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Tekken 8 affirms it’s the true king of fighting games in our preview

Our Tekken 8 preview showcases why Bandai Namco are sticking to the roots of the series, while trying to deliver something fresh and engaging for new players.

Tekken 8 Gameplay Preview: Leroy can be seen

A wise man once told me, “Every Street Fighter is a different Street Fighter. Every Tekken is Tekken.” He’s right. Almost every other fighting game changes drastically from entry to entry, whether it’s a 2D or 3D game. You’ve never confused Street Fighter 6 for Street Fighter 5, mistake Guilty Gear Strive with Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2, or confuse SoulCalibur 6 and SoulCalibur 5.

But Tekken is and always has been an incredibly legacy skill-heavy game. Just moving backward properly requires practice, and long-time Tekken players will be able to tell how experienced you are just by watching you control your character. As such, Tekken can be incredibly intimidating to new players as a result, and after spending some time with Tekken 8’s recent Closed Network Test, I can confidently say Tekken 8 is still Tekken.

This is still a game that heavily rewards legacy skill. You still need to know how to Korean backdash to play at a high level, and things still look and feel like the series has for years. If you’re new, you’ll feel at home. If not, well… the best time to start playing Tekken was when Tekken 3 came out. The second-best time is now. Tekken 7 is right there, and it’s one of the best fighting games around before Tekken 8 launches.

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But that doesn’t mean that Tekken 8 doesn’t have some new tricks up its sleeve. The big new mechanic is Heat, which is represented by a bar under your health bar called the Heat Timer. You start with a full Heat Timer each round, and you can activate your Heat Timer at any point by pressing Right Punch (or R1/right bumper, which is automatically assigned as a macro, which is a sequence of button presses assigned to one button).

Activating your Heat Timer makes your character substantially more powerful. You can access powerful Heat Smash moves and punishing combos that you can activate with the push of a button. Your attacks also do chip damage when your opponent is guarding when you’re using Heat.

Tekken 8 Gameplay Preview: Jin can be seen

You can also activate your Heat Timer by landing moves called Heat Engagers, which are unique to each character. Landing Heat Engagers will not only blow your opponent backward into a staggered state that allows you to freely pressure them, but it will also recover your health. The downside is you really can’t use Heat Engagers unless you’re ready to spend your Heat Timer, and once you use it, it’s gone. You can only activate your Heat Timer once per round, and if you decide to spend your Heat Smash, it uses all of your Heat Timer instantly.

The result is a game that rewards the players far more for being aggressive than Tekken 7 did, and (as of right now) has much longer, more damaging combos. Top Tekken pros don’t seem entirely happy about this, and Bandai Namco has indicated they are listening, but how Tekken 8 will change until launch is anyone’s guess.

Tekken 8 Gameplay Preview: Kazuya and Jin can be seen fighting

In many other ways, however, Tekken 8 feels like a refinement of Tekken 7, not a revolution. A lot of Tekken 7’s mechanics have returned. Power Crushes, attacks that absorb high and mid attacks (but lose to lows and throws), allow you to take the fight to your opponent which you’re blocking. Rage and Rage Arts, attack bonuses, and super moves that activate when your character is at low health also make a return. If you’ve played Tekken 7, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Tekken 8.

Even the Closed Network Test’s 16-character roster is almost entirely made up of characters from Tekken 7. The exception is Jun Kazama, who makes her return to the main series for the first time since Tekken 2.

Tekken 8 Gameplay Preview: Paul and Marshall can be seen fighting

Jun’s Kazama style is graceful and offers her unique defensive options, and she’s an absolute blast to play. If you’ve played her in the Tekken Tag Tournament games, you should feel right at home, and it’s good to see her back in a main series game after so much time away.

The other big change is the online experience. Tekken 8 will support rollback netcode and crossplay, and both worked nearly flawlessly in the Closed Network Test. No matter who I was playing against, or what was happening on-screen, the game ran smoothly, aside from the rare stutter. This is more impressive because Tekken 8 is absolutely gorgeous in motion, and the game ran extremely smoothly.

Tekken 8 Gameplay Preview: Jun can be seen

The real triumph, though, is how good Tekken 8 feels to play. Activating Heat puts you in control of a match, but you never feel like a match is out of reach just because your opponent is using their Heat Timer. Even if you’re playing defense, it always feels like you have a chance. Whether I was bodying someone or getting bodied, landing a last-minute Rage Art for the kill, or losing in a heartbreakingly close set. The game feels fantastic to play, no matter which of the Tekken 8 characters I was playing.

I naturally gravitated to Leeroy Smith, but I spent time with several members of the game’s cast, including Jin Kazama, Jun Kazama, Paul Pheonix, and many others. Even if I was just playing around with them in training mode. The more I played with each character, the more I wanted to learn.

Tekken 8 Gameplay Preview: Jack-8 and King can be seen fighting

The Tekken 8 release date seems a ways off, but if the Closed Network Test is anything to go by, the latest entry of Bandai Namco’s flagship fighting series is shaping up to be something special. It’s too early to say whether Tekken 8 will be one of the best PS5 games or one of the best Xbox Series X games, but as Leeroy says, the fists reveal the fighter. And so far, Tekken 8 is coming out swinging.