Tekken 8's aggression is a refreshing change of pace for the legacy fighter

 Bryan Fury's entry animation for Tekken 8
Bryan Fury's entry animation for Tekken 8

TechRadar Gaming is reporting live from Gamescom 2023 on the latest and greatest developments in gaming and hardware.

Tekken 8 is just a few months away from launch now, with a January 26, 2024 release date confirmed at Gamescom 2023’s Opening Night Live presentation. Developer and publisher Bandai Namco had the hotly anticipated fighting game playable on the show floor, with the Closed Network Test build available at its booth.

As the latest entry, Tekken 8 remains familiar to long-time fans of the series. Individual character movesets are largely similar to what they were in Tekken 7, with some additions, changes, and balance updates thrown in for good measure. Where things are really shaken up, though, is in just how utterly breakneck quick the moment-to-moment fighting is in the eighth mainline game.

If you’ve only dabbled in Tekken in the past, or if you’re a seasoned pro, there’ll be plenty of readjusting to do in order to get used to the speed of Tekken 8, which now often feels like it has Soul Calibur levels of pace. And I think that’s a very good thing.

Heating up

Yoshimitsu Tekken 8
Yoshimitsu Tekken 8

I spent a good hour with Tekken 8 at Gamescom 2023, making sure to play a variety of characters that I was at least somewhat familiar with from prior entries, including Asuka, King, Bryan, Xiaoyu and Hwoarang. If you’ve got some legacy skill backed up, you’ll still likely feel at home with your main character.

King’s still a grapple beast, able to chain together a series of command grabs for huge damage. Xiaoyu is still capable of switching between numerous stances, keeping opponents guessing, whereas Lili, meanwhile, is still hugely evasive, and her mix-up game is as strong as it’s ever been. The best part of Tekken 8, though, is that these familiar characters and move sets feel substantially augmented by the game’s new mechanics.

Brand new to Tekken 8 is the Heat system, which is where much of the game’s extra dosage of speed comes into play. You can enter the Heat state once per round for an initial total of ten seconds, governed by a meter that sits under your health bar. While in the state, you’ll have access to various Heat abilities that can help you turn the tide of any given round.

Heat Burst, for example, can be used to enter the state in the first place. It slams the opponent on hit, leaving the opponent to a juggle combo. Heat Engager, is your other means of entering the state, and can be used to sprint toward your enemy at high speed, useful for extending combos that would’ve otherwise ended outside of Heat state.

While in Heat state, you’ll generally be at an advantage over your opponent, and successful hits and combos will momentarily freeze the timer. If you play well, you can potentially be rewarded with Heat time that’ll last the whole round. In short, Heat rewards aggressive, yet calculated play, which opens the door for all kinds of new strategies.

It’s this Heat system that was primarily the reason why I couldn’t pull myself away from Tekken 8. The feeling of setting up a juggle, then dashing into Heat state to extend it, was constantly thrilling. Its relative ease of use means that even complete beginners can feel powerful, while simultaneously feeling like they’re learning to play their favorite characters more effectively.

There’ll be some balance adjustments needed, for sure, as at present Heat does tend to benefit faster characters like Nina and Hwoarang. However, its inclusion spices up the formula in such an explosive way that I can easily see Tekken 8 becoming one of the best fighting games when it launches early next year.

Ahead of Tekken 8's release, consider checking out our best fight sticks buying guide if you're looking for an arcade-like controller experience.