Tekken 6 (Xbox 360)
There are some jobs that I simply can't imagine doing.
Working in a slaughterhouse? No. Mortician? Forget it. Diana Ross' personal assistant? No way, Jose.
But I think I'd rather do all three of those jobs, simultaneously, than be the person responsible for coming up with the backstories for fighting games.
Tekken 6 marches you through the narratives behind the previous five games in its opening moments. It's all self-important hoo-hah. Somebody is mad at somebody else, so they got into a fight; somebody betrayed somebody, so they got into a fight; and blah blah blah. Coming up with these things must be like those old Mad Libs books. The dev team probably has a sheet of paper with sentences on it that go like this: BLANK was BLANK at BLANK, so they got into a fight.
Honestly, pieces of paper inside fortune cookies have more nuance and drama than anything found in any Tekken game.
But going to a fighting game looking for a good story is like going to a brothel looking for a wife, or going to McDonald's looking for good food. I wish Tekken 6 made some semblance of sense. I wish I cared, even a tiny bit, about these characters. But as usual, as it always is with fighting games, it's all style and no substance. So be it.
I've always loved the fact that Tekken is just plain bat-shit insane. The Tekken series is always good for a laugh. There's that wooden woman-thing. And the kangaroo. And the guy with the tiger face. And this huge panda. When the panda came on-screen during one of our in-office matches, John Teti and I both laughed.
I loved Tekken 5. I loved it so much that I played a lot of it on the PlayStation 2, then played it again on the PSP (the terrific Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection), then downloaded the game again for the PlayStation 3. (It looks great on the PS3.) Tekken 5 is the ultimate Tekken, to my mind. Instead of walking you through all the boring backstories in a self-important fashion, Tekken 5 actually let you go back and replay all the previous games in the series. If you don't own a copy of Tekken 5, you should right that wrong as soon as possible.
The Tekken series is famous for its crazy, incredibly polished CG opening cinemas. Yet the opening cinema in Tekken 6 feels grounded and restrained, for some reason. A crow flies around. Somebody punches somebody. A hot woman performs some move that makes doors open on an Egyptian temple. Maybe my eyes have grown jaundiced after all the years of watching CG openings in Tekken and in other games, but this one felt like it was lacking some pop and drama. I watched it a few more times to see if I was missing something. Nope. I wasn't. It's pretty dull as far as CG openings go.
So Tekken 6 didn't make the greatest first impression. And things only continued to go downhill from there.
Scenario Mode (aka lamest mode name ever) is a third-person beat-'em-up that lets you play as a character named Lars. (He's new to the series.) Of course, the Tekken series has pulled this kind of thing before, in the form of the "Tekken Force" modes from 3 and 4, and "Devil Within" mode from 5. (Devil Within = way more interesting name for a mode, FYI). These third-person action modes are designed as bonuses; at best, they've always been tolerable, but barely. They've always been half-cooked and poorly executed; that's kind of their M.O. at this point.
Scenario Mode -- surprise -- is half-cooked and poorly executed. There's a second character on-screen with you, as if the developers intended on making it a co-op experience. But it's not. Usually, she just stands around. Be thankful if she throws a punch or a kick. Scenario Mode also commits the ultimate sin of all game-design sins by having load screens kick in before and after cut scenes.
Load times are a constant issue in the game. The game always feels like it's pausing to load this or that, and those seconds, while they're only seconds individually, quickly add up into minutes. Tekken 5 on the PS2, by comparison, has negligible load times. (I went back and checked.) At this late stage in the console cycles, such load times, especially in a fighting game where gameplay always takes place in small 30- and 40-second bursts, are simply inexcusable.
Evan Narcisse and I spent a few hours with the game yesterday. Narcisse is the biggest Tekken fan in the office. He had some issues with the game, though he also came to the game's defense. "They didn't just phone this one in," he said. "A lot of the characters have been redrawn and given new animations and moves."
He agreed that the load times were an issue, as was the d-pad on the Xbox 360 controller. "I can't play fighting games with this thing," he said.
Narcisse also complained about the game's final boss. "The series has a history of cheap boss characters, but this new one is the worst ever. Azazel, some kind of dark Egyptian deity, takes up about a third of the screen and he's been made to be visually confusing on purpose. He pulsates with an annoying glow and his animations are tough to read, as if his cheap-o moves like laser vision and a whip made out of flying beetles weren't enough. You kind of just have to throw yourself at him and hope you make contact."
Also: We both agreed that Nina Williams is starting to look old for some reason.
Crispy Pro Tip: Punch your opponent in the part of his body where he is wearing his most hideous piece of clothing.
There are eight new characters in the game, seven of which are playable. (Azazel, as far as I can tell, isn't playable.) Sure, you can get online easily enough and beat the stuffing out of friends and strangers. During our tests, online worked well enough with only minor hiccups on both PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.
But that's really the only selling point of Tekken 6 as far as I can tell: online play.
All year, I've been pushing for the fighting-game genre to evolve. Street Fighter IV was lovely, and a nice homage for the 20-year-old series, but I already own far too many versions of Street Fighter II. And adding in a few new characters, or tacking on half-cooked third-person action mode, no longer qualifies as "evolution" in 2009.
Something fresh needs to happen here; not just in Tekken, but in the genre at large. I can't keep playing the same damn game again and again. In the end, Tekken 6 is not a better game than Tekken 5. That will no doubt sound like heresy to the Tekken faithful. But any discerning, frugal-minded gamer, or anyone who's weary of playing the same game over and over, will accept that as the truth.
This review is based on retail copies of the Xbox 360 and PS3 games provided by the publisher.