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Dead or Alive Ultimate

Those good old 3D fighters hold a place dear to the hearts of the majority of gamers today. We might be wimps who leg it at the first sign of real trouble, but we revel in commanding pixellated pugilists to perform all manner of bone-crunching moves on screen.

But let's get this straight from the outset: DOAU isn't a new game. Comprising the first two Dead or Alive titles, both games have been given a Trinny and Susanna-style makeover for the 21st century. On the one hand, the original DOA is something of a history lesson. Riding high on the wave of the 3D fighter frenzy caused by pioneering scrappers like Tekken and Virtua Fighter, the title was a smash on its release on the Sega Saturn console.

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In its new incarnation however, the original title seems to have been neglected. Unfortunately no amount of graphical tweaking can bring this
first game up to current day expectations. Each character looks blocky and very rough around the edges, whilst the garish environments are so undetailed and uninteresting we were soon crying out like toddlers in a tantrum for visual stimulation. Along with the regular Arcade mode (fight each opponent in turn) and Time Attack (the same thing only with points scored for a low amassed time total), comes the somewhat entertaining Kumite. Players can choose to fight opponents rated at 30, 50 or 100 Kumite levels. Fight your way through each of the other characters indefinitely, though you'll only gain whatever percentage of fights you win. Not massively different from the main game we know, but a variation all the same, and the higher the stakes, the harder the opponents. The online mode does obviously account for the original game's presence, yet this really is one for die-hard fans of the series. That, or purists still wearing baggy combat pants and listening to All Saints circa 1997.

What we're far more interested in is the superior sequel, DOA2. This smashed its way to the fore of 3D fighters, and when presented here, looks absolutely gorgeous. Tecmo has gone to town, and an impressive graphical overhaul means the game easily rivals stablemates DOA3 or Ninja Gaiden in the looks department. Or Natalie Portman, but various court orders prevent us from going into too much detail about that. Spectacular lighting effects match incredibly detailed textures, be it lens flare illuminating a rooftop duel at sunset or dramatic lightning flashes during a night-time bout.

The environments play a big part in DOA2, and not just as a mindful distraction whilst a cocky ten-year-old from Texas repeatedly pummels your head into the ground. Beautifully textured and gorgeously coloured, they factor into the gameplay in a valuable and enjoyable way. Most feature some form of destructible scenery, that when obliterated with, say, an unsuspecting opponent, cause massive damage to said foe (See Fall From Grace, page 087). The ramifications of this are twofold. On the one hand, it's immensely satisfying to propel your opposite number into a wall, electric sign or randomly placed tree, and the consequences are a bigger bite from their energy bar than Sir Ranulph Fiennes losing his chocolate before an Antarctic marathon. Conversely, you'll also be screaming in frustration as an AI opponent does their best to manoeuvre you into a compromising position before punting you over a huge drop, sapping up to half your energy bar at a time. This does upset the otherwise finely balanced fighting engine, and above all else, is massively annoying.

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And so onto the fighting. If there's one thing DOA can be proud of, it's accessibility. Controls consist of two punch buttons, two kick, a block and a throw. Standard one- and two-button combos are both easy to perform and damagingly effective, though the various throws are more health-draining than a Supersize Me-style diet and just as harsh. Getting in close to your foe is the key, so swoop in right after they've performed (and mistimed) a lumbering, slow attack. You can also perform devastating one-hit blows and throws, as denoted by the Black and White buttons. Comprising in strength of a throw and punch or punch and kick combined, your opponent may see these coming a mile off, but time it right and they'll be on their backs quicker than Gavin at the Playboy Mansion.

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