Available June 2 on PS4, Xbox One and PC
The Tekken franchise holds a special place in every 90s gamer’s heart. The original was the fighting game to own on the PlayStation One, and I’m still ashamed about the number of hours I spent playing Tekken Tag Tournament on first getting the PS2.
The reason is simple: unlike most fighters at the time that focused on power moves – Street Fighter, for example – in Tekken, combat was all about maintaining extended combos that kept your opponent on the back foot, or even better, in the air.
It was this style of fighting that made me love classic rumblers like Virtua Fighter and the Soulcalibur series.
However, since then – and, in my mind, to the genre's detriment – fighting games have once again begun to focus on big, over-the-top super attacks, which make a Dragon Ball battle look like a minor scuffle between kittens.
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Some games, such as Street Fighter V and Killer Instinct, have managed to successfully use the dynamic to great effect. But in most instances it leads to dull, repetitive gameplay, where every battle turns into a race to fill a super bar and unleash a killer special attack that wipes out half of your opponent's health.
Which is why I was a little apprehensive on getting my mitts on Tekken 7 and seeing its newly added Rage attack structure. The system arms each character with two Rage attacks and a special counter that can be used to break an enemy’s combo. Rage attacks are supers in everything but name, and can be activated after your character takes a certain amount of damage.
Jumping into my first few games my concerns about adding supers to Tekken were valid. Playing against a player who similarly hadn’t played a Tekken game in years, it quickly became apparent how easy it is to rely on Rage moves.
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Contests were evenly matched, as our skill level was best described as “button-mashers”, hammering the controller until one of us reached half health, giving our fighters a red glow, meaning our supers were ready. From there it was a race to activate Rage attack and the match was decided by whomever recalled the correct button combination first.
The fact that many Rage attacks have woefully easy input commands, and feature unnecessarily long animations, made it all the easier to begin relying on them while simultaneously resenting them.
This was particularly true when facing Akuma, a special guest from Street Fighter. Akuma comes armed with all his Street Fighter special moves, and thanks to his arsenal of energy blasts, is definitely going to earn a place as Tekken 7’s Odd Job.
But the game quickly picked up when I started playing as Hwoarang – my favourite character as a child. Once I’d selected the eye-patch-clad Taekwondo expert, muscle memory kicked in and I began to instinctively hammer all his classic kick combos, almost all of which have remained intact.
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From here I quickly realised how easy it is to counter Rage moves. Unlike many games, almost all supers can be blocked, and many telegraph their approach with slow animations, which makes them all too easy to quickly defend against with a side step.
The game also has excellent collision detection, which makes it easy to sneak in a Rage attack halting punch or kick before the super lands. To make things even more satisfying the game slightly slows down at the point of impact, before delivering a meaty sound whenever you successfully counter a Rage move or break an enemy’s combo with a heavy attack. This makes the achievement all the more sweeter.
Jumping out I found the same rang true for all of Tekken 7’s cast of characters. Every playable character, ranging from classic brawlers such as King and Jin, to new additions such as Kazumi Mishima, Josie Rizal, Katarina Alves and Claudio Serafino, all feel balanced and have a suitably expansive range of combos and heavy attacks to keep things interesting.
The immersion and balanced feel was helped by the game’s stellar graphics and animations. The PS4 build, even at this early stage, looked excellent. Characters’ muscles bulged as they struck; animations were smooth and, thanks to decent sound engineering, big hits always feel suitably telegraphed.
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I’m still not 100% convinced that Tekken is in need of super moves. That style of fighting game has already been done masterfully by numerous other titles, including Street Fighter V and Mortal Kombat X. But I remain positive about Tekken 7, and believe it has all the ingredients to carve out a space for itself in the increasingly competitive fighter-game market.
Despite the new Rage system, the game appears to have retained the core elements that made it great. The in-depth combo and 3D arena combat system remain, and the game has a rich assortment of characters, each with their own unique nuances to keep multiplayer feeling interesting.
The big question, however, will be how much of a dent the Rage system makes for experienced amateurs and e-sports players with skills beyond button bashing? Something that will only be answered once the game’s main multiplayer servers go live.