The past few years have been exceptional for fighting games. Guilty Gear Strive continued to grow and improve. Street Fighter 6 has ushered a resurgence for Capcom’s flagship series and remains one of the best options on the market. Mortal Kombat 1, despite its many issues, is still a great follow-up with a strong story and gameplay.
On January 26th 2024, Bandai Namco’s Tekken 8 will be released, and as the first new title in the series after years, it’s pulling out all the stops. We went hands-on with the recent closed beta to see everything that the fighter has to offer, and it’s certainly impressive.
The first impression made by Tekken 8 during its closed beta? It looks good. Really good. Each fighter is rendered with incredible detail, whether it’s the sheer musculature or the realistic movement of their clothes. The stages are rife with fidelity, the animation is super clean, and the performance is a solid 60 FPS on PS5.
However, perhaps the best change is how much better the effects come across since the closed beta adjusted their brightness, shape and range for visibility’s sake. You can still go into Effect Brightness to tone things down further, but the fact that even default settings don’t completely overpower the action is impressive. Whether Tekken 8 is the best-looking fighting game of this generation is down to preference, but the development team is putting in the work with Unreal Engine 5.
When discussing the theme for Tekken 8’s combat, the development team used one word: Aggression. It was prominent in the closed beta, as matches felt fast and furious. Furthermore, the combos feel extremely potent, damage-wise, for several of the characters I tried, whether executing a simple one-two punch with Asuka or a more extensive combo with Jun.
Defense wasn’t completely useless, but for the most part, mounting a strong attack and strafing around an opponent to nail them with combos is key (especially with the new recoverable parts of the health bar). There is some worry that there aren’t enough options available, but as always, this is a closed beta, and things are subject to change.
The Heat System is new and offers some very interesting mechanics. You can activate it by pressing R1, executing a Heat Burst to attack and slightly stun an opponent. Actions are enhanced, and the gauge will deplete after 10 seconds, with all attacks causing chip damage (represented as the new recoverable health). Press it against for a Heat Smash, a powerful move which deals good damage but also consumes the Heat Gauge.
Each character also has a Heat Engager – land that successful, and you’ll enter the Heat State, dashing towards an opponent to continue pressing the attack. These are hype moments, but it’s a little too beneficial to execute a Heat Engager and immediately follow up with a Heat Smash. On the other hand, if you can successfully block a Heat Smash, you have a massive advantage against your opponent. Overall, it’s an interesting system that provides room for strategy and turning the tables while maintaining Tekken 8’s aggressive tempo.
Think of Special Style as similar to Street Fighter 6’s Modern Controls. It essentially assigns different functions to the face buttons and R1. Heat Burst is activated with R1. Triangle, when pressed repeatedly, will launch the opponent and execute air combos, while Square unleashes Specialty Moves. The real kicker is that Special Style can be turned on and off during a match by pressing L1. It lets you use the regular control scheme for a wider assortment of moves, then switch to Special Style for guaranteed combos based on the situation.
With the closed beta expanding on the number of Specialty Moves and allowing for throws by pressing Circle with a Left, Down or Right, it’s now a legitimate strategy while helping new players acclimate to the action. That being said, all the times I mistakenly pressed L1 and couldn’t perform some of Asuka’s moves using a specific button combination are making much more sense now.
The closed beta added some familiar characters from the series, like Feng Wei and Raven, but Azucena, the newest addition to the roster, is arguably the star. She’s fast and hits hard with some seriously damaging Special moves, but is easy to pick up and a joy to control. Perhaps the best part of her style is the fakeouts, which can throw opponents for a loop, and in a game where juggles are king, Azucena certainly makes a strong play for the crown. Just make sure you enjoy hearing about coffee as much as she likes talking about it.
When queuing for an online match, you can select the region and the preferred connection quality for your opponent. Rollback netcode will be included in the game, but since this is a beta, its implementation is far from final. Nevertheless, my matches were smooth, even against players with three-bar connections. No hitching or response issues, much less lag, could be felt.
Again, this is a subjective experience – there are plenty reporting netcode as worse than the closed network test, while others claim it is fine. I had no issues, but it’s best to wait and see how the game fares at launch if you’re looking to jump in for online play.
Avatars are nothing new in fighting games, especially those with virtual lobbies where you wander around and challenge other players. Tekken 8’s Avatars can’t fight each other like Street Fighter 6, but you can still customize their face, face outline, skin tone, hair, motion, eye color and more. There’s also a wide range of available outfits and accessories to customize them. Perhaps this will become more relevant in Arcade Quest, which involves venturing to arcades in-game and taking on tougher opponents. For now, it’s simply a way to represent yourself in the new Fight Lounge.
As soon as it was revealed, Fight Lounge attracted some comparisons to Street Fighter 6’s Battle Hub. They’re not too far off – this is essentially a lobby system masquerading as a virtual arcade where several real players congregate. In addition to Ranked and Quick Matches, you can also do Group Matches, where you’re matched randomly against those in the same group of arcades within that area of the Lounge.
Other features include Iron Fist Outfitters, where you can spend Fight Money to purchase cosmetics and items to customize your avatar. While it has the feel of a luxurious arcade where you can meet and interact with other players online, Fight Lounge is more akin to a traditional fighting game. Still, it works well, and if you want to bypass it to quickly match with anyone, anywhere, while Labbing combos, that’s also an option.
Super Ghost Battles
A feature that I didn’t get too much hands-on time with is Super Ghost Battles. These essentially let you fight the Ghosts of other players, which become more accurate as they experience further battles. If your opponent likes to pull out specific tactics, you can train against those before rematching them. As a concept, it certainly has potential – all that’s left to see is how they’ll evolve on a longer-term basis, which is their ultimate purpose.