Buy 'DEAD OR ALIVE 4': X360
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Dead or Alive 4 hit right at about the tail end of the first string of the Xbox 360 opening lineup and brought the long-awaited Dead or Alive series into the next-gen era. It's no surprise that fans of the series have waited for DOA4 with baited breath, and it's also no real surprise that Team Ninja has delivered a worthy successor. While DOA4 definitely doesn't feel like as much of a next-gen jump as DOA3 was on the original Xbox, there are still enough improvements to make any fan of the fighting game genre sit up and take notice.
The story lines in the Dead or Alive series have never made much sense, but just as in the other iterations in the series, the gist of it is that for one reason or another, a group of fighters must battle each other one-on-one to achieve their own goals. That's pretty much all the plot synopsis you'll need too, as (just as before) it's the gameplay that really carries the title. DOA4 plays a lot like DOA3, and indeed many of the combos and tactics you honed in the previous title will work just the same here.
For those who haven't played DOA3, the fighting is very quick, stylized, and fluid. Attacks are broken up in terms of high, medium, low, and throws. The first three can be blocked by pressing the counterpart's direction and the counter button at the exact right moment, while you can break free of throws by pressing your own throw button at the right time. The gameplay is very fast and almost frantic at times, though characters vary in terms of their overall fighting styles, from lightning fast but weaker, to somewhat slower but more powerful.
What differentiates DOA4 from DOA3 is that the timing window for counters is much, much more exacting, and there are many more contextual moves. For instance, you can kick off of a nearby wall and deliver a weak but fast attack to your opponent, or in the wresting ring level, you can actually launch from the top ropes. These moves hardly upset the balance, and the gameplay definitely hasn't become full of them by any measure, but it adds another facet to the gameplay that, while rather small, is still both interesting and welcome. Other subtle changes are working under the hood as well, such as how characters can no longer die by getting kicked through a wall or off a balcony. Sure, they'll still take a good deal of damage but this time around, they'll always have at least a sliver of life on the other side.
The roster of fighters in DOA4 is essentially the return of the favorites, along with a few new faces. The starting lineup consists of Kasumi, Hayate, Brad Wong, Bass, Jann Lee, Tina, Bayman, Ayane, Ryu Hayabusa, Hitome, Zack, Leifang, Christie, Eliot, La Mariposa, and Kokoro. Eliot is a male high school student with a fighting style that is not unlike Gen Fu's, while Kokoro is a female fighter from a small village who chose to enter the DOA tournament instead of learning music. La Mariposa is a wrestler with a (not so) secret identity, and if you've played some of the more, er, offshoot games in the Dead or Alive universe, you'll instantly realize who she truly is.
Among the unlockable characters are Gen Fu, Leon, Ein, Helena, Tengu, and the least secret bonus character in the known universe, the Spartan. The Spartan isn't the Master Chief from the Halo titles but rather a female warrior who is still plenty able to break down some people, despite being unarmed. The Spartan is probably one of the slowest fighters in the game, but she also has some of the strongest attacks, and anyone who enjoys sticking a plasma grenade to a Grunt's face will undoubtedly enjoy the Spartan's signature throw.
When you jump into the online mode of Dead or Alive 4, you will initially strongly believe that somehow, someway, Team Ninja has drugged you. The lobbies that players wait in before a fight are visually different from any other part of the game, where avatars are strange, cartoony animals waiting around inside of even stranger areas. The actual online fighting, though, is more serious, and very well thought-out. Instead of randomly putting new players against die-hard fanatics, Team Ninja has implemented a grading system to make it so that fights are a little more balanced. Win your fights, and you'll gain Zack dollars, which you can use to purchase more avatars and lobbies, as well as additional costumes and items that show up on your character as you fight.
The online settings you can tweak are vast and varied, such setting up the life bars, round timers, the style of battle, or even such settings as reserving a certain amount of slots in your lobby for people on your friends list. The online community, whether it's inspired by the trippy lobbies or not, is generally made up of a bunch of cool people, and the experience you get is really not unlike what you'd get if you took 16 players and put them in an arcade fighting each other on one machine round-robin style.
The graphics in Dead or Alive 4 are all easily considered eye candy. The environments have a degree of detail to them that is unmatched in any fighting game to date, from subtle nuances of the architecture to the fact that when a kicked fighter slams into a fruit stand, its contents will realistically roll and bounce down the hill. Some of the levels look almost as good as the rendered cut scenes of the previous title, and that's something that speaks volumes for the grasp that Team Ninja already has on the inner workings of the Xbox 360 console.
Once you beat the story mode with a character, you unlock their ending movie, which looks spectacular as always, although their entertainment value goes across the board. At the same time, the character models aren't quite as much of a jump from their counterparts in the previous title in the series. Characters now have a large amount of high-resolution textures and bump mapping applied to them, which is where the biggest improvements on the character models are. At the same time, the textures themselves (barring, of course, the multitude of new costumes) and the models look like they haven't changed much from the previous title. All points being equal, though, this definitely is graphical quality far out of the range of the previous Xbox console, and easily something that will draw drooling gamers to the glass storefronts of video game stores nationwide.
Dead or Alive 4 has no problems whatsoever when it comes to the audio department, however, and has no qualms about making absolutely sure that the visceral impact of slamming an opponent against a solid object with a strong kick reverberates in your head. Punches and kicks definitely don't sound like slaps and love taps, and there's a large enough variety of the sound effects to make it so you really don't ever feel like you're hearing the same sounds over and over. The in-game music is tasteful and fits the level while not being too overbearing. Missing an obvious (and not really well-deserved anyway) jab of a segue, Aerosmith has once again graced both the opening and ending credits of the title. Call me crazy, but it just wouldn't be the same without Steven Tyler's wailing.
At the end of the day, Dead or Alive 4 is an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys fighting games to any degree. The title has the rare distinction of being largely devoid of any real flaws, short of nitpicking the graphics or remarking about how similar it is to DOA 3. Dead or Alive 4 has enough new content in it to set it apart, and although the gameplay itself is liberally borrowed from the previous title, it also remains the same solid fighting engine and definitely doesn't feel like a rehash as much as it does a resemblance. The online play is largely lagless and fairly balanced in that gamers of any skill level can pick it up and have some fun, and the same can really be said about the game as a whole. Dead or Alive 4 looks good, plays great, and has a stable of features that other titles in the genre can't even approach; what more coaxing could a gamer want?
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