DOA 5 is a pretty, but only modest tune-up.
When it comes to gorgeous character models, Dead or Alive has always been the series that’s pushed the envelope. However, that’s really not fair to other fighting games like Tekken and SoulCalibur, which arguably match or surpass Team Ninja’s product in sheer visual prowess.
But if Dead or Alive were just about looks, it never would’ve made it past the second installment. As much as the series is known for life-like breast physics and detailed character models, the combat has always been impressively innovative. Dead or Alive 5 is no different, finding new ways to refine gameplay that was already incredibly well polished (if still a tad unbalanced) in DOA4 more than five years ago.
Still, for a franchise that tends to take half-decade breaks between their main installments, all I can really say is that I just expected…more.
Even though people can whine and cry about Street Fighter releasing 10 different versions of the same game in a year, the reality is that each update continually adds loads of new content. Eventually, that culminates in a robust fighting game that’s equally as impressive as both a single- and a multiplayer experience.
That’s just not the case with Dead or Alive 5, which feels less like a jam-packed sequel and more like an upgrade of last year’s game. Sure, there are more than a few new features to the combo system, new characters, and slightly less boob-shaking than before (it’s actually been toned down a lot), but there’s nothing really groundbreaking here.
What Team Ninja essentially does is cover the basics with all the standard modes: story, arcade, time attack, survival, a tweaked training mode, and the potentially perverted spectator mode. It’s all standard fare with very few surprises, save for the training mode, which has a huge range of options that even lets you simulate online lag.
Don’t let that sour you on the game if you’re a dedicated fan, though, because while DOA5 largely plays it safe, it’s still quite fun.
Continuing the awful-yet-entertaining storyline from DOA4, the story kicks off with Helena reviving the evil DOATEC corporation by hosting another DOA Tournament for the world’s best fighters. In the single-player mode, every character is unlocked in an extensive timeline that gives each fighter a few minutes in the spotlight. It definitely won’t win any awards for writing (and the plot twists are rather stupidly developed), but it’s serviceable and entertaining.
Where Dead or Alive 5 particularly shines is how it constantly pushes you to learn new combat mechanics like Power Blows, Expert Holds, and certain combos for key fighters. Doing so rewards you with costumes, extra characters, and various achievements, and after a few days with the game, you’ll start to play with finesse instead of button mashing.
Graphically, DOA5 delivers exactly what it promises, although the impressive detail in the character models doesn’t really go far enough. It’s a brilliant touch for Kasumi, Tina, and the rest of the gang to get covered in sweat and grime after a few rounds, but it’s equally ridiculous that all that hard sparring doesn’t give anyone a single scratch or busted lip.
Invariably, where Dead or Alive was once considered the prettiest belle at the ball by default, Soulcalibur V and the even older Tekken 6 look just as good when compared side-by-side, especially with both games’ excitingly vibrant background environments. Chalk it up to developers hitting their limits with this generation’s restrictive console technology if you must, but the graphics just aren’t the major attraction anymore.
As a no-nonsense arcade-style fighting game, Dead or Alive 5 does its important thing by bringing new depth to the core system. Its four-point attack and defense system which separates mid-level counter attacks between punches and kicks, gives a lot of options for (and against) characters like Helena and Virtua Fighter‘s Sarah Byrant, who might specialize in one specific type of offense. Additionally, the new Power Blows and Danger Zone cut sequences represent an interesting option for advanced players who can take advantage of those mechanics, but each character’s new “Critical Stun” move is a game-changer that most people will either love or hate. Staggering opponents at the end of a combo string is good way to avoid reversal fests, but it’s easily abused for large chunks of health in the wrong hands.
Dead or Alive 5 is still as impressive a showcase as it ever was, but compared to the content of other fighting games, it feels like Team Ninja hasn’t really taken things to the next level with the characters or the gameplay. What should feel like a bold new sequel instead seems like an impressive upgrade, but not much else. But if you’ve been looking forward to tangling with the DOA fighters again, you’re certainly not going to walk away disappointed. Just know that stepping into this tournament isn’t going to lead to an entirely new fight.
SUMMARY: Dead or Alive 5 provides just enough new content and combat tweaks to stay fresh, but the sequel ultimately feels like Dead or Alive 4.5 instead of a bold new title.
- THE GOOD: Improved combat system, great detail on the character models.
- THE BAD: Danger Zones and Critical Stuns are potential game-breakers.
- THE UGLY: Sitting through the confusing three-hour story mode. It’s terribly written.
Dead or Alive 5 is available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Primary version reviewed was on PS3.