Review: Dead or Alive 5
Dead or Alive first appeared in arcades back in 1996, and was characterized by the inclusion of incredibly well-endowed female characters that seemed to defy the laws of physics to the point where, if you’d never seen a pair in real life, you would be shocked (and most probably a bit disappointed) to find out that they don’t actually jiggle around like that naturally. It has been the source of quiet controversy amongst the gaming community for years, along with many a shaken head and a raised eyebrow from bemused wives and girlfriends – but there’s no mistaking the impact the series has had on the 3D fighting genre.
Dead or Alive was the first game to include multi-level battle arenas, which allowed you to launch your opponent down (or across) into another section of the map and, in some cases, cause a spectacular amount of damage to the environment (and your opponent) in the process – which I didn’t actually know, but titles to this day (Street Fighter x Tekken included) still ape on a regular basis. Thankfully the bouncing lady bits have been confined strictly to the DoA franchise, but for some reason Tecmo and Team Ninja still felt the need to deliver Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball in 2003 – a poor excuse for a game that passed as a thinly-veiled disguise for the developer to provide cheap titillation (excuse the pun) by placing the franchise’s female cast in bikinis and having them cavorting around on a beach together. It even spawned a sequel that decided to ‘fess up and drop the ‘sports’ focus by just calling itself Dead or Alive Xtreme 2, and just featured a bunch of poor mini-games like Tug of War and Butt Battle instead.
Dead or Alive 5 is a straight-up fighter (thankfully), and although the OTT female airbag frontage is still present and correct with (sadly) no option to switch it off, it has been toned down somewhat. It’s still a bit off-putting during the story mode cutscenes however – to the point of almost cheapening the experience – and if the title wasn’t so accomplished then I’d be more than happy to write the whole thing off as a result. The title ditches the standard LP/MP/HP + LK/MK/HK control system in favour of a more interesting ‘triangle system’ based on the four face buttons – A triggers a throw, B is used for kicking, Y for punching and X for blocking and holds. RB, RT and LB combine various button presses into one, but LT is (strangely) unused, which I felt was a bit of a missed trick.
Fans of the six-button configuration may find that this takes a bit of getting used to, especially given that there’s essentially only one button designated to each type of attack, but it does offer an altogether more technical and (dare I say it) realistic approach to combat. Special attacks are kept to a minimum, with only the odd power move designated to each character amongst the wealth of combos available – and I was amazed at how many moves are triggered just by varying a few directional and button inputs. It’s also possible to combo more than one throw together, but – as a result of the control system – it feels as if a great deal more time and patience is required to make the most out of what each character has to offer.
Thankfully Tecmo Koei has added an all-inclusive story mode that’s both informative and fun to play, and gives each character their own chance to shine in scenes directly focussing on them. Some are intrinsic to the main storyline, whilst others serve as fodder that could (or could not) act as plot references for future games, but they’re all delivered with a real sense of panache and are an excellent way to get a snapshot of each character’s abilities and fighting styles whilst gearing players up for the other modes on offer. In fact, I’d probably advise newcomers to head straight for this mode first.
Although Training is thorough and allows you to let loose on all manner of CPU-controlled bots, it also gives you a demo of each move as you make your way through each character’s move list, whereas Story Mode actually walks you through the moves by giving you a ‘mission’ during each fight. These little objectives start off easy and eventually work their way up to the more intermediate manoeuvres, like performing a three-piece combo throw or reverse holding a low attack from your opponent three times; they’re not mandatory, so if you wish to just kick ass in your own personal style you can, but completing each objective earns you a title that you can use to customise your character with in addition to giving you a deeper understanding of the rather involved combat system.
Like most other fighting games, once you scratch DoA5′s surface you begin to see just how deep the gameplay is – from holds you can use to counter and reverse certain strikes that need to be timed just right to pull off, to moves you can only carry out when your opponent is facing away from you but only if they were standing with a particular foot forward beforehand, the complexity is often frightening. Dedicated DoA fans and fight enthusiasts will have a field day getting to grips with each character’s nuances and subtleties however, whilst those who would rather dip in and out for a good scrap every now and again will get a good enough knowledge of some of the more advanced moves from just dabbling with the story and Training mode.
Combat feels chunky and satisfying and – as I said before – there’s enough variation on offer by simply swapping a few button presses around to make even the most basic of players feel like the lovechild of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, although you’d do well to study up as much as you can – even playing through the story mode requires you to learn most of the more technical manoeuvres in order to beat the latter opponents. There’s a wealth of other content and modes to sift through, not to mention the online portion of the game, but if single player is more your bag you’ve got the option of Arcade and Time Attack modes, as well as the ability to take photos, upload your favourite replays or download other players’ videos from the online space.
Bouncing bosoms aside, Dead or Alive 5 is an excellently-styled title, the story mode cutscenes appear to be made entirely out of the in-game engine and the story itself nips along at breakneck speed. The way it flits from character to character and builds up a timeline as it progresses – which you can view from the main menu in chronological order – is excellent, and lets you view certain situations from several different characters’ viewpoints, building up a real sense of ‘before and after’ as it goes. It will take a good seven or eight hours to play through the whole thing, although at points it can get a little confusing – especially when you’re not 100% sure how or when certain events fit into the overall scheme of things, or if you haven’t gone back and viewed the overall timeline for a while.
Each character has a real weight of believability to them, with even the more pointless characters feeling like they belong, even if they do little to move the story along – and the cameos from Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden and a trio of Virtua Fighter characters are a nice little bonus. Overall I wasn’t expecting much from Dead or Alive 5, but I was pleasantly surprised – the presentation and fun factor are spot on throughout, and the combat is balanced just well enough to service franchise fans and casual players alike – although I would welcome the option to turn the bouncing ladybits off if/when the next instalment in the series appears.
Review: Dead or Alive 5 Results
What we liked:
Excellent story mode that's very well-executed - and fun to play
Brilliantly styled, easily one of the better-looking fighters out there
Easy to get grips with, and easy to pull of some impressive moves
What we disliked:
Story mode missions get very hard very quickly
Could eventually get a little tiresome
Bouncing bosoms - why?