Dead or Alive 5 Review
In the last four years, the competition in the fighting game genre has grown massively, and I'm not just talking about the developers and their latest efforts to capture a wide audience. It's the players, too, and the rising fame of streaming sites like Twitch.tv has only given players even more notability - the online players, local tourneys, and major events are all bigger than ever. This means that the stakes are higher than ever for fighting game developers to innovate, and with a rapidly growing playerbase, these developers have a lot to lose. We've seen some fighting game series flourish, while other franchises have struggled to regain past glory. Tecmo's Dead or Alive hasn't had a fully new entry in years, but it's finally back with a new entry, but has it added enough new content to keep up with the leaps and bounds other studios have made in fighting games?
Opinions will surely differ when answering that question, but I don't feel like they have. DOA5 adds a new Mortal Kombat 9-style story mode, and it's just as hilarious and strange as you'd expect out of Team Ninja - but beyond some online play, DOA5 is generally lacking in new content or gameplay modes to keep players interested. The twenty-plus roster includes many of the series' most entertaining fighters along with two new ones and five unlockables (including Sarah, Akira, and Pai from the Virtua Fighter games), but that pales in comparison to the rosters seen in other games, including the just-released Tekken Tag Tournament 2. The fighters and stages have been overhauled to look much cleaner and more detailed than before, and at least here on 360, the game runs at a solid and smooth 60fps as you'd likely expect.
One nice feature that's returning this time is the tag battle system with two fighters on each side, and these do wind up being very tense and exciting, and serve as a solid addition to the game that works even better than it did in DOA4. I'm not sure what the higher-end balance is of tag battles, as that will only be decided with tournaments and extended online play. But these additions aren't really enough to breathe new life in, not with the stiff competition available today; it's hard to escape the thought that the game is just a tad more shallow than what we're starting to expect from the latest generation of fighting games.
One of my first concerns I thought of going into DOA5 was the power of what are called Holds, the countermoves players can use to catch a kick or punch and automatically throw or grapple the opponent. In past DOA games, these moves had pretty loose timing and did tons of damage, making them just a bit too powerful, but here they've been toned down. Now, a rock-paper-scissors system is working nicely: holds beat strikes, throws beat holds, and strikes beat throws. The combo system is similar to what you've seen before in 3D fighting games, where juggles and ground attacks are a vital part of putting together big damage, getting creative with combos can create all kinds of new technology and trip up an opponent, and the person getting hit has little choice but to simply get back onto their feet safely, get to that neutral position, and try again.
One new invention here is the super combo-style system that allows players to unleash moves that are called Power Blows. These moves usually seem to end in a big strike that sends the opponent flying backwards, and you can actually aim the direction of the final attack in a Power Move. The point of this is that stages are chock full of fun danger zones and breakable areas, and while these have been around for years, it used to be that you'd have to set up a stage break attack over the course of nearly a whole round. Now, with one well-timed Power Blow, you can additionally send your opponent out of a third-story window or off the edge of a glacier cliff so they take extra damage when they hit the bottom. I'm not sure that the differences between these stages are really that great for creating an even playing field in tournament settings or online games, but at the very least they do make for an exciting game to watch or play solo, that's for sure.
There's nothing really wrong with DOA5 and it's certainly an improvement over its predecessors, but I was expecting more from the first Dead or Alive game to come out in nearly seven years. I found the modes that are included for casual and offline players to be a little weak. Sure, the online play and training modes here will serve the roles that competitive players expect, but there's just not enough new stuff for me to heartily recommend it, not with the number of stellar fighting games that have been released in the last couple of years. For those who feel like the DOA games offer a simple but very entertaining take on fighting mechanics, then it's easy for me to suggest you pick up this sequel, but otherwise I'd recommend caution. It seems like the simultaneous release of Marvel vs Capcom Origins this week has taken some of the wind out of Team Ninja's sails, especially with how many FGC stars have stuck with the Capcom classic instead, but a lukewarm DOA5 launch doesn't mean you should ignore the game, especially if you've spent significant amounts of time playing this series over the last fifteen years.
Disclaimer: This review is based primarily on a retail Xbox 360 copy, but a PS3 copy was played as well and there are very few differences we found between the two versions.