Dead or Alive 3 (Xbox) review
"It's easy to forget you're looking at polygons. When a butterfly flaps past, or a rushing waterfall cascades down a moss-covered cliff, you won't be thinking how many polygons that must've taken. You won't likely be thinking about anything technical at all, in fact, because everything looks so natural. This is true of everything from the leaves to the breasts."
When Street Fighter II: The World Warrior came home to consoles, it revolutionized a stagnant industry. Suddenly, an entire new genre was making waves. People were playing them, marvelling at the pure fun of beating the crap out of opponents (generally controlled by friends), the novelty, and of course the graphics.
Not much has changed. The market is flooded with fighters. And while the craze for the genre seems to have subsided, it remains popular. As always, graphics play a big part in that. And so it is that I find myself reviewing Dead or Alive 3 for the Xbox. It's one of my first software purchases for that system, and once again a primary motivator was the visual appeal. But does good gameplay hide somewhere under all those dazzling polygon counts? Read on.
The first thing you'll notice when you play this title is obviously how visually polished it is. That's true of any game, because sight is such a primary sense. But with Dead or Alive 3, your eyes will be tearing up out of gratitude. Everything is a treat, from the simple designs on wall mats, to the snowflakes drifting lazily to the ground, to rippling water and flying sparks, to waves of heat and even the tips of a field of grass. There's no way to really give a good idea of just how stunning a package this is. Even shadows have shocking amounts of detail.
The depth isn't just textures, either. Everything moves with some pretty good realism. It's easy to forget you're looking at polygons. When a butterfly flaps past, or a rushing waterfall cascades down a moss-covered cliff, you won't be thinking how many polygons that must've taken. You won't likely be thinking about anything technical at all, in fact, because everything looks so natural. This is true of everything from the leaves to the breasts.
Yes, the breasts. There's no denying that along with good visuals in general, this franchise is known for its sexy leading ladies. And they're back. There are 7 ladies in all, nearly every one of them a dazzling beauty. And each character in the game has two costumes. Now your lady can come with a bow on her back! It's a nice little present from Tecmo, a company I assume is comprised almost entirely of men. Breasts jiggle, panties flash, and it all looks better than a game has a right to.
That's true all the way up to the closing cinemas. A disturbing trend in fighters is to include a few still shots and some text. Fortunately, Dead or Alive 3 is a title that fights the trend. Each character has a beautifully-rendered concluding movie. Completing the story mode with each character will become a driving obsession for you. Whether you finish the game with all the ladies first and move onto the men like I did, or just pick the characters that look like they fight good and tackle it in that order, you're in for some artwork that looks like it should be in the movies. My favorite is Christie's ending. Whoever does the art direction really knows what he's doing.
So, you can tell I like the visuals. But the truth is that every time I say I like the graphics, it seems like an understatement. No game's appearance has astounded me this much since I don't know when, and I adore every second of it. There's more to this one than just looks, though; sound is also pretty cool.
The theme songs, of which there are two, are sung by Aerosmith. I'd heard two of the three songs from that group on the game, but the last one isn't one with which I'm familiar. I'm sure it's on one of their CDs, but it doesn't ring a bell. But what if you don't like Aerosmith? There are people out there who don't. Well, the lion's share of the game is other stuff. And while I wouldn't say any of it is particular striking, it all seems much better than average. Then there are the voices. No English actors. Instead, you hear the original voices. This is good because the words match the movements of the lips a lot better. And if you really care what they're saying, you can at the subtitles. Generally, they're free of grammatical errors. I only caught two or three exceptions to that rule.
Now that we've got all that out of the way, what about depth? Does the game have any? Not that I could see. The fighting system feels weak indeed. You can choose from several difficulty levels. On 'easy,' the game is precisely that. You'd have to be a total loser to find this truly challenging, final (cheap) boss excluded. But that's fine, because there are several more difficult options.
Basically, the meat of the game is the story mode. This involves a series of around 7 fights. You can set the number of rounds a fight has in the options mode. So working through the game doesn't take all that long if you play on an easy difficulty level and set it so only one round is required to declare the fight over and move to the next opponent. Also, each character has a good aresennal of special moves. The problem is that for the most part, those moves don't seem really necessary. Unless you're playing with a human opponent who is at the same skill level as yourself, fighting is going to be a mad rush to get on the offensive and stay there. Sometimes, winning a fight consists of only mashing the same button and pressing a few random directions on the controller. The depth is there if you want to bother, but it seems Team Ninja threw it in there as an afterthought, not a requirement.
If you should happen to get tired of story mode (and eventually will, probably around the time you've unlocked all the ending movies), you'll likely find yourself looking to the other modes. At a glance, it seems the developers have included a treasure chest full of them. Unfortunately, this is a case of quantity over quality. Tag mode is a nice idea, but it adds little to the game. Same for survival mode. And there's a training mode. Oh, and you can watch the computer fight itself. Yawn.
In the end, though, none of that matters. Dead or Alive 3 is highly recommended inspite of its flaws for the simple reason that it's insanely easy to pick up, play, and enjoy. A stunning visual package, complemented by a decent selection of fighters each with some cool moves, means that if you take this one home, you won't want to part with it any sooner than you would with any other fighter. It's a definite showcase for what the Xbox is capable of. If more developers would put this much effort into exclusive titles for the system, it might well dominate the competition. Kudos to Tecmo and Team Ninja.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 03, 2003)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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