The starlets of Dead or Alive return to the ring after a seven year hiatus on consoles. If the success of DOA Dimensions on the 3DS proved anything, it’s that Kasumi, Lei Fang, Tina and co remain popular among gamers. All eyes are on this latest iteration following Team Ninja’s disastrous attempt at Ninja Gaiden 3, which was one of the first games to have been developed sans the creative eye of Tomonobu Itagaki. It’s clear that the cast members have received a visual overhaul since we saw them last, but does Dead or Alive 5 do more than impress on a superficial level?
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (Reviewed)
Players: Single-Player, Multi-Player
Release: (AU) September 27th 2012, (EU) September 28th 2012, (JP) September 27th 2012, (NA) September 25th 2012
Presentation has never been an issue for the series as a whole, though in a testament to how impressive Dead or Alive 2 was on older systems, the realism of the character models failed to advance much in later instalments. These models have been brought up to speed and now stand as some of the best looking characters around. Animations are fluid, cloth and hair react as they should and fighters show signs of post-match weariness having worked up a sweat during combat. You won’t find too much diversity in the stages (no dinosaur level this time folks!), but many of them are multi-tiered and dynamic enough to seem like hazards themselves. Damage sustained this way ranges from devastating to minimal, but opportunistic players should always keep an eye on the lay of the land around them.
There’s no denying that Dead or Alive 5 capitalises on the sexualisation of its female cast – Tina and Christie in particular – but it’s all done with its tongue set firmly in cheek. The series made a name for itself by using sex appeal wherever possible, but by staying accessible to even the most casual of players it’s ensured a stoic fanbase willing to leap to its defence when needed. It can only be a good thing that this trend continues, as seasoned veterans can jump in and have a blast practising some of the more advanced techniques, while newcomers who choose to gleefully hammer away on the Rookie setting will still achieve success.
It’s a system that’s easy to understand but challenging to master; strikes beat throws, throws beat holds, and holds beat strikes. Each character features unique stats as seen in the selection menu, but victory is usually won through a frantic mix of precision timing, switching between high, middle and low attacks, plus a healthy dose of luck for good measure. Players can perform a new move called the Critical Burst, which incapacitates the opponent and leaves them wide open to a body-slamming Power Blow – it’s just enough to turn the tide of battle if performed correctly, but time is of the essence and can only be performed once per match. Timing is even more important when it comes to those infamous counters, making each match just that little bit fairer than in previous games.
Story mode is a great way to learn the ropes and become accustomed to the characters; cutscenes are well-rendered, but things only get interesting during the final chapters. There are surprise twists that you won’t see coming and the motivations of each character can range from sympathetic to questionable, to downright pointless. There’s an abundance of cheese in the opening acts and the music does its best to convey forced moments of comedy (typically involving Zack), but it’s the repetition of establishing scenes that will test your patience the most. Self-indulgent nonsense it may be, but the team should be commended for having at least tried to cater to those who enjoy a single player experience.
Arcade, Tag Team, Time Attack and Survivor all return to the fold, though the CGI endings do not. A varying number of alternate costumes are unlocked by fighting through these modes, ensuring that there’s a reason to keep playing once the story has ended. As with any good fighting game, it’s in the multiplayer that things really begin to heat up. Expect all the laughter, trash talk and post-match low kicking you can handle as you and a friend go toe-to-toe. Additionally, DOA comes packing the expected online component, which will provide hours of play for those looking to challenge the wider public.
Whether you pick the lightning fast Kasumi, the elegant Helena or the deceptively sweet Hitomi, there are plenty of returning favourites to choose from. Rig, an oil drilling foreman with a mysterious past joins the roster along with the surprisingly likeable Mila, who proves that boxing gloves can indeed be brought to the Dead or Alive Tournament. Akira, Sarah Bryant and Pai Chan from Virtua Fighter can be unlocked by fulfilling certain requirements, and it’s surprising that these characters fit so well given how different their own series is in terms of handling.
With a heavy helping of style, visual flair and speedy combat that’s exhilarating to play, Dead or Alive 5 not only equals all other attempts to date… it also stands proudly as the apex of the franchise. A few more stages wouldn’t have gone amiss, but this is one of but a few minor issues that do little to spoil the fun. Sporting a graphical sheen that positively crushes past iterations, it’s certainly nice to look at, and while naysayers still have more than enough ammo to criticise Team Ninja for trying to objectify the female form, the rest of the community can get on with enjoying what has grown into a thoroughly accomplished fighter.
8.5 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.