Dead or Alive is a fighting game series which is easily considered one of the best. While its’ early days found a home in the form of an arcade, the latest iteration now fights its way onto the Xbox 360. Team Ninja, the makers of Ninja Gaiden, pulls through big from an online aspect by successfully recreating that original arcade feel. Dead or Alive 4 is a must have for fighting game lovers. The story line here is almost non-existent, but focuses on stopping a “super-clone” of sorts which has been created to dominate the world with its incredible fighting skills. Yes, it really is that cheesy.
***Spoiler in this paragraph, skip if you don’t want to know how to unlock characters***
Dead or Alive 4 features an astounding 16 characters to choose from right out of the box. Playing these in story mode will be the key to unlocking the other 5 characters for online play. Each story for a character will feature 8 battles and at the end you will be rewarded with a cut scene. Beating the game with Zack, Eliot, or Hitomi will unlock a new character, and beating the game once with everyone will unlock Helena. Then beating the game with Helena will unlock Nicole, a Spartan from the Halo series. Beating the game with every character in Time attack mode, which requires beating the game in a certain time, will unlock Tengu. For a grand total of 22 characters in the game, all of which can be taken online.
The combat itself is a highlight of the game. No weapons appear in Dead or Alive (bar the occasional plasma grenade), just hand to hand combat. A battle consists of many fast paced combos, grabs, blocking, and countering, but Dead or Alive certainly favors an aggressive player more than it does a defensive one. Countering involves predicting where an attack will hit and timing the button press so that you counter just as the fist or foot hits you. The time frame to counter is so small that a novice player will very rarely be able to counter. This makes for a large skill gap between the pros and the amateurs, yet even a novice can hold his own if he stays aggressive and knows his characters combos. The combos themselves are fast and furious, and combat moves at a fluid, quick pace. You’ll need to be on your toes at all times and try to get the advantage early on in order to be successful.
The game types themselves are reminiscent of an old arcade: Winner Stays, Tournament, Team Battle (Split into 2 teams and do battle), Survival (Champion tries to defeat most people possible), Loser Stays, and Kumite (Champion keeps playing every round). While waiting for your match online, you can watch and talk with those playing. This could make for a lot of waiting at the 16 player level, but small groups of 6 or 7 are perfect.
The game features a quirky lobby system for online before going into spectator mode, complete with upgradeable cartoon avatars and lobby. You gain “Zack” points for winning fights and can use those to upgrade your avatar or lobby (such as purchasing a big screen). It’s a fun thing to do when bored, but really lacks a purpose since most just join and go into full screen spectating so that they can wait their turn to play. Ultimately this lobby system merely serves as an interesting distraction.
The game also features a large assortment of environments to fight in, all of which are multi-level, meaning that players can kick opponents through glass windows or down stairs into new combat areas. The environments are largely interactive, and make for some painful looking interactions between parts of the environment and flying bodies. During my time playing, I had one game where I kicked an enemy into a fence, and as he was bouncing off I kicked him over it, into a picnic table. This is just a small example of how fun these environments can be mid-game. Aside from stationary objects, you’ll also find cheetahs, dinosaurs, and cars moving about the maps, causing damage occasionally.
Dead or Alive 4 features the best graphics so far on the Xbox 360, hands down. The maps are incredible looking, and all of the things moving about in them look amazing. The character models are good, with things like hair and ribbons that move as the character does, but they lack any real texture to make them seem REAL. You’ll also see the occasional arm or leg going through the body, and hair looking sloppy up close, sometimes going through the character model.
Each character also has a large array of costumes that can be unlocked; however some of these are the same costume just redone in a different color. Others, such as the “Scuba Steve” costume are outright hilarious and funny to see in action.
The game sounds like the average fighting game does. Sounds are accurate to the combos and hits being performed, but how far can you really go sound-wise with 2 people fighting? The soundtrack is good though, and the sounds are good enough to make it feel like 2 people are fighting and not dancing. Voice acting is all in Japanese with English subtitles, which I thought was a bit odd since the characters in the game hail from all across the world and should be speaking their native languages.
Lag occurs in games with 4+ people watching it seems. However, for the people fighting it’s very rare for a constant lag to form, just for those watching. Still, at times for no apparent reason the game will nearly stop due to lag. Since it is a fighting game though, all it serves as is a time for counters, being able to easily time your counters due to the slow motion. I wouldn’t even try large rooms, since the game already starts to lag in most 8 person rooms. Depending on connection, however, I’m sure you could fit 16 into one room without lag.
Dead or Alive 4 gets repetitive doing story mode over and over to unlock the characters and costumes, but online this game can be played hundreds of times without growing old. The large skill gap means that you’ll be pummeled multiple times online before you are able to be a strong player online. But against friends, you will find that most matches will be extremely close among new players. Playing with friends in a basement provides an immense amount of fun for this title.
Dead or Alive 4 delivers a fun multiplayer experience and a challenging single player story mode. Gameplay delivers as well, creating a very balanced game with room for both new players and veterans alike. This is the kind of game that really shines through Xbox Live, though there are issues with lag when it comes to rooms with more than four players.
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