Review: Dead or Alive 4

Publisher: Tecmo | Developer: Team Ninja | System: Xbox 360 | Genre: Fighting

Fighting games, once one of the fundamental genres that no console could hope to succeed without, almost seem to have gotten lost over the last couple of generations. I can remember Tekken 2 being a system seller for the PS1 and Soul Calibur shifting a lot of Dreamcasts, but recently Tekken 5 and Soul Calibur III have come and gone without even approaching the fanfare of their predecessors. Don’t even get me started on the 2D fighter…

So now are they only a relic, vestigial of generations before free-roaming environments took over from memorising combo chains and reversals to try and master your favourite character? Hopefully, if Dead or Alive 4 is any indication, no. While Team Ninja haven’t done anything really revolutionary to the genre they’ve refined what new ideas the series brought to the table and, most strikingly, made it look absolutely incredible.

Dead or Alive 4

The graphics are the first thing anyone’s going to notice and if there’s current a better advert for HDTV I haven’t seen it. It’s unfortunate that it’s slightly marred by the odd little visual glitch like weird hair animations and maybe some clipping of clothes (Lei Fang’s the worst for this since she suffers from both), but aside from that it’s fast, vivid, smooth, and extremely detailed. Little effects like the falling blossoms in the above screenshot and the beautiful water effects just make this one of the prettiest games ever, warts and all.

Naturally, it’s illegal to talk about how good a game looks without putting in the disclaimer that gameplay is more important than graphics, and thankfully DOA4 has a lot of fun to be had and plenty to unlock while you’re at it. There’s a fairly generous roster of 16 characters and plenty of modes ranging from the story mode (using the word “story” in the loosest possible sense) through the expected versus, survival, and time attack, and, of course, an online mode which works surprisingly well for a game which relies so much on lightning reactions. There are several unlockable characters including, interestingly, a Spartan from Halo, and the usual bevy of costumes for each of the characters.

If you’ve played a previous DOA you’ll know what to expect from the gameplay of DOA4 since they’ve taken the route of refining what they had instead of redesigning it. It’s still fast and accessible with an emphasis on counter moves, and means that while new players can have enough success to get enjoyment from it the better player will almost invariably win. It definitely rewards practice and mastery of the counter system.

Dead or Alive 4

As much as I like the game however, I still don’t think DOA4 (or the series as a whole) matches up to my favourite fighters, I do have some criticisms: the characters can sometimes seem unbalanced in certain fights; the last boss is a joke with certain characters and a suicidal difficulty spike for others (beating it with Jann Lee and Zack nearly killed me); and even on the standard difficulty you can find yourself stuck on the receiving end of a series of combos which wipe out most of your energy bar with little chance of you being able to break it.

Even so, none of these are game killing issues by any means. This is still the best DOA game and one of the best new fighting games in a while, and even if you buy it as a demo for your 360 or HDTV you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. Unlocking the majority of the characters can be done in six hours or so and the rest of the solo play depends on your propensity to play games for high scores. Online multiplayer is going to be one of the major draws for people looking for a long lifespan and although, as expected, playing online for the first time can be a humbling experience it’s thankfully a fairly smooth one.

There’s been speculation that this could be the last of the DOA fighting games – I assume that means Code Cronus and at least one more volleyball title – and if it turns out to be true that’s quite a sad thing. Apart from being a new graphical showpiece each time a new title is released, each one seems to make a decent improvement on its predecessor. With plenty of formerly great fighting games that seem stuck in a rut it could have helped to revitalise the genre, but as it stands this is an accomplished and technically stunning example that’s well worth your time.

4 Stars