The Tekken 8 CNT (Closed Network Test) came and went and I was one of the people that Harada had graced to say “Hey why don’t you give this a try?” and I was more than happy to comply. Now to set expectations, I do like watching Tekken matches, but I haven’t really done the whole lab training with the series since well, Tekken 3. That was the PS1 age, so I’ll leave it to you to find out how old I probably am. I also played Tekken 5 a fair bit where blonde from Monaco may have attracted my attention, but also, Lei is cool. So that is to say, I don’t really have a long record of playing through the Tekken series as compared to my history with anime fighters, but I’ll be trying my best to inform you what the game is like and how the online experience is playing out so far. So, let’s get to it.
The CNT immediately puts you through a chance of taking on the tutorial if you like, having some experience knowing that the game has 4 buttons, and doing commands is quite different from Guilty Gear, I jump straight into the review of the new functions within Tekken 8. Which leads me to learn about the Heat System. Like Street Fighter, you get to start with a full bar of resources, which this time around, you can’t regain after use. You can use it as soon as the round starts, but you’ll want to think about when to commit as you can’t gain it back.
You can activate it independently as a Heat Burst or do it mid-combo as a Heat Engager. Either way, it launches an attack that places the user to be able to launch the next attack regardless of whether it hits or gets blocked. Think of it as a reset in favor of the user, actually making resets seems to be quite often in the matches I played in, and more on that later.
Once you’ve activated your Heat bar, it slowly depletes but strengthens you in three ways. First, you are able to recover damage to an extent. Second, your attacks now deal guard damage. Finally, you gain access to the special Dash and Smash move. The Dash is more or less a cancel you’re supposed to use to extend your combos with. This only expends half of your Heat meter, so it you don’t lose the empowered state immediately. The Smash can be used either as a stand-alone attack or final hit for your Heat state, think of it as a mini-super move, this makes you use whatever’s left of your Heat meter so, it ideally shouldn’t be used immediately from activation.
Tekken 8 seems to have taken some notes from Guilty Gear Strive, where instead of letting players oppress their opponents with constant set play, hard resets are in place but still hand over reasonable advantage to the aggressor. This does change how one would set up their offense in this new title, and will also give newer players to recognize a situation where they can react better.
Then there’s the special controls mode that’s meant to be more useful for beginners, I have to admit, I did lose to a couple of matches for people that depended on this. But in general, these are four functions mapped to the four traditional buttons of the game, a generic combo, a high attack, a low attack, and an armor move. Generally, these are enough to get you through a fight, but you lose a lot of options and techniques if you rely on them. You can’t feint, or change your moves mid-way. It makes your movement rather predictable, but it’s a lot better than trying to mash buttons hoping to get a move-out.
If you are coming from a point where you’ve played a lot of Tekken before, you’ll be happy to know that a lot of the legacy knowledge translates well to Tekken 8. Or at least the combos that my online opponents used on me during my play sessions were awfully familiar. I played Law back in the day and I can do a bunch of moves and short combos that I remember from all the way back in Tekken 3. However, there are still changes like new moves, and not all combos do carry over, which I think is okay, since there’s still enough to work with, and quite a bit of new material to study even with older characters.
Now finally how was the netcode? To be honest, it was really great during part 1, which was the restricted network test. Where you can only play with people in the same network ecosystem. PS5 users can only play with other PS5 users, and I honestly had a good time playing through several matches there. I kept switching characters as well to see what they were like. Even though I was playing through WiFi, it didn’t feel like the connection quality was suffering much at all.
Then came the second test, which involved cross-play. Harada himself said this would be the true test, and was expecting a good performance from the restricted network test. And I have to agree that this is what put the net code to the test. This time I was playing on a PC, connected via LAN cable this time, which is the preferred type of connection by fighting game enthusiasts. Unfortunately, I would only get maybe one match at around 20-30 minutes. Where I do get matched up but there were a lot of attempts that didn’t go through. Either because the other player decided to decline or some technical issue came up as the match was being set up.
I thought that playing with other PC players would make the connection simpler and easier to pull off, but it was this very group I actually had the most difficulty maintaining a connection with. I was a little dumbfounded, but I am now forced to concede that net code is a much more complicated problem than I thought. I thought I’d get more matches if I dropped the criteria required for matching, and the quality of the matches dropped along with it, by a lot.
Wrapping up, I think Tekken 8 is doing a lot to keep older players interested and adding new mechanics that not only make the action faster but also create accessibility for new players. Their new system that forces a reset situation makes it so that we’re no longer stuck blocking forever if we happen to make a wrong move. This makes it good for new players that will constantly have no idea what to do, it’ll at least, let them know that it’s time for them to be able to try something again. And it’ll also serve as a soft cap for those who really want to get into Tekken and try to avoid ending up in resets that they don’t want. As for the net code, it seems to be going in a good direction, but cross-play still needs a lot of work. When I did get matches the connection was good, but it took so long to get one going. I hope that they figure out the issues for cross-play soon, but otherwise, I think the game is going to be a fun pickup for anybody interested in the series.