Alive in 5 Review

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Dead or Alive 5 Review

Total. Non-Stop. Action.

MEDALS BETA

Story

Gameplay

Visuals

At long last, the folks at Team Ninja have seen it too, and the result is Dead or Alive 5, a fighter that’s far more interested in beating you down than getting you off. Thanks to a number of key tweaks and additions, the fighting system is deeper and more balanced than ever. Mix that with exciting interactive stages, gorgeous visuals, and a comprehensive feature set, and you get a package that can entertain everyone – from the Monday night button mashers to the exacting tournament pros. During my first hours with the game, I was consistently surprised by the all-inclusive package of features on offer. The ability to download and upload replays, Facebook integration, and online training sessions are just a few examples of how the overall experience has improved. But the real gem here is the insanely deep training mode, which provides players with more detailed information about their moves than they’ve ever had before. Everything from frame data to player states and move properties are relayed in real time, giving advanced players the kind of knowledge they need to intelligently develop their play style. Despite how much experience I have with the franchise, this training mode is teaching me things I never knew about characters I’ve played for years.

Those gamers who play at the tournament level ask for such features all the time. Developer Team Ninja laudably includes them, along with a fully voiced story mode teeming with well-produced cutscenes and plot twists, and all the single player content DOA fans have come to expect. It’s an exhaustive suite of bells and whistles that should satisfy both casual and serious fight fans alike.

Of course, the most important thing is how the game feels. Don’t worry, Dead or Alive 5’s kung fu is strong indeed. As ever, the rock, paper, scissors game of strikes, holds, and throws is the core mechanic, putting the focus squarely on predicting or baiting a response from your opponent, only to crush them mercilessly with whatever beats it. It’s a non-stop speed round of mind games, and nothing feels better than setting up shop in the other guy’s head, making the right read at the right time, and dishing out huge punishment. This has always been my favorite thing about the series, and DOA 5 nails it pitch-perfect while making key changes and additions to address some of the criticisms it’s always drawn from more serious players.

Perhaps the least obvious, but most impactful change is the nerfing of counter holds across the board. This act — countering strikes with the appropriate hold – has typically been too easy in past games, due to counters’ quick recovery and long active window. Factor in the insane amount of damage they dealt in return, and even a bad player could potentially beat a good one with two or three lucky guesses. The timing is now much tighter, and the damage has been dialed down significantly, making them far less decisive while allowing long attack strings and combos to be thrown out more liberally.

But not all the changes are tucked away under the hood. A more obvious example is the addition of a true sidestep – a series first. While DOA has always allowed full 3D movement, it was strictly for positioning. Now you can actually juke laterally at a moment’s notice to avoid opponents’ strikes and launch an immediate counter-offensive. Accordingly, every attack in the game has now been classed as “tracking” or “non-tracking” to denote if it can follow a sidestep or not. This has been a core concept in nearly every other 3D fighter, and its absence in DOA has long been, for some, a source of ridicule for the franchise. By finally including it, players can now punish moves and score counter-hits in previously impossible ways, making the transitions between attack and defense even more dynamic. Meanwhile, the new Critical Burst attack opens up a slew of new offensive possibilities. In previous DOAs, a stunned opponent couldn’t attack or block, but they could still escape with a counter hold. Thus, the only way to get guaranteed damage after a stun was to launch your victim and juggle. While counter holds have retained the ability to break stun, Critical Burst negates it, sinking your opponent into an inescapable stun that gives you all day to inflict maximum damage.

The importance of this simply cannot be overstated. Where before, a stunned foe could just predict your launcher and counter hold-out accordingly, now they have to guess between the launcher and the Critical Burst, making stuns true mix-up situations that you can more reliably convert into big combos. They also pave the way for the new Power Blow, a potent charged attack that you gain access to after dropping below 50% health. Land it and you get treated to a stylish, slow motion beatdown, often culminating in your opponent getting violently slammed into something that breaks or blows up.

And let me tell you, there’s a lot of stuff that breaks and blows up in these stages. Other fighting games have wall splats and ring outs, we’ve got train wrecks, Apache gunships, and tigers. Yes, tigers. The series has always had multi-tiered levels with destructible elements, but DOA5 takes it to a whole other level. Now more than ever, they can turn an everyday fight into an entertaining spectacle. Seeing a massive explosion from a car crash in the background after knocking an opponent down a 50-foot drop to street level is just too fun, and many stages house similarly spectacular moments.

As much of a visual treat as it is, it can also be a bit much at times. like when Hayate gets plowed into by a derailed train and doesn’t die. Huh. Keep in mind that they aren’t random, though. Think of them as super moves that get triggered by hitting your opponent into specific objects within the fighting area. Still, they can feel like gimmicks, used to make the game more interesting to casual fight fans (a la gems in Street Fighter x Tekken). Thankfully, there’s an option to turn off these danger zones, and plenty of stages don’t have them at all, so if you want a more straightforward fighting experience, you can still have it.

Even without these blockbuster moments, the stages are memorable and lovingly crafted. They feel like real places rather than a static set of background images, and as always, the characters that inhabit them ooze personality. The always excellent fighter models sport vastly improved faces, and even little details like self-shadowing, sweat, and dirt are handled adeptly. Fluid animations bring each brawler’s distinctive style to life, making every attack feel uniquely theirs. That’s not just any side kick, that’s Lei Fang’s side kick, and only Zack does a jumping double knee quite like he does. With such a generous move list comprised mostly of punches and kicks, it’s a wonder that hardly any two look or feel the same. Hit animations are almost as varied, with a huge assortment of different stuns and staggers adding impact to each landed blow. It’s this constant payoff mixed with the responsive, simple controls that make Dead or Alive so maddeningly addictive. Every match looks like a well-choreographed kung-fu fight, and whether you know what you’re doing or not, the results always look impressive. Even when you lose, you smile, because you know what hit you, and exactly how to blow it up next time.

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That’s always been the beauty of this series. No matter what character you play, no matter how bad the matchup is, the person who makes the better read wins. For every action, a reaction. Despite it being more over the top than Virtua Fighter, or less complex than Tekken, this simple fact has always made it a very satisfying game to play.

Verdict

Dead or Alive 5 is, without any question, the best entry in the series. It retains its identity as a fast-paced, visually stunning 3D fighter, while shedding much of the baggage that’s typically held it back. While there’s still plenty of eye candy for both the ladies and gents, it’s taken a back seat to what fighting games should be all about: fighting. It gives the casual fan a fighting experience that’s as easy to grasp as it is exciting to watch, while providing more serious players the depth and features they need to stay interested. Give Dead or Alive 5 an honest chance, and you’ll find a formidable, enormously entertaining fighter that will keep you busy for a long time to come.

Dead or Alive 5: Last Round Review

Slightly less alive

MEDALS BETA

Story

Gameplay

Visuals

Dead or Alive 5, in all its incarnations, is the best numbered entry in the long-running fighting game series in terms of raw mechanics, and Dead or Alive 5: Last Round doesn’t change that fact. It’s still the fast, fluid, accessible brawler it was when I reviewed its original incarnation over two years ago, and the PS4 and Xbox One versions look ever-so-slightly sharper than it did back then. But despite positioning itself as the definitive version of DOA 5, Last Round feels slightly weighed down by some problematic glitches, and uninteresting new characters that make it feel unnecessarily fan-service-focused.

First thing’s first: the fighting in Last Round remains as excellent as ever. You can read my full review of Dead or Alive 5 for details on what makes the fighting system so addictive, but in short, DOA takes the rock-paper-scissors idea that lies beneath the hood of most fighting games and bakes it right into your every move and decision. The triangular relationship it creates between throws, holds, and strikes make every moment an opportunity to outthink your opponent. Even before you start wrapping your head around a character’s extensive, varied move list, DOA empowers you to recognize your opponent’s tendencies, and punish them for them. This is the very essence of what makes fighting games great, and like its predecessor, Last Round does it incredibly well.

Something else that’s set DOA apart over the years, is how distinctive, flashy, and fluid the characters’ many fighting styles are. Many of them jump off from a traditional martial arts base, and then start taking entertaining left turns with teleportation, elemental attacks, and spinning piledrivers that would make Street Fighter’s Zangief cry (very manly) tears of jealousy. DOA 5’s original cast still walks that line between authenticity and audacity with grace and energy, but the same can’t necessarily be said of the characters that have joined the cast since then.

Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate introduced some new characters as DLC, and Last Round includes them all, plus two additional challengers, for a total of 34. This gives Last Round the largest playable cast in DOA history, but with rare exception, most of these newcomers and returning series favorites feel bland and forgettable, thanks to a lot of reskinned models and generic move sets. Honoka is probably the worst offender here: she’s just a generic-looking schoolgirl with a patchwork move list cobbled together from totally disparate styles across the the rest of the cast. Sure, having more options is great, but if they aren’t interesting ones, more ends up feeling like less.

The more frustrating thing about these characters is that their inclusion feels, on one level or another, more like fan-service rather than good design. Ein and Leon are throwback fan-favorites from older games, but they’ve since been effectively replaced by Hayate and Bayman, respectively. Phase 4 is literally a Kasumi clone – the second Kasumi clone (after Alpha 152). Honoka and Marie Rose have completely forgettable fighting styles, but hey, who doesn’t love a couple of underage-looking girls to throw into a scandalous outfit or two, right? This is the old DOA mentality, the one I was happy to see banished in the original Dead or Alive 5. Seeing it creep back in is as frustrating as it is disappointing.

Not all the characters added since DOA 5 are a bust, though. Momiji and Nyotengu both sport fighting styles interesting enough to make me want to learn them. Nyotengu, like some of the less successful new characters, is a riff on an old DOA character, but one whose highly unorthodox move set has never been reused or repurposed. Momiji’s style, while certainly reminiscent of the many ninjas of the cast, adds enough flaming flourishes and impressive acrobatics to set her apart. Watching the two of them face off falls somewhere between late-night Hong Kong wire-fu and a live-action Avatar fan-fic, in the best possible way.

Feature-wise, Last Round is as impressive as its predecessor, which featured an excellent training mode and robust online features, like the ability to run online tournaments, kumite, or training sessions. Sadly, as of this writing, not all theses features are working as intended. Depending on which platform you’re playing on, you might encounter any number of game-crashing, save-data-corrupting bugs. One particularly troubling issue is the lack of support for MadCatz fight sticks on the Xbox One version, which Team Ninja is looking to fix, along with the many other known issues. It’s worth noting that while playing with online throwdowns turned off, I didn’t run into these issues on PS4, but seeing as Team Ninja is acknowledging them on its Twitter feed, it’s safe to say I’ve been lucky.

Dead or Alive 5: Last Round review

Accessible yet deep, this is the definitive version of the lascivious fighter – but Xbox One owners should beware a buggy release.

Eurogamer has dropped review scores and replaced them with a new recommendation system. Read the editor’s blog to find out more.

Despite its deliciously swift tempo, straightforward controls, lavish high play complexities and matches that can flip on a single misread lunge, Dead or Alive has always struggled to match the fame and recognition enjoyed by its rivals on merit alone. It is a middleweight in a world of heavyweights and therefore must seek attention through other means. A launch in peaceful February for this, the final iteration of Dead or Alive 5, is just one of the ways publisher Tecmo hopes to generate interest in the game. Then there’s the extravagant number of characters, hundreds upon hundreds of costumes, play-modes and, of course, those headline-grasping breasts.

This review is based on our experiences playing retail code for PS4. There have been reported issues with the Xbox One version, which were covered earlier this week by Digital Foundry.

The series, which debuted in the arcades in 1996, is indisputably best known for its busts, which aren’t so much titillating as deranged, rippling off in ludicrous directions every time their keeper successfully lands a punch. Dead or Alive is perhaps the only video game series with an option to set the ‘breast physics’, allowing you to pick between ‘Natural’, ‘DOA’ (which turns the wobble to eleven) or, most upsettingly of all, ‘None’ (which allows the breasts to not only defy gravity, but to exist, deadpan, outside of its pull entirely). All this mischief is slightly creepy and certainly childish but the real tragedy is that the asset for which Dead or Alive is best known has become a tremendous distraction from the game’s more profound charms. This is, in truth, a wonderful fighting game, even if it’s a poor judge of physiology.

For one thing, it is perhaps the most approachable serious fighting game. There are just two attack buttons: one for quick and short punches, and one for long and slow kicks. String together attacks and you create sensational combinations from what, at first glance, appears to be a restrictive vocabulary. There are no quarter- or half-circle turns a la Street Fighter and no zigzag stick motions a la King of Fighters. Instead of thumb-bending acrobatics, the emphasis is instead on stringing together hits with furious speed and precision. Another button triggers throws, another blocks and, without a jump input, complexity is introduced simply by positioning and the need to read your opponent.

Back away from your opponent and you will enter a block state, high if you’re standing, low if you’re crouching.

Last Round features an expansive and well-presented 42-step tutorial that will guide beginners through to the more advanced aspects of play, including the rock, paper, scissors triangle of rules that underpins the game (whereby strikes cut through attempts to throw, throws punish whiffed holds and holds beat strikes). You’ll learn to execute Critical Stun attacks that leave your opponent open to combo strings, Power Blows that propel your foe backwards into props, juggles, launchers and all of the other skills that lead into the game’s deeper technical waters.

Like Soul Calibur, Dead or Alive is 3D game that plays out primarily on a two-dimensional plane. In other words, you can’t move freely around the 3D environment, only from side to side across it, side-stepping into or out of the screen to gain a better position. This is especially important here, as many of the game’s stages have walls that you can send an opponent flying through and so-called ‘Danger Zones’, such as explosive barrels or electrified ropes, which will decimate an opponent launched into one. One memorable stage takes place on a raft as it descends a waterfall. Hurl your foe from the raft and they’ll tumble through a flock of pink flamingos mid-flight, before landing with a health-bar shattering thud on the ground below.

Last Round’s pitch is in its comprehensiveness. There’s a Time Attack mode, a Survival mode, Arcade modes for both solo play and ‘tag’ play (this works similarly to Capcom’s Marvel vs. Capcom series: non-active characters can recover some lost health while on the bench) and a non-tag brawl mode which allows you to pick up to seven characters and fight another seven characters in sequential order. Story mode is the most inventive of the set, a meandering tour through scores of one round matches around the world, that follow each of the characters en route to the DOA tournament. The cut-scenes are a debacle of over-acting and oblivious ethnic caricature, but in structural terms there’s a feeling of escalating tension as you see each fighter’s journey to the final tournament.

UPDATE: Activision finally confirms – and announces PS4 timed exclusivity.

Future bosses say they’ve taken pay cuts to reduce lay-offs.

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