game. It’s the backgrounds that need the most work. With the blocky obstacles and bland colors, the Campaign Mode could be mistaken for an early PS2 game. Though some of the Arcade stages have breakable floors and other hidden features, only a few of them are particularly interesting. No other fighting game forces you to fight someone in the middle of a tomato-throwing festival. There’s even a level in which you fight through a herd of sheep, complete with a techno-yodeling music track. Though punting some sheep around a field is surprisingly fun, you’ll be left wishing that your wooly victims were better rendered.
That’s how Tekken 6 could be summarized: great fun, but could be improved. The playable character roster is bigger than ever, and the story is far more developed than in any previous Tekken title. The Campaign Mode, while good for getting gamers into the mythos of the series, is an incredibly flawed excuse of a beat’em up mini-game. The Arcade and other gameplay modes, on the other hand, offer some of the most complex and rewarding combat mechanics seen in recent fighting games. Not only is the core gameplay intact, but a handful of additional features make it refreshing for those who are familiar with the series. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the multiplayer; had the designers spent more time eliminating the lag, this game could have offered one of the best online experiences on the system. Regardless, Tekken 6 is an awesome game. It just could have been better.