vai: Vincent Ingenito
Sex sells. Just ask anyone with a marketing degree. But in the case of the Dead or Alive franchise, sex has been both a boon and a curse. After all, you can’t create beach volleyball spinoffs or direct your ad campaign at oversexed college students if you want your franchise taken seriously.
At long last, the folks at Team Ninja have seen it too, and the result is Dead or Alive 5, a fighter that’s far more interested in beating you down than getting you off. Thanks to a number of key tweaks and additions, the fighting system is deeper and more balanced than ever. Mix that with exciting interactive stages, gorgeous visuals, and a comprehensive feature set, and you get a package that can entertain everyone – from the Monday night button mashers to the exacting tournament pros.
“My eyes are up HERE!”
During my first hours with the game, I was consistently surprised by the all-inclusive package of features on offer. The ability to download and upload replays, Facebook integration, and online
Dead or Alive 5 marries its signature fighting style with MMA fighting techniques to deliver a major kick for players new and old.
Those gamers who play at the tournament level ask for such features all the time. Developer Team Ninja laudably includes them, along with a fully voiced story mode teeming with well-produced cutscenes and plot twists, and all the single player content DOA fans have come to expect. It’s an exhaustive suite of bells and whistles that should satisfy both casual and serious fight fans alike.
Of course, the most important thing is how the game feels. Don’t worry, Dead or Alive 5’s kung fu is strong indeed. As ever, the rock, paper, scissors game of strikes, holds, and throws is the core mechanic, putting the focus squarely on predicting or baiting a response from your opponent, only to crush them mercilessly with whatever beats it. It’s a non-stop speed round of mind games, and nothing feels better than setting up shop in the other guy’s head, making the right read at the right time, and dishing out huge punishment. This has always been my favorite thing about the series, and DOA 5 nails it pitch-perfect while making key changes and additions to address some of the criticisms it’s always drawn from more serious players.
Perhaps the least obvious, but most impactful change is the nerfing of counter holds across the board. This act — countering strikes with the appropriate hold – has typically been too easy in past games, due to counters’ quick recovery and long active window. Factor in the insane amount of damage they dealt in return, and even a bad player could potentially beat a good one with two or three lucky guesses. The timing is now much tighter, and the damage has been dialed down significantly, making them far less decisive while allowing long attack strings and combos to be thrown out more liberally.
But not all the changes are tucked away under the hood. A more obvious example is the addition of a true sidestep – a series first. While DOA has always allowed full 3D movement, it was strictly for positioning. Now you can actually juke laterally at a moment’s notice to avoid opponents’ strikes and launch an immediate counter-offensive. Accordingly, every attack in the game has now been classed as “tracking” or “non-tracking” to denote if it can follow a sidestep or not. This has been a core concept in nearly every other 3D fighter, and its absence in DOA has long been, for some, a source of ridicule for the franchise. By finally including it, players can now punish moves and score counter-hits in previously impossible ways, making the transitions between attack and defense even more dynamic.
Denis Leary shoots the pilot for his next show.
Meanwhile, the new Critical Burst attack opens up a slew of new offensive possibilities. In previous DOAs, a stunned opponent couldn’t attack or block, but they could still escape with a counter hold. Thus, the only way to get guaranteed damage after a stun was to launch your victim and juggle. While counter holds have retained the ability to break stun, Critical Burst negates it, sinking your opponent into an inescapable stun that gives you all day to inflict maximum damage.
The importance of this simply cannot be overstated. Where before, a stunned foe could just predict your launcher and counter hold-out accordingly, now they have to guess between the launcher and the Critical Burst, making stuns true mix-up situations that you can more reliably convert into big combos. They also pave the way for the new Power Blow, a potent charged attack that you gain access to after dropping below 50% health. Land it and you get treated to a stylish, slow motion beatdown, often culminating in your opponent getting violently slammed into something that breaks or blows up.
And let me tell you, there’s a lot of stuff that breaks and blows up in these stages. Other fighting games have wall splats and ring outs, we’ve got train wrecks, Apache gunships, and tigers. Yes, tigers. The series has always had multi-tiered levels with destructible elements, but DOA5 takes it to a whole other level. Now more than ever, they can turn an everyday fight into an entertaining spectacle. Seeing a massive explosion from a car crash in the background after knocking an opponent down a 50-foot drop to street level is just too fun, and many stages house similarly spectacular moments.
“Many stages house spectacular moments.
As much of a visual treat as it is, it can also be a bit much at times…like when Hayate gets plowed into by a derailed train and doesn’t die. Huh. Keep in mind that they aren’t random, though. Think of them as super moves that get triggered by hitting your opponent into specific objects within the fighting area. Still, they can feel like gimmicks, used to make the game more interesting to casual fight fans (a la gems in Street Fighter x Tekken). Thankfully, there’s an option to turn off these danger zones, and plenty of stages don’t have them at all, so if you want a more straightforward fighting experience, you can still have it.
Even without these blockbuster moments, the stages are memorable and lovingly crafted. They feel like real places rather than a static set of background images, and as always, the characters that inhabit them ooze personality. The always excellent fighter models sport vastly improved faces, and even little details like self-shadowing, sweat, and dirt are handled adeptly. Fluid animations bring each brawler’s distinctive style to life, making every attack feel uniquely theirs. That’s not just any side kick, that’s Lei Fang’s side kick, and only Zack does a jumping double knee quite like he does.
Never bet against the ninja.
With such a generous move list comprised mostly of punches and kicks, it’s a wonder that hardly any two look or feel the same. Hit animations are almost as varied, with a huge assortment of different stuns and staggers adding impact to each landed blow. It’s this constant payoff mixed with the responsive, simple controls that make Dead or Alive so maddeningly addictive. Every match looks like a well-choreographed kung-fu fight, and whether you know what you’re doing or not, the results always look impressive. Even when you lose, you smile, because you know what hit you, and exactly how to blow it up next time.
That’s always been the beauty of this series. No matter what character you play, no matter how bad the matchup is, the person who makes the better read wins. For every action, a reaction. Despite it being more over the top than Virtua Fighter, or less complex than Tekken, this simple fact has always made it a very satisfying game to play.
Dead or Alive 5 is, without any question, the best entry in the series. It retains its identity as a fast-paced, visually stunning 3D fighter, while shedding much of the baggage that’s typically held it back. While there’s still plenty of eye candy for both the ladies and gents, it’s taken a back seat to what fighting games should be all about: fighting. It gives the casual fan a fighting experience that’s as easy to grasp as it is exciting to watch, while providing more serious players the depth and features they need to stay interested. Give Dead or Alive 5 an honest chance, and you’ll find a formidable, enormously entertaining fighter that will keep you busy for a long time to come.