Dead or Alive 4 is one of the most important releases yet for Microsoft. Initially planned to spear-head the Japanese launch it's finally come out to some rather mixed reviews.
But letís go back a bit. Because before DoA4, Team Ninja took a few steps backwards and ported the both DoA and DoA2 over to the Xbox (DoA2 featuring spanky new graphics and more skimpy outfits). One would have hoped that this little detour into the history of the series would given them a fresh perspective on where it should be going. After all, being the first beat-em-up for a next generation console gives them a great opportunity to raise that bar and come up with something really special.
Change isnít always a good thing (do we have any Starwars Galaxies players in the room?) but the DoA series has hit a dead end. Team Ninja can either keep polishing it and watch it get worse and worse reviews as everything else moves ahead, or they can make a couple of drastic changes and make it into the game it should have been all along.
The most critical flaw which they need to fix is that youíre not in control of your character for most of the fight. It's a rock/paper/scissors game where you both have a split second to make a choice, and whoever prevails then gets to do a 10 second combo or grapple while the loser waits (in frustration) for his next chance to come along. They tacked a 'counter' system on top of this to try to amend this complaint but much like putting a plaster on a gunshot wound it's just not viable long term solution. They can tweak the timing windows all they like, but it'll always remain extremely cheap and for every die-hard player who thinks its "great" you'll get 99 casual players such as myself who just get really frustrated by it and go back to playing Street Fighter.
For me a good beat-em-up should be about trying to make your character invincible, rather than making your opponent vulnerable and pissed off.
The other reason I think it needs to change is because it's hit a dead end in terms of graphics. It looks bloody lovely but no more so than the last 2 games in the series on much lesser hardware.
You see, as the backgrounds get more life-like the anime stylized characters really start to look out of place.
In a post-war Japan, anime became main-stream because it didn't cost a lot of money to produce in comparison to western animation methods. The trick was to draw as little as possible and to let the mind of the viewer fill in the details. Why draw a nose when you can just draw the shadow underneath it?
It was this same trick which allowed the characters in the DoA games to look so ahead of anything else. But now that we finally have GPU's which can make people look real (I'm still dragging my jaw along the floor since playing that Fight Night demo) - this very plain, almost angelic look just sits at odds with the photo realistic backgrounds.
The online system is piss poor, it doesn't implement any sort of latency masking and as a result things start to slow down, then jerk like hell when the connection fails to keep up, as it will in almost every game you play.
Seeing as FPS games found ways to mask this problem years ago, yet still remaining split second accurate just shows how lazy Team Ninja have been with the online implementation.
In conclusion. If you like unlockables and pretty graphics you can hopefully put up with the frustration of how shoddy the gameplay is. But anybody looking for a good fighter with depth should go elsewhere.
5 / 10