Tekken 8 feels as great as ever – but the Heat System terrifies me

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King is back and better than ever in Tekken 8 (Image: Bandai Namco)
King is back and better than ever in Tekken 8 (Image: Bandai Namco)

Tekken 8's Closed Network test (CNT) is over, and while the series has never looked better, I do have some reservations about the latest entry in the legendary franchise.

2023 has been a hell of a year for fighting games so far. Street Fighter 6 is a bona-fide game of the year contender, Guilty Gear Strive is poised to make huge changes with its Season Pass 3, and Mortal Kombat 1 is going to feature John Cena in the Mortal Kombat 1 Season 1 DLC (plus the game looks pretty good too, I guess). While not confirmed to launch in 2023, Tekken 8 has also been making a splash in the fighting game scene.

Tekken 7 set a new standard for the series, being arguably the first instalment to challenge Tekken 3 for the crown of best franchise entry; only being let down by extremely barebones single-player offerings. However – as we'll see with the EVO tournament this weekend – Tekken 7 is my pick for one of the best esports games on the planet. Players like Knee and Arslan Ash consistently bring their A game to tourneys, leading to some of the most thrilling matches of all time.

What I'm trying to say is, following up a game as brilliant as Tekken 7 while also innovating on the formula is no easy task. While Tekken 8 feels great, there's one big issue in my eyes. And for clarity, I fully admit that I'm not a Tekken God by any means, so these views are directly from a semi-casual player rather than someone who can Korean Backdash with the best of them.

Heat of the moment

The new central mechanic present in Tekken 8 is the Heat System. Heat is quite similar to the MAX mechanic found in SNK's King of Fighters series (and in Tekken 7 thanks to Geese Howard). It's a blue bar residing under the health bar that will begin to deplete when you activate it – which can be done through the Heat Burst move, or performing specific attacks. Heat Burst is similar to Rage Arts in the sense that you can perform this move via a one-button input.

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Once you activate Heat, you'll be buffed up and ready to launch a huge offensive push. Every single move performed in Heat does recoverable chip damage, meaning that opponents will also have to go on the offensive or risk losing a lot of health. During the CNT the amount of chip felt a little ridiculous, especially when you're dealing with heavy-hitters like Jack-8 and Bryan Fury.

Heat also acts as a detriment in some cases. For Example, Paul Phoenix's most iconic move is the Heavy Power Punch (affectionally known as the Death Fist). Using this move is a great way to get some nasty damage in Tekken 7, but now that the move is linked to the Heat System, using it will either activate it, or fully deplete your gauge when used during Heat. While changes are necessary to keep the game – and characters – fresh, Paul players from Tekken 7 will have a hard time adapting.

Speaking of Paul, that leads us to the other big issue with Tekken 8: the designs. Street Fighter 6 redesigned most of the core cast, and the majority of them turned out better than ever. Tekken 8's redesigns range from decent to awful. Paul Phoenix's Iconic look has been ditched to go back to his horrific Tekken 4 aesthetic with his hair down; meanwhile Jack-8 is the absolute worst variant I've seen of a character who gets redesigned in every entry.

King of the ring

On a positive note, Tekken 8 feels as good to play as ever. The characters hit like trucks with top-tier sound effects and graphical flourishes that perfectly complement each attack. Plus, the netcode in the CNT is far beyond what we saw in Tekken 7 at launch – even if it isn't quite as smooth as the likes of Street Fighter 6 or Guilty Gear Strive.

And as someone who almost exclusively plays grappler archetypes in fighting games outside of Tekken, the new changes to the grab systems in Tekken 8 are a dream come true.

Tekken 7 changed grabs by making them easier than ever to tech, meaning a solid grab game was far easier to counter in that entry. Now, grabs in Tekken 8 are possibly the strongest they've ever been. Throws being used as a counter hit or punish – not to mention crouching throws – are now unbreakable. Finally, the chain throws that made characters like King so iconic are now far easier to perform at the cost of less damage, while those who mastered them before can still perform them with the old inputs for more damage.

Obviously, Tekken 8 isn't anywhere near launching yet, and this is only a CNT. The game still has time to grow and develop before it launches, so my complaints here could all be outdated by the time it arrives... At least I hope they are.

Scott McCrae

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