Dead or Alive 5 review: Slick, brutal and bouncy - but unambitious
25th Sep 2012 | 11:00
It starts badly. Dig straight into the bizarre story mode and you'd be forgiven for thinking you've stumbled into the worst Japanese sitcom ever written. Lavish cutscenes link roughly 70 sporadic brawls together, trying desperately to make you care about each of the characters and their frankly ridiculous backstories. Each line of dialogue sounds like it's been written by an alien who's had human behaviour explained by a half-cut bloke in a pub.
Bravo to the developers for trying to make us care, but what kept us playing during several 'five minute sessions' (which actually lasted close to four hours at a time) is the spectacle and feel of fighting. Bottom line: hitting someone in Dead or Alive 5 feels great. Pulling off a counter-throw to end a tight match, with a lavish move that sees your character literally treading her opponent's head into the dirt, feels even better.
RHYTHM OF THE FIGHT
And as accessible as DOA5 feels to beginners, it's not until you truly understand the rhythm of combat that things really start to click. Newcomers will be delighted with the fact that mashing buttons, or one-input throws, produces spectacular results. You can charge in aimlessly and have a great time, and that's why DOA5 caters so well for people who hate other fighters. Conversely, hardcore beat-'em-up players will likely sneer at the simplicity and seemingly (but not actually) random collision detection in this game, citing the apparent (again, not actual) lack of precision as sloppy and unrefined.
However, Dead Or Alive has always been about the flow of combat; about tactical back and forth between move and counter-move. When you're starting out, counter simply stops your opponent spamming the same move. Time it right, and you can turn a rival's sharp kick into a devastating leg-breaker. Get to know a character better, by going through the game's superb training modes, and counters become part of your arsenal as you bait your opponent with half-cancelled combos, power moves and well-timed throws.
While the story mode leaves us cold, the tag matches are the star of the game. Here you can play one-vs-one with two characters each, two-vs-two, or two-vs-CPU. You tag in with R1/LB, and perform tag throws with X/A. Judging when to sub in a new fighter is key. Do you keep a character in the ring on half-health because they match up better against your opponent? Or sub them out to save them for later? It's a balancing act, it requires skill and quick thinking, but it doesn't ask for insane reflexes or hours of practice. It's just fun.
In fact, everything in DOA5 is included to dazzle and entertain. The multi-layered stages where you smash opponents off rooftops or cliffs, into new areas are the best example. It's so satisfying to punch a man through a wall and off the roof of a pagoda, before carrying on the scrap in the courtyard below.
There are missteps. The story feels superfluous, and is poorly written. Thankfully, Arcade mode offers uninterrupted solo fights at a variety of difficulties. What makes the idea of 'story' worse is that fighters look alike. Lei Fang is essentially Kokoro with pony tails, and new boy Rig is Bayman in a hardhat. As for the bikinis... they give the game that slightly unsavoury NSFW feel that, combined with the 'unrealistic proportions' of the lady fighters, will fuel 'games are sexist' arguments for years to come. Thankfully, male characters are similarly Adonis-like, so at least both sexes are represented equally quixotically.
Online play is fully competent. 16 player lobbies offer social interaction while fighting, and the ability to accept throw-downs (online fight-offers that appear while you're in single-player) is a neat touch. You can even spectate online matches too, if you want.
In all, DOA5 isn't perfect. It isn't hardcore, it isn't even a big step up from DOA4. What it is, though, is cracking fun, a fighter that's great to watch and feels even better to play.