Dead or Alive 4 (Xbox 360) review
"Whether it's drunken master Brad immersing himself in drink, Helena discovering the truth about her mother's murder, or the "romance" between Leifang and Jann Lee coming to its conclusion, Dead or Alive 4 is the true sequel to DOA2 that Dreamcast fans have longed for and that ignorant blowhards have feared."
Compared to other fighting games, the Dead or Alive series -- despite its enormous sales -- receives a lot of hate. Just the other day, some message board bum named GUTS had the following to say:
"Dead or Alive 4 is a button-masher, just like all the rest. I beat a random guy (I think he was a pro) by rubbing the controller across my face! Then I went to the gym and worked out! My girlfriend sure is hot!"
You might think I'm completely making that up, but I'm not! Message board know-it-alls love to brag about their women and their weights. And I can bet that half the people who read that comment are nodding their heads in agreement without even playing the game.
Well, that particular know-it-all knows NOTHING! Similar to the myth about Pong being the grandaddy of video-gaming, people have repeated "Dead or Alive is a button-masher!" so often that it's commonly accepted as self-evident truth... but it's not true. Don't mistake accessibility for lack of strategy; lucky novices can beat Virtua Fighter 4 or Tekken 5 by repeating simple combinations, but those games are by no means shallow. Nor is Dead or Alive 4.
After receiving tons of ridiculous message board hype -- both negative and positive -- and after being delayed about seven times, the game finally hit store shelves in late-late December. I bought it immediately, since I had enjoyed gentle Kasumi and noble Leon's past battles inside immense cathedrals and through stained-glass windows (ouch). The second game was refreshingly dynamic, and the third was an admirable refinement. Even so, after DOA2's Ultimate remake, I was ready for something a bit more daring. Although I'm a definite DOA fan, I'm not an all-forgiving fanboy!
Fortunately, although true to its heritage, Dead or Alive 4 isn't a simple rehash. This is obvious just from reading the story alone: basically, all the ninjas (including Ninja Gaiden vets Ryu and Ayane) have banded together and declared TOTAL WAR on the DOATEC organization, which is currently run by French beauty Helena and the mad scientist Donovan. Through the mysterious powers of "protoculture", Donovan has begun engineering an entire army of evil Kasumi clones. If DOATEC's plot should work, they'll destroy the entire ninjaverse!
With its theme of all-out war, this has been rumored to be the final entry in the Dead or Alive series as we know it. Based on the game's true ending (which you'll have to fight long and hard to earn), I wouldn't be surprised.
What did surprise me were the major alterations to the core gameplay. I'm not referring to the enhanced online capabilities, although DOA4 does feature a lot of cool things like customizable lobbies, where you can purchase costumes to dress your avatar up like a Gaia reject. No, I'm instead referring to the increased importance of stuns. More than ever before, it's easy to knock the wind from an opponent... which means they can't hit back.
In the past, since stuns were rare, an offensive barrage could in turn be answered with offense (which probably helped bolster the "button-mashing" complaints). Now that it's easier to stun an opponent and thus prevent them from fighting back, a seasoned pro can quickly turn what would normally be a simple 4-hit combination into a 12-hit INSTANT HELL MURDER when playing against an unskilled amateur. Fortunately, although offense is disabled, it's still possible to defend while stunned by escaping, blocking, or even reversing attacks.
Note: DOA3 fans will find that "limbo stuns" have been completely removed. Limbo stuns were an unintentional side-effect of DOA3's quirky collision detection, which allowed skilled players to intentionally put others into inescapable situations.
If you insist on putting people into inescapable situations, you'll need to learn to work with the environments, which are easily the craziest arenas in any fighting game to date. My favorite is the "downtown" stage. Sure, it's incredibly detailed and nicely colored -- especially in high-def, which makes texture details like fur trim on coats or individual bricks on buildings even more apparent -- but that's not why I like it.
I like the "downtown" stage because, every now and then, a car drives by. "Big deal!" you might cry. "A guy rode a bicycle in Chun Li's Street Fighter II stage!" Well, here's the big deal -- if you're standing in the middle of the road, cars can actually slam into you, flipping your traffic-ignorant self head over heels! In typical Team Ninja style, these hazards are more than a careless afterthought; when possible, the cars actually try to swerve out of the way. It's all part of making the experience both zany and immersive.
Whether it's drunken master Brad immersing himself in drink, Helena discovering the truth about her mother's murder, or the "romance" between Leifang and Jann Lee coming to its conclusion, Dead or Alive 4 is the true sequel to DOA2 that Dreamcast fans have longed for and that ignorant blowhards have feared. It's the epic tale of how a girl's innocent sense of family escalated into a cultural clash between the Mugen Tenshin clan and the DOATEC Empire. It's the final battle between fourteen characters I've loved for years (along with three newcomers and four secret visitors). Most importantly, it's a damn sweet game. By revamping the combat engine, revitalizing the graphics, and pushing the boundaries of interactive environments, Team Ninja has created another magical experience.
"NO! It's all about the breasts! Why don't DOA nerds just buy some real porn? Unlike those guys, I have a life. I mastered the intricate combinations of Virtua Fighter 4, achieved 200 consecutive Kumite wins, work 50 hours per week, and satisfy my woman EVERY NIGHT! Did I mention I lift weights?"
Whatever you say, champ.
Staff review by Zigfried (January 20, 2006)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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