Reviewed: March 5, 2006
Released: December 29, 2005
Dead or Alive 4 is the latest installment in Tecmo’s aging fighting franchise that goes back so far I can barely remember playing the original on my Sega Saturn. Perhaps a little hypno regression therapy might help. But that was way back before I was actually writing game reviews. It was the Dreamcast version of DOA2 that sparked my first DOA review and that was eventually followed by more DOA fighting and even some sexy beach volleyball on the Xbox.
And while we wait for Tecmo to take us to the DOA beach later this year we have yet another fighting game to occupy our time, test our reflexes, and stir up those raging adolescent male hormones. But DOA4 is much more than a next-gen peep show. Sure, you have the trademarked jiggles of busty babes, but there is also a next-gen fighting engine lurking beneath that silky smooth skin.
DOA4 is freaking hard…a lot harder than I remember and probably a lot harder than most of you are prepared for. I can usually mash my way to victory through the story modes in one or two sitting but this game took me the better part of two weeks. I was exhausted and pleased with myself if I could do two or three characters a night.
Of course playing this game for the sake of completing it was part of my problem. The game is obviously designed for you to pick out your one or two favorite characters and play them until you master them. Each is so different, with their own unique moves and combos (even though they share the same command system), that going from character to character never gives you enough time to master their nuances.
The combat is much more graceful with far more rigid timing, especially on the enhanced counter system that now requires exact timing to pull one off. Combine that with the fact that counters are far less powerful than previous games and you’ll wonder why you should even bother. Because the computer (and your online) opponents will still be using them…that’s why.
In fact, most of your attacks do far less damage than you might expect, which in turn make the fights last a bit longer. This goes for environmental interaction as well. Falling off a roof in DOA3 might have taken half your health but here you only lose about 25% and you can never die from falling. Somebody will have to deliver the final blow in person.
Stuns and pokes create a much deeper fighting experience, and when you factor all of this in with the additional moves for each character you have a lot of fighting potential lurking inside DOA4. Each character has a specific style and set of moves and yet they all manage to balance against the entire cast so ultimately, it’s how good YOU are that determines the outcome.
DOA4 has your traditional story mode for each character that serves to get you acquainted with their backstory and their set of moves. All but six members of the cast are available from the first time you play and the rest of the cast is easily unlocked with a bit of dedicated gaming. Halo fans will love the SPARTAN-458 character, a female version of Master Chief.
You have all the other modes like Time Attack, Versus, Survival, Team Battle, Sparring, and of course the totally addictive Watch mode where you can select two fighters and a location and have them fight until you are tired of watching. But with a virtual camera and all sorts of film speed and lens settings, and the ability to take and save snapshots until your hard drive is full, you might find watching is more fun than playing.
Online fighting has never been better and will probably keep this game in your 360 longer that it would have without it. While Quick, Custom, and Optimatch are all pretty straightforward, you have additional creative control over your online presence, and the ability to create and avatar and maintain a world-ranked profile makes the experience a lot more personal.
As you win fights you earn Zack dollars you can use to purchase avatars or just buy a bunch of worthless crap to customize your own personal lobby space. You can even purchase new costumes and accessories for your fighters. All of this is pure fluff all leading to the stellar gameplay once you connect with another player.
There are numerous modes available and you can setup rules (like “winner stays”). The lobbies hold up to 16 fighters and you can play with up to three others in tag-team matches. Joining a game is just as easy as setting up your own and you can even reserve slots in your lobby for those on your friends list. The Optimatch screen is full of data to let you determine the best game for you to join.
DOA4 is definitely one of the better looking games out for the 360, but in some ways it is almost too beautiful for its own good. The characters are flawless, the fabric animation almost too floaty, water is too pure, and the individual modeling of hair strands creates some obvious and awkward clipping problems. Ultimately, the surreal CG characters don’t blend with their photo-realistic backgrounds. It’s some sort of creepy art-meets-realism hybrid that is so obvious it’s distracting.
The backgrounds in and of themselves are gorgeous with a few upgrades of levels from DOA Ultimate and a lot of new ones that center around the story modes and ultimate boss fights for each character. You have the African level and a prehistoric level, or you can fight outside an Asian marketplace or a brightly lit casino.
There are all sorts of subtle touches like leaves blowing in outdoor levels, or vibrant colors and animated textures on computer screens, or light shows in the big arena level. One of the nicest and more personal touches is that the game actually imports your “catchphrase” from your Xbox Live profile and scrolls it through the marquee on the casino and arena levels.
As always, the levels are interactive and multi-tiered allowing you to deliver extra damage by knocking your opponent through windows, off bridges, or even into oncoming traffic. Learning what breaks and what can interact with what takes some experimenting.
But giving credit where credit is due, the game runs at a flawless 60fps, which for a fighting game might not mean much since there isn’t much movement other than the two fighters, but what it does mean is super-lifelike animation with special attention to blending each of the hundreds of fighting moves together so there are no jerks or obviously connection points between animation routines.
As always, DOA4 has movies that will make you weep with joy and confirm your decision to purchase that $3,000 HDTV. You have the energetic opening movie cut to yet another Aerosmith song, but it’s the character specific movies you earn by completing their story mode that are the true prizes in this game. These range from breathtaking to awe-inspiring and even the worst movie in DOA4 is better than the best movie you’ve seen in any other game.
Aerosmith has been providing music for DOA since DOA Ultimate so it was no surprise that “Eat the Rich” and “It’s Amazing” are the two licensed tracks used for the opening and closing movies. The rest of the in-game music presentation includes level-specific themes that fit the environments along with some truly emotional scores for the CG story endings.
Thankfully, the dialogue was left in its original Japanese and subtitled. Nevertheless, some of those whiny female voices can really make the hair on your neck stand up, but it would only be worse with a poor English dub.
The sound effects are flawless and each level has plenty of 5.1 ambient sounds to totally immerse you in the photo-realistic landscapes and interior arenas. The combat sounds are typical of most any martial arts game with punches and kicks and other sounds of fight contact.
There is a metric ton of unlockables and playing through all of these modes will eventually unlock new costumes, hairstyles, levels, and characters. It took me about 8 hours to finish the story mode for all the characters and unlock the rest of the cast. With local and online multiplayer, there is no end to how much enjoyment you can get from this title.
Your game time will certainly be extended if you plan on getting all 1000 Achievement points, which are spread across 45 objectives in both single and online play. Some are easy like merely completing all the story modes or playing for five or ten hours. Others take time like winning 100 fights in survival mode, getting 10 or 20 straight victories online or just getting 100 online wins total. There are even 10 secret achievements that I don’t even know what they are yet.
DOA impressed me back when it helped launch the Xbox, and Tecmo scores another near-launch success with Dead or Alive 4. The combat engine has been refined to the point where veterans of the series might have a tougher time than newcomers, but there are plenty of rewards waiting for those who can master this next-gen fighter.
DOA4 is a great reinvention of the franchise for a whole new technology, but we can only hope that the next edition manages to blend the characters and the backgrounds together more seamlessly and hopefully give us some new characters and fight locales. Despite the overhauled fight engine and polished presentation, DOA4 is unmistakably a sequel that is slowly losing its steam.