Since the release of its last installment six years ago, Tekken 8 marks a new turning point for the series not just in its graphical fidelity and Netcode, but also with its new Heat system which aims to step up the thrill of combat in a new, explosive way.
Readying up for its still tentative “to-be-announced” release date, Bandai Namco launched a Tekken 8 Closed Network Test last month for PlayStation 5 and PC to let players get an early hands-on experience of the game! After diving into the intense battles in the test, we’ll be going down some of the new and familiar aspects we saw that might just make this the best time to get into the series or 3D fighters as a whole.
▍Start at Your Own Pace With the New Match Making System
Though promised with a bunch of game modes, the Tekken 8 Closed Network Test only allows players to get their hands on Ranked Matches. And before throwing you out into the wild, you could test your skill level with a CPU mock match. The game gauges your overall ability with a number referred to as Tekken Prowess in-game, which will determine what placement you should be starting the game on. The arrangement is a significant upgrade from its predecessors, allowing players of similar skill levels to match up against each other most of the time.
▍Rack up Easy Combos with Special Style
This latest installment of Tekken adds a new control type named Special Style, which offers easier-to-access combos and special moves with the press of a button. By pressing the L1 button anytime during a match, the controls would override the five buttons to be assigned for different uses. The moves would also dynamically change according to the state of the fighter (normal, heat, or rage).
The Special Style controls introduce a consistent combo for every fighter, which makes the onboarding process of learning a character much simpler. For example, you land a hit that launches your foe into the air, but you’re not able to consistently perform a combo that would juggle them just yet. By flicking on the Special Style, your character would do a permutation of their combos at the press of a few buttons (in this case the triangle button, for Air Combos).
While it’s questionable if the mode should be legal for ranked matches in the full release like the similar Modern control scheme found in Street Fighter 6, the Special Style controls served as a great way to pick up and play each of the rosters in the Closed Network Test even without foreknowledge.
▍Packing Heat at Blistering Speeds
Getting into the technicalities, Tekken 8 introduces a Heat system, in which players can enhance their character’s properties for a short period (minimum of 10 seconds), opening up several new strategies during fights. Displayed by a minimalistic small blue bar under the HP gauge is the heat meter, which refreshes to the max on each round of the match.
You can then activate the Heat state by hitting 2+3 (heavy punch and light kick, or R1 for the shortcut) buttons to do a Heat Burst, which comes in handy against guarding opponents due to its slight frame advantage even if they block the hit. Should the Heat Burst connect, the strike will knock the opponent down to the floor but still be vulnerable to hits, rendering them unable to roll away from the next strike. Some fighters use this property of bounce to extend their own combos further, while others use it as a button to punish a whiffed attack, opening them up for a world of hurt.
Alternatively, characters can enter Heat using one of five attacks in their repertoire, now arbitrarily designated as Heat Engagers. Assigned to most attacks that send the opponent sliding across the dirt, these moves can also be followed up with a dash– an option for players to push their opponents to the edge of the stage for wall splats combos.
Heat State also gives unique boosts to characters, such as Kazuya gaining the ability to perform his iconic Electric Wind God Fist in its Just Frame form regardless of input timing. Claudio, on the other hand, gets to keep his powerful Starburst state until Heat wears off. Every character gets their form of ‘buff’ that allows them to take advantage of their respective mechanics in Tekken 8.
▍The Best Defense is a Good Offense
Important to note is how all attacks associated with the Heat state deal chip damage, meaning some damage is still delivered even if the attack was successfully blocked. While chip damage as a concept has existed in previous titles with systems such as rage drive and specific attacks for characters in Tekken 6, 7, and Tag Tournament 2; the new system is universal to all characters allowing further combo extension and aggressive plays across the board. But this also gives advantages to certain characters like Hwoarang, Claudio, and Bryan, who can simply pop their Heat State at the beginning for massive health advantages.
You can’t lose a round via chip, however, as there is a recoverable health mechanic that is placed to balance out the chip damage. Moves that armor through hits, such as a well-timed Power Crush or Heat Burst can heal back a considerable amount. It also put your character in an advantageous state after the hit. The recoverable health will start to deplete after a brief window, so being overly passive is out of the question too!
These mechanics led to matches where the HP on both sides would tug of war so to speak, with health bars being greatly extended despite how explosive combo damages can be. While describable in many words, the Heat system breathes new fresh air into the Tekken formula, with new options to consider in matchups.
▍Rollback Netcode and Implementation in Tekken 8
The series’ longtime director Katsuhiro Harada mentioned on the official Tekken Twitter that players need not worry about Tekken’s Netcode. He even actively conversed with players on social media on the topic several times.
Whereas the first test involved only PlayStation 5 players, the second test was what Harada himself referred to as “the true test”, with crossplay being enabled in the settings with both PC and PlayStation 5. The overall experience was positive with load times being brief and almost instant rematches across the board.
Surprisingly, we encountered the most unstable connections when matched with other PC players. Even while connected to a LAN cable (which is the preferred connection type for all things multiplayer), some PC matches saw the rollback frames kick in. Some matches would outright disconnect on some unfortunate WiFi matches as well.
While experiencing some technical outliers, the overall online experience of the Tekken 8 Closed Network Test ran smoothly, with a majority of matches feeling as if the other player were right there with us on the couch. The actual connectivity was also displayed when in a match at the bottom right, displaying latency, delay frames, rollback frames, and other information most definitely used for feedback down the line.
Of note was the question on many players’ minds, “How is the rollback Netcode”? Long story short, the game experiences fewer hitches and unresponsive input delays compared to Tekken 7, with an overall better experience. This was partly yielded by configuring the in-game rollback options and setting it to “Prioritize Response” which does exactly that, at the cost of some animations looking scuffed when the rollback kicks in.
Options like these have been available in plenty of other fighting games in the past though they were pretty much all 2D fighters, so these changes are much appreciated, as they allow the player to better tailor their experience to what they like.
▍Robust Training Mode Options in Tekken 8
The test also provided a preview of the Tekken 8’s Training Mode suite, showing off an impressive, almost overwhelming amount of options and settings to experiment with. The feature to spar with an idle CPU was present in Tekken 7, but the ability to warm up and practice combos while waiting for matches was a pleasant surprise. Options such as checking out command lists and combo challenges for your selected characters are fairly welcomed.
Video demos for checking input timings also make a return, with the command list even having a separate tab to show off techniques and moves that come up the most often in the bread-and-butter combos for each character. Though some options were grayed out for the CNT, the game’s training mode lists Sample Combos, and Combo Challenges that help let new and old players hone their skills/execution for the real deal.
Combo challenges can also be shown outside of the pause menu as an overlayed UI, allowing you to reference them while practicing. All of these quality-of-life features along with the aforementioned match-making system all point to an overall more approachable game for newbies of the genre.
▍Tekken 8 is a Bold New Step for the Franchise
Shortly after the test ended on July 24, Harada tweeted out to fans mentioning how the test was only in a network battle & matching test, clarifying that the game system is “still in a bare-bones state”. This rings true with some characters having strong buttons and Heat State buffs, and the new best-to-two-match format being an entirely new, experimental way to spice up Tekken.
The new mechanics like the Heat Burst add to the formula, creating a more fast-paced, explosive fighter that will be a blast to play and a thrill to watch at the stage of EVO and other tournaments. Contrary to its similar looks to its previous installment, Tekken 8 plays a lot better and it clearly shows that the developers are taking up the player’s feedback. While everything is still tentative, what was shown in the test was a new, bold change of pace for the series moving forward.
Tekken 8 is set to launch on the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC via Steam, though no release date has yet to be revealed.