It's Back Baby!
When the first Dead or Alive (DOA for short) game arrived on these shores, it received rave reviews for the original Playstation console. Seven and a half years later and the Dead or Alive spirit is still strong. The series hasn’t just kept to its beat ‘em up roots; it has flourished into other areas such as Dead or Alive: Volleyball and the tremendously frustrating adventure title Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox. Arguably, there hasn’t been a bad DOA game – but with the next generation of consoles just around the corner, has DOA4 proved that beat ’em ups still have a market?
Block, Block, Block, Block...
First, the game has gone through some gameplay changes. It may look and feel like Dead or Alive; but this time around, bashing those buttons erratically isn’t going to get you far. It’s all about picking a specific character and learning their set of moves. Believe me; it’s going to take a lot of practice to become a grandmaster. Dead or Alive has always stood head and shoulders above its competitors when it comes to countering moves, and DOA4 is no different. The controls, in general, will be quite tricky for non-Xbox players – but it’s nothing they can’t learn. Countering on the other hand is a whole different ball game. You’re going to need to time counter attacks and blocks perfectly as well as knowing the proper button combos. Button bashing your way out of a tricky situation will not work. Overall, the gameplay is challenging but you won’t lose any sleep if you can’t perfect a certain move.
The characters, as said above, have a lot more moves and, as such, are more orientated towards their fighting styles. Ninjutsu is the most commonly used fighting form within the game through long time characters such as Ryu Hayabusa, Kasumi, Hayate and Ayane. Zack has also become a powerful character with his fatal form of Muay Thai as well as Jann Lee, who is easy to pick up but destructive with his form of Jeet Kune Do. It seems very serious; but as with all beat ’em ups, it’s about as surreal as scientology…hahaha...what, that’s what they really believe?? Erm, anyway there are sixteen characters to begin with and a further six to unlock.
What the heck is going on?
The story moves at a hectic pace. If you’ve never played a Dead or Alive game before you may be left slightly confused by the narrative. Yet it is easy enough to pick up as you play through all the different characters’ perspective. Each experience in the story mode is different, as you are using a different style and fighting a variety of opponents. The cutscenes that end a character’s story are quite beautiful, dynamic and - at times - quite amusing. Dead or Alive fans will be thrilled by all of this, but may be disappointed because there is a lot of narrative conclusion, suggesting that this might be the final Dead or Alive beat ‘em up. Maybe the developers (Team Ninja) are finally deciding to call it a day? Yet it seems doubtful that Microsoft will let them rest quite a big cash cow and a series that is key to the Xbox 360’s success; especially in Japan.
There are a few other modes to play if you get bored of traversing the roots of the story. Survival mode is similar to Tekken’s mode of the same name, where you have to take on and defeat as many opponents as you can in succession. It’s great if you want non-stop battles. Unfortunately, there appears to be no co-op for this mode, but it does offer you a tag battle spin on things; where you tag between two characters and try to survive with both. Time attack mode is similar, except you must win two rounds against a character and battle your way through the DOA4 roster – it’s nothing that Mortal Kombat hasn’t perfected within the last decade though. Team Battle mode is basically pitting loads of characters against each other; perfect if you want some variety. Sparring allows you to train with your character and learn their moves. It also provides a neat demonstration before you attempt a move to show you what it should look like. It’s certainly worth playing this for a wee while as opposed to deciphering the manuals’ baffling button mapping.
But let’s not forget the true purpose behind a game of this nature: to thrash your mates as extensively as possible. Dead or Alive 4 is a great multiplayer game for between two and eight people. You can either do one-on-one matches, or tag matches where four players can play together assuming the role of a character each. It’s a lot of fun, and provides some great laughs. Of course, if you only have one controller with your 360, you can still fight computer controlled opponents in versus mode; but it’s hardly half as fulfilling. Then again, this is where the final mode of Dead or Alive comes in handy. You can play online using Microsoft’s Xbox Live service against other players from around the world.
Dead on Live
DOA4 online offers a few modes that are similar to the offline sections of the games, but a couple of them are truly ingenious. You can play ‘Winner Stays On’, but where’s the fun in that? In my case there’s hardly any fun, because I never have been a great beat ‘em-up player so I find myself at the back of the pack pretty quickly! That’s where the ‘Loser Stays On’ mode is a blast. Even though it is clearly detrimental towards your skills, you can blast through loads of matches and have fun by losing. The winner goes to the end of the queue, and you stay in the arena for another loss...I mean, “fight”. There is also a tournament mode where you and fifteen other players duke it out in one-on-one matches until there is only one left.
Although it has to be said, there are some issues that need to be ironed out for the online game. It can become extremely laggy and slow if someone with a poor internet connection arrives in a game. It would be tolerable if you were playing with a couple of dozen players in an FPS game, but while playing with two other players in a simple beat ‘em up? It really is not on, especially since Xbox Live has been going for a few years now. There is also an issue with save files disappearing, so remember not to switch off your 360 with the disc still in, as the issue can be avoided by booting up the game from the 360 dashboard. The game appears like it could be in for a long haul of patches. Overall, the online game is a nice novelty feature but don’t go out of your way to pay the Xbox Live fee for it. Save that choice for a true multiplayer specific game like Perfect Dark Zero or Halo 2.
Who needs Neon!
We’ve covered quite a bit of information on a simple game, in a simple genre – but we’ve yet to touch on the graphics! On the right television (preferably on a High Definition, VGA or Widescreen capable set), it looks the part. The fluid character movements aren’t a far cry from their real life counterparts, although a few graphical issues do indeed ruin the splendour. Dead or Alive’s trademark bouncy cleavage also returns, with American wrestling character Tina being one of the main offenders…or pleasures. It, erm, depends on your perception really. The character models themselves are, as always, a beautiful strike between anime style and real life. Characters like Russian commando Bayman look gritty, while the suave British assassin Christie is more stunning than ever.
As said in the paragraph above, there are a few graphical issues. Entities in the environments (such as trees, rocks etc.) sometimes turn transparent so that you can see your fighter if they move behind such an obstacle; yet the effect still looks quite cheap and isn’t much progress from the founding 3D beat ‘em-ups such as Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Mortal Kombat. The environments may be lovely looking, but over time they do get a little bit repetitive.
The audio is quite nice. The music suits the settings and even includes the Halo 2 theme tune (including, of course, the fretwork of Steve Vai) in a special unlockable Halo themed level. The voice acting is a hard aspect to review. You see, the problem is that it’s nearly all in Japanese. As much as I want to learn fluent Japanese, I’m not doing it just for the sake of hearing one of the characters give some sort of age old proverb that I probably won’t understand. Well, that and the fact that there are English subtitles. Overall, it sounds like your average anime cast. The environment noises are spot on as well – everything seems in place.
"What happened to Sully?" "I let him go..."
The locales of where you are fighting stay true to the Dead or Alive universe. Yet, those are not the arenas best features. Most of the arenas have multi-tire levels so if you hit someone over a wall, they fall down to the next level and lose a bit of health before you join them down there (without taking damage). The destructive environments and interactivity are two other great features. For example - when you slam someone into a fruit market stall, the stall will smash; the fruit will fall out and roll down the slope. They don’t disappear on-screen; you literally can see them rolling all the way down while you continue to fight and destroy other things. It may not seem much, but it again shows how much processing power the Xbox 360 has behind the hood. Watch out for cars knocking you over in the Las Vegas style level and a runaway cheetah bashing into you on the safari level. It won’t stop for you, but you can try and time a block so that the damage is lessened to a degree.
If you’re looking to buy Dead or Alive 4 cheap, then try and get it imported. The game is region free, meaning that it works on American, Japanese and European consoles alike.
To summarise, Dead or Alive 4 is a great addition to the series. It adds enough new content to keep DOA fans happy, has enough appeal to hook in newer gamers and with Xbox Live or just versus multiplayer, you’ll have a good laugh. That being said, if you don’t have any extra pads or any friends/a significant other interested in playing, mark it down a bit score wise – since online play is far from perfect. Just try and overlook its shortcomings and focus on what it was made for: pixilated pummelling.
9 / 10