Dead or Alive 4
Review by Jason Westhaver
|Take a cup of violence, a gallon of sex appeal and a dash of Aerosmith
for flavour and you'll get one of the most gripping 3D fighting games ever released.
While hardcore fighting purists will turn a blind eye to the Dead or Alive series, in the eyes if the common man DOA has always meant a good time and Dead or Alive 4 is no different.
Now normally this is where your average reviewer would make some kind of dickhead comment like, "Do you love tits? Good because that's what DOA4 is all about." Sadly this is a misconception that has been spreading through the mainstream gaming press for far too long and it's time it came to an end. The truth is Dead or Alive is all about fast cinematic style fights, painful reversals, gorgeous fighters and in every category DOA4 excels.
The cornerstone of the Dead or Alive has always been the reversal system, but unfortunately it's also been a constant source of criticism. Many fighting purists found the reversal systems in previous games to be too simple and required little skill to master. Thankfully Itagaki-san and Team Ninja have overhauled the system in DOA4 and now the reversal system has been tightened up to provide a more balanced experience.
By implementing the 4-Direction reversal system from DOAU, greatly reducing the window of opportunity and adding more character specific reversal moves, players now have to master both proper timing and their opponent's strategies if they want to be able to consistently pull off reversals and manhandle their opponents. Dead or Alive 4 is also the first game in the series to sport environmental reversals that allow you to leap over moving obstacles without being injured. The reversal is hard but if you pull it off you'll often catch your opponent off guard and you can nail him with a few quick hits.
While DOA4 still sticks to the 'Punch, Kick, Free' control scheme the character's movelists have been greatly expanded. Brad Wong, for example, now sports over 150 moves, 5 unique stances and various combos, throws and reversals for each stance.
The ground game has also been greatly improved in DOA4 by the addition a High Risking Kick in addition to the traditional Mid and Low Kick, and by characters sporting considerably more ground striking moves then in previous installments. Players struck while on the ground now also lose their ability to perform a rising kick.
In addition to the improved ground game, fighters now also sport leap moves that allow a character to jump over an obstacle and come crashing down with a hard punch or kick. It's a minor addition to the fighting system, but one that's proven to be incredibly effective.
While Team Ninja has done an excellent job of expanding the fighting system while maintaining character balance, a few characters like Hayabusa and Ayane are still over powered. They both sport a very fast, very powerful, very hard to block torpedo move that is constantly being abused on Xbox Live and Ayane has a larger number of ground striking moves then any other character. Simply mashing Kick can often result in 3 hit combos on grounded opponents.
As in previous games, DOA4 has a wide range of battlegrounds from small enclosed arenas to massive, multi-tiered arenas that have players flying down stairs, off cliffs and even through walls. Some arenas, such as Gambler's Paradise, have moving obstacles that can be used as weapons to deal massive amounts damage. Is there a better way to deal with an opponent then to push them in front of a moving car? Probably not, but be wary because if your opponent knows what they're doing they'll leap of the car and take you down in a moment of surprise and that kind of cinematic fighting is what DOA is all about. Not breasts, not scantily clad women, but excitement, energy and raw entertainment.
Single player fighting in DOA4 is broken up in to the usual Time Attack and Survival modes where players will compete against the clock or a never-ending stable of opponents in order to gain medals, but the real single player meat is in Story Mode.
When it comes to fighting games stories are often little more then fluff material, but in DOA4 there's actually a lot of substance to many of the story arcs and if you've been following the series since the beginning then you'll be absolutely blown away by the games true ending. However Itagaki-san isn't just going to hand you that ending on a silver platter. You're going to have to work for it because the A.I. in DOA4 is unforgiving.
It's not that the A.I. is cheap, rather it's smart. Much like Ninja Gaiden, DOA4 has a steep learning curve but with patience and practice all hurdles can be overcome. Even the boss Alpha-152 can be easily dispatched as long as you're willing to learn her pattern and once you do that, finishing story mode will be a breeze.
When you finish story mode in DOA4 you'll unlock that character's CGI ending movie, a costume and some characters will even unlock other characters that can be used in the non-story modes. While the number of unlockables is considerably smaller then the absolutely massive amount of content in DOAU there's still plenty to unlock. Beat the game with all 16 stock characters and you'll unlock Helena. Beat time attack with all 21 available characters and you'll unlock the final locked character, Tengu. Unlock every costume and complete all exercises and you'll unlock Tatami, a stage that has no walls and no objects, so you're left with nothing but pure fighting. A skilled player can burn through all the unlockables in about 15 hours, but after that the wonder of Xbox Live awaits.
Playing a fighting game by yourself can be fun for a while, but the real joy comes from fighting against a real person and thanks to Xbox live you can find an opponent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
DOA4 has a large number of online modes including Tag, Survival and Kumite but you're probably going to be spending most of your time playing in Winner-Stays mode.
If you played an arcade fighting game during 1990s then you're already familiar with how Winner-Stays mode works but for those of you who weren't lucky enough to experience the Arcade revival, Winner-Stays mode works like this:
1. 2 players face each other on the field of battle.
2. The Winner stays to fighting in the next match and the loser goes to the back of the line.
3. The next challenger in line steps up.
It's a simple concept but one that's prove to be very affective and thanks to voice chat player's waiting in line rarely get bored.
Now no networked game can ever be completely free of lag so it's important that developers work hard in order to find the proper way to deal with the problem. The DOA4 solution, which is one that used be used for all fighting games to come, is to slow the action down in order to compensate rather then simply having players magically pop from one spot to another like they do in so many other online games. While the game may be a bit harder to play during a lag spike, it's infinitely better then trying to hit an opponent who keeps vanishing to the other side of the arena.
Team Ninja has also come up with a rather unique way to attract people to fight on Live. Rather then simply giving players a boring text menu to sit at while selecting options player are able to run around a virtual lobby area using their own customized avatars. The catch is you have to customize your avatar by buying parts at the Zack Store and the only way to get cash to use at the Zach store is to win fights online. Sure it's simple and rather pointless, but for some reason it works.
The lobby also gives players an area where they can go if they're not able to fight but they don't want to leave the server. A player can simply choose to go back to the lobby and then they can either watch the fight on the lobby TV or walk away from their 360 and now worry about their turn coming up when they aren't there.
A lot of though has also been put into DOA4's online match making system. Players are ranked with a letter grade that is based upon their GP or grade points. The first time you go online you have 10000 GP and every time you win you'll gain some GP, but if you lose then you'll lose some GP. In an effort the maintain balance and keep the right people at the right rank DOA4 also employs a handicap system the gives bonus GP for beating a higher ranked opponent and subtracts GP from your winnings if you beat a significantly weaker opponent. If you're good you'll go far, but if you're bad then things will keep getting uglier. Thankfully win or lose you'll still unlock a few achievements.
Team Ninja's sense of pride and punishment has carried on into DOA4 and this time it manifests itself in the form of Achievements. Unlike other games that only keep track of positive achievements like beating the final boss, DOA4 keeps track of your failures as well.
Lose 5 times in a row and you'll gain the 'Lose 5 matches in a row in DOA Online' Achievement which gets you a smooth 0 Gamer Points. Lose 10 times and you'll get another one. Lose 20 times in a row and you may as well retire your controller because you've be thoroughly owned.
Even though Team Ninja spent a considerable amount of time refining the fighting system and mastering the enigma of online play they still found time to update the graphics engine and give DOA4 the extra luster that Team Ninja has become known for.
Look at a character models in DOA4 and you'll probably think that they aren't much of an improvement over DOAU, but look closer and you'll see just how wrong you are.
Gaming as an industry has tragically hit a patch where "Good Graphics = Realism" when it should really be "Good Graphics = Good Art Design" and DOA4 has been repeatedly criticized by the common folk as having unimpressive graphics because the characters just don't look real. But take a good close look at DOA4.
Aside from the new Cloth and Hair Physics system that's sort of hit or miss on the realism factor, the character detail in DOA4 is absolutely astounding. Kasumi's face may still look a like an Anime doll, but that's a conscious art design choice, if you want realism look at her costume and notice that you can see the fabric weave.
The arenas have also received the same loving treatment from Team Ninja. Some may complain that the water in DOA4 may not ripple realistically in proportion to the weight of the characters splashing around in it, but the game still sports some of the most realistic water engines to ever appear in a video game. Stone looks like stone, wood looks like wood and the monkey's running around in the background look like monkey's running around in the background.
All in all Team Ninja has crafted a beautiful game that stands on it's own against all the competition. DOA4 features a solid fighting engine with proper balance and unlike other big fighting games released in the last year DOA4 is online. The game will provide you with many hours of entertainment and if you just let the game take hold of you you'll easily obtain the '100 Hours Played' achievement.
The only real faults you can attribute to the game are some minor balance issues and its steep learning curve and if you're going to complain about that then you shouldn't be playing a fighting game in the first place.
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