Dead or Alive 3
Review - the Xbox's flagship beat 'em up gets a roasting
Beat me up, Kasumi
Dead or Alive 3 has not been a long time coming, as it had to be ready for the console's launch to form the backbone of the software line-up alongside Project Gotham Racing and Halo. Visually though, Tecmo has achieved what no other developer has so far managed to do with the Xbox hardware. The game's opening screens are a testament to Tecmo's prowess with the Xbox graphics chip. The title screen, for instance, is simply a logo overlaid on a flyby of a random stage from the game, and it looks absolutely stunning. Be it the incandescent mid-afternoon atmosphere of the beach stage or the cold, hard lines of a glasshouse perched atop a neon-endowed skyscraper, the graphics leave a strong impression. They also carry Tecmo's Dead or Alive 3 on their shoulders. Character design and animation is absolutely stunning, with hundreds upon thousands of frames spent on the fine details like the way hair flaps around in the wind and the effect of being hurled to the ground on the lacy bits of Leifang's outfit, as well as more substantial details like Kasumi's bouncing bosom and Tina's stunning curves. All right. Parents, this game is a wet dream waiting to happen. If you want to stimulate growth, buy your teens an Xbox with a copy of Dead or Alive 3, and watch them sprout hairs and ogle the girl next door when they think your back is turned.
Tomfoolery, but you won't catch me!
Having said that, I am informed by capricious members of the opposite sex that this approach is quite insulting, not so much because of the brazen display of flesh, but because the blokes allegedly do about as much to stir the tender hearts of young women as I do. In fact, ruminations from a whole lounge full of young ladies seemed to involve skewering the developer for obviously failing to hire any women to help perfect the models. "It's like drawing a picture of fruit based on a potato", apparently. Nevertheless Dead or Alive 3 is visually spectacular for more reasons than your average game, with a dazzling take on the fairer sex for us blokes to lap up (along with some helpful grunts and screams during each round) as well as an array of gentlemen from young to old and nimble to husky. There's also plenty of variety and a wide choice of costumes to deck them all out in. Each character has a specific fighting style, which gives them a few handfuls of moves (kindly detailed in the manual), many of which are a joy to behold. The bending of bodies and clash of flesh and nature is very powerful. Furthermore, the use of processor-hungry effects like fluttering leaves in the forest level and precipitation elsewhere, not to mention feet splashing in puddles and shattering glass, are at just the right level that the Xbox doesn't flinch under the strain, and throughout my time with the game I hardly noticed so much as a dropped frame.
Sadly Tecmo's ability to wield a graphics chip effectively is let down elsewhere by lazy design. Many of the game's key features - including the characters and stages - are lifted verbatim from Dead or Alive 2, which also managed to do a fairly good job of rendered breasts. Perhaps the most crucial aspect of the whole game, the fighting dynamic, is lifted 100 percent from its predecessor. A Dreamcast and a copy of the game can now be had for the cost of Dead or Alive 3, and when that's almost exactly the same as buying this new game even on the newly reduced Xbox, this makes for a poor killer application. The second big problem is actually not Tecmo's fault. With the analogue stick disabled and Controller S still a fortnight off, we've been struggling with the regular D-pad, which has proved turbulent to say the least. You can toggle the analogue stick on and off, but control is hopeless. More or less every button on the pad is utilised, but the game might work better without the reliance on the White and Black buttons, which are awkward to reach. Tecmo also had pressure-sensitive shoulder buttons at its disposal, and in a game with several characters whose main strength is wrestling, you don't have to be a game developer to come up with a creative use for those. Fortunately, complex thumb movements with the D-pad aren't as important as they were in the likes of Street Fighter, and big hitting combos become quite easy to string together after a while, which stands in the game's favour.
As far as well-stocked beat 'em ups go, Dead or Alive 3 is resplendent. Apart from Story mode, which charts the tale of each fighter by way of some breathtaking CG cutscenes and increasingly difficult battles culminating in a boss encounter, you have Time Attack mode (a single match consisting of eight fights with a tag match option), Survival mode (which is a succession of fights fought until your health is depleted), Tag Battle mode (for one to four players with a mixture of CPU characters making up the gaps), and of course a Versus mode. There are also variants such as Tag Change (where the off-screen character gradually recovers his or her energy) and Team Battle mode (which is exactly what it sounds like), as well as a handy sparring mode with varying degrees of CPU interaction available. There are also a number of extras to unlock, and of course trademark features like the ability to literally bust through the seams of some levels will breathe a certain amount of life into it. But ultimately, DOA3's main failure is to be accessible, and more than that, just plain engaging for newcomers. Many of the characters are uneven, and a series of battles between two DOA virgins seemed wholly random in terms of outcome. Sometimes the lads would pick a pair of matched characters, but for the most part repetitive hammering of the buttons corresponding to high kicks and other chainable attacks were the order of the day. Good beat 'em ups, like Soul Calibur, are easy to hammer your way through with a degree of depth and nuance to uncover. Dead or Alive 3 is as simple as the moves pictured in the manual, and with its unparalleled visuals it feels like a generic tech demonstration rather than a good game.
Dead or Alive 3 stands out as a beat 'em up for people who haven't played the others. It's an also-ran by design, knocked together in a short space of time using assets employed throughout its predecessor. It invites criticism from start to stop, but it definitely has more than its fair share of bouncy breasted heroines and the finest visuals of any game on the format to date. Coupled with the average fighting mechanics, for some that will be enough.