Dead or Alive is a fighting game franchise, I feel the need to remind everyone of this because Dead or Alive 5 marks the first new entry in the series in seven years; the last installment was released just after the Xbox 360 hit stores. Sure there have been numerous games with the Dead or Alive name and/or characters–even a 3DS version last year–but aside from said 3DS game none of those spin-offs actually involved fighting. So just as it helped usher in this console generation, Dead or Alive returns at its tail end to add a little poetic symmetry to the proceedings. Also boobs.
The fighting game scene on consoles has changed a fair bit since DoA4 hit in late ’05. In the interim years, the genre has seen a resurgence. Brought on, of course, by the success of Street Fighter IV, the fighting genre grew with a Mortal Kombat reboot, new Marvel Vs games and too many downloadable re-releases to count. So needless to say, DoA5 has a lot more to compete with than its predecessor alone.
Much like in DoA4, the fighting system in 5 is easily accessible to newcomers. Getting to grips with the basics of the combo system is fairly simple and you’ll be pulling off some sweet looking moves in no time. Most importantly the game feels extremely satisfying and responds perfectly. Pulling off a killer combination of counters, throws and combos makes you feel like a badass fighter and the visual payoff onscreen is always a lot of fun. That’s thanks to some great presentation, and I’m not just talking about the overly long story cinematics, the visuals in general are great. Characters look way more detailed than they have in the past, with faces looking especially impressive. Environments look fantastic too; they’re a lot more dynamic now, with a ton of destructibility and lots of interactive areas for you to throw your opponent into for that little bit of extra damage.
The more dynamic environments add a little strategy too. If you can master it, you’ll be able to pull off a slick chain of events that employs explosions, unique environmental destruction and usually a slight change in scenery as you throw your opponent into a new area. There are some pretty deep and robust systems beyond that though, and in order to have any success at higher difficulties, you’ll have to know the right time to throw, the right time to hold and you’ll need to mix up you high, mid and low strikes. Actually learning these systems is easier said than done though. While there is a training mode, it’s more for practice than anything. Most of the information about the game’s systems comes from the Story Mode.
Taking a leaf from Mortal Kombat, DoA5‘s Story Mode doesn’t let you choose your fighter. Instead you’ll switch between almost the entire character roster, as you see certain parts of the exceptionally nonsensical story from each perspective. It’s a great way to get players to try out characters they may not have touched otherwise. The other smart addition to the story mode is a tutorial of sorts. At the start of most, if not all of the story mode matches you will be presented with a challenge. These generally explain one of the game’s systems, such as how to counter, and then challenges you to perform the action a few times. It works surprisingly well as a teaching tool, at least at first. Eventually the matches become far too fast-paced to make completing the challenge while also winning a viable option, and you have to do both. Of course all you get from completing the challenges are nameplates for use in the online mode, which are only likely to draw in some completionists.
Speaking of online, Dead or Alive 5 has some great options when it comes to multiplayer, including the ability to host tournaments with up to 16 players. I particularly enjoyed the ability to accept challenges while playing through arcade or exhibition matches. While fighting you’ll get a small notification in the corner of the screen letting you know there’s a challenge, one button press later you’re matched up online. Then once the match is over you go right back to what you were doing before, I did have some issues connecting with players at times, but my have been that I was just too slow to accept their challenge. Online play feels great too. I experienced almost no lag and no frustrating losses as a result.
It’s nice to see the Dead or Alive series ending this console generation just as positively as it started it. Whether you’re new to the series or an old pro, there’s plenty to like in DoA5. Team Ninja has done a great job refining the formula, all the while adding new craziness to the mix, yet still keeping everything very accessible.
Dead or Alive 5 was developed by Team Ninja, and published by Tecmo-Koei. An Xbox 360 copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.