Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
20 years have passed since the second King of Iron Fist Tournament and Heihachi Mishima is sitting on top of the world: the head of a large and powerful conglomerate, superhuman health, and mastery of his own style of martial arts. As powerful as he is, however, Heihachi resembles the Japanese Tom Green in that he just can't stop pissing people off. After screwing over Jin Kazama in the last tournament and turning him into a devil, he soon discoveres that his son, Kazuya, whom he believed he killed two decades before, is still alive. And lemmie tell you, after being chucked into a volcano by his old man, Kazuya is pretty pissed off!! Heihachi then hosts a tournament to lure the two warriors with intent on capturing them and using them for nefarious genetics experiments.
Such is the plot of the newest addition of Namco's famed Tekken series. But of course, no one cares about the plot in a fighting game; the core of the game is, afterall, the fighting. Fortunately, Tekken 4 makes good on its promise and churns out the classical gameplay we all know and love. However, the classical gameplay utilized in Tekken 4 is both the series' greatest strength and largest weakness.
Several Tekken veterans return to Tekken 4, including Paul Phoenix, Kazuya Mishima, Lee Chaolain, Ling Xiaoyu, Kuma, Bryan Fury, and many others. Though some them have new moves, they're by and large the same fighters from their previous incarnations. Four new characters make their debut in Tekken 4: Steve Fox, a British middlweight boxer who just happens to be the biological son of Tekken veteran, Nina Williams; seven-foot Vale Tudo fighter, Craig Marduk; capoeira maestre, Christie Montiero (Christie, however, isn't really a new character so much as she's a tweaked version of an already existing character, Eddy Gordo); and finally Combot, who's just a mechanized version of Mokojin from Tekken 3. Though Tekken 4 managed to create two new characters for the game, two isn't really enough to keep things fresh or to distinguish this game from its predecesors.
Then, there's Jin, who isn't a new character, but comes back as the only character with a completely new move set (that way Namco wouldn't inadvertantly put two Kazuyas in the game). While I like the idea of a change of style, it's certainly a thorn in the side of many who spent long nights honing their Kazama skills.
The graphics are passabe for the PS2, but barely; characer models are solid and the details of their bodies are really fleshed out and detailed. However, the stages themselves are poorly designed with faceless pedestrians, poorly detailed buildings, and an annoying laboratory level that looks like you're fighting in a giant freezer.
Speaking of stages, the endless arenas of the previous three Tekkens have been exchanged for enclosed areas complete with walls, debris, onlookers, and stone pillars. Some may like it, others may hate it because it's easy to pin your opponent in the corner and pound away, but I personally have no objection to it considering that it's much easier to side step in Tekken 4 and wall hits don't do much damage.
Tekken 3 always had a place in my colletion as being one of the few PSOne games with good music. The music, much like the graphics of Tekken 4, is passable, but just barely. Two particular stages have great music (the Mall Roof and the Parking Garage), but every other stage is either mediocre or annoying (a la' the laboratory level).
Tekken Force mode returns to Tekken 4, though it has been vastly improved from its Tekken 3 origins. In addition to the new enemy types found in the mini-game, the character can move in all directions and cheap hits from offscreen no longer occur. Though the Tekken Force mode doesn't offer any secrets or hidden characters like it did in the previous Tekken, it's still a fun diversion for anyone who gets tired of pounding the computer or their buddies into smithereens.
I guess Namco finally got the message when they created the new replay feature in Tekken 4. Now, you can record whole fights, even if they're nine rounds long!
In the end, however, Namco follows the American philosophy of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." But, I'm sure whoever made that saying didn't intend for that person to just repackage the same product over and over again and expect people to embrace it the way they did when they first saw it. The series just seems afraid to evolve, probably for fear of inventing something terrible and ruining the series. While Tekken 4 is classical Tekken fun, the series has to go somewhere if it expects ot survive for much longer on the market.
+ Classical Tekken fun... - ...perhaps TOO classical + Some cool new characters + Improved Tekken Force mode + Replays (finally!) - Mediocre graphics - Forgetable music