While Tekken 4 is away from offering the overabundance of characters of Tekken Tag Tournament, it still features 22 playable characters, each with a unique combat style; three of them are new to the series. Craig Marduck, a giant Vale Tudo fighter, Christie Monteiro, who learned the Capoeira method from Eddy Gordo's master, and Steve Fox, a British boxer and the most interesting addiction to the cast of the series. Christie plays almost like the disappeared Eddy Gordo, and Craig is a heavy wrestler, even bigger than King. Steve Fox is a boxer, and for this reason he can't use kicks, just punches. The kick buttons are used to dodge the enemy's attacks, and this creates an extremely original character that adds even more technique and strategy to a fighting series that has already no rivals when it comes to depth and complexity.
The other characters featured in the game are all well known to Tekken people. There are classic "complete" fighters, the ones that can offer more immediate satisfaction to the player who enters for the first time into the world of Tekken but that reveal the complexity of their combat style only in the hands of an expert player. Among these, Kazuya Mishima, his son Jin Kazama (you need to unlock him), and Hwoarang. Kazuya Mishima, who was supposed to be dead after that Heihachi had thrown him into a volcano in Tekken 2, is back, and plays the main role in the storyline of the game. Jin Kazama, who disappeared after Tekken 3, is also back, but with a completely new set of moves: he unlearned the Mishima-ryu fighting style and mastered traditional karate.
The other characters have basically remained the same. Paul Phoenix, Marshall Law, King, Yoshimitsu, Ling Xiaoyu are immediately available while the others... are a surprise, and unveiling many of them here would spoil the game
Despite the strong differences between these characters, overall the game is extremely well balanced. Actually, from this point of view, Tekken 4 is a step ahead all the preceding instalments of the series, and two steps ahead all the other fighters currently available on the market.
It's quite well-known that the Tekken series is somehow targeted to the expert player; playing a game like Tekken 4 is completely different from playing a Dead Or Alive, Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat game. Tekken 4, like its predecessors, is much more realistic than any other high-quality fighter currently available on the next-generation systems. Delivering a punch in the game is not as easy as in Dead Or Alive, where the punch immediately hits the target once you've pressed the button. In Tekken 4 the full movement of the arm that delivers the punch is important - you hit the button and the character starts his movement, moves his arm, and finally hits the target. Of course, all this lasts just a fraction of a second, but it gives, both visually and gameplay-wise, a sensation of realism that makes Tekken games unique.
Tekken 4 does a great work bringing the inner realism of the series to a new level. The game offers now a complete 3D action experience, and it says goodbye to the 2D plane of previous instalments. The up and down buttons are used to sidestep around the opponent, and the Arenas are now filled with real 3D objects like statues, columns, trees, cages, and cars. The 3D action blends perfectly with the overall realism of the game. In fact, the delay times let you read your opponent's movements so that you can sidestep to dodge the attack, sneak into his dead angle and then deliver your blow. In the same way, the walls and the other 3D objects can be your allies or enemies during a fight. Driving your opponent into a wall you can deal serious damages, since his body will hit the wall while you deliver your blow, and most of the times he will lose consciousness for a couple of seconds, giving you all the time to create more easily chains of combos. But a cornered character can always change the situation at his own advantage, thanks to counter moves that needs to be mastered if you want to have a possibility to escape and react in difficult situations.
Tekken 4 wouldn't be a Tekken game without the hundreds of moves and combos that characterize the series. The game features roughly 100 moves for each of the 19 unique characters; the remaining three characters available in the game are clones (a "clone" in Tekken is a character that uses the same set of moves of another character). Expert players will find that all the classic moves are back for great part of the characters, and that new ones have been introduced to make good use of the third dimension and to use walls and other 3D objects at your advantage. To help you learning the hundreds of moves, there is the excellent Practice Mode, where you can select a particular move, see it into practice, and then try to perform it against one of the game characters. While the Practice Mode is an invaluable help, neophytes will need a long time to learn a decent number of moves with their favorite characters.
As usual for the series, Tekken 4 features a wealth of different game modes. The Story Mode is the most important in the game. It gives you the chance of playing as one of the characters through eight encounters in the Tournament, while pencil sketches and a voice over are used to carry on the story of your character. At the end you'll be rewarded by a well-done and always enjoyable in-game cutscene. It's worth to mention that the endings in Tekken 4 have nothing to do with the hilarious ones featured in the Story Mode of the Dead Or Alive series and are alone a good reason to complete the game with each character. The Arcade Mode works exactly like the Story Mode, but without the cutscenes and the narration, and lets you play against a friend (if you play alone, you'll see the text "insert coin" next to the character health bar); other modes include Training Mode, Team Mode, Theatre Mode (this gives you the chance of looking at the endings you have unlocked completing the Story Mode). Unfortunately, the amusing Tag Mode from Tekken Tag Tournament is not here, and this will probably disappoint the fans of the series. Anyhow, the Tekken Force mode is back from Tekken 3.
This mode is immediately available when you play the game for the first time. This game-into-the-game is a short beat'em up adventure that can be played with the characters you have unlocked in the Story Mode. In Tekken 3 the Tekken Force mode was basically a 2D side-scroller, while in Tekken 4 you have to fight up to 10 enemies at once through four different fully 3D environments. At the end of each level, after you've defeated literally hordes of weak enemies, you have to fight against a boss. Your final goal is to find and defeat Heihachi. While you'll complete easily the Tekken Force mode, this is an excellent addition that adds replay value to the game. Adding to that, the four levels, while extremely linear, are nicely detailed and well crafted. Namco didn't throw in a rushed out sub-game; instead, they took care to deliver a solid, good quality experience to the players.
A last note should be made for the excellent A.I. There are various difficulty settings (Easy, Medium, Hard, Very Hard, Ultra Hard) and with the exception of the Easy mode, where the opponents are nearly motionless and that serves only as an introduction for the new players, they all offer a good challenge to the different levels of players. Even if you start playing the game in Medium mode, you'll notice that none of the characters will ever play in a cheap way. They always actually react to your movements instead of attacking you with endless chains of moves. Tekken 4 offers the most balanced, amusing, challenging single player mode ever to grace this mighty series.