Review by LCDodgeson

"It's difficult to improve on a stellar formula, and Dead or Alive 4 proves just that."

To date, Dead or Alive 4 is the latest installment of the DoA franchise. As with sequels of any fighting series, what is there to bring to the table in each new title but new characters and stages? Fighting game connoisseurs know better. We notice the new characters, the graphical upgrades, the new background music tracks, the new flashy stages and arenas etc, etc, etc. But what we're really paying attention to is how the actual system has been tweaked. Is it faster? Which hits still string together? Which can now be used as ground attacks? Has juggling been reduced or expanded on? It's these little changes that can make or break any given game in the genre.

Dead or Alive was a good game for its time. DoA 2 improved the series significantly and DoA 3 came just short of perfecting it. DoA Hardcore gave us online playability, and that alone scores the series major points. But as good as each progressive game has gotten, there are still some not-so-good aspects to the system that persisted from title to title and that still exist in the release of DoA 4. I'll get to them as I cover each part of the game.

Needless to say, Dead or Alive 4 doesn't play the same as it's 3 predecessors, and that's fine. It's a new game after all, and Team Ninja obviously thought they had enough new material, made enough changes (improvements?.....maybe), and had a big enough stage (the 360) to introduce a new chapter. It's these changes and the final product that results that I'll be centering this review on, not the plot or character backgrounds....they're always so paper thin and pointless in fighting games. Granted, the game was released practically 3 years ago, but nonetheless, there are still those fans of the franchise, and perhaps some newcomers, who have not given DoA 4 a chance yet, for whatever reason. And so we begin...

STORY - 6/10
I've never met a fighting game with a plot that pushed me to finish the game more than the fun of the actual fighting did. DoA 4 is no exception. It's there because I guess it would be even more strange to have a game that just says "OK here's a bunch of people to fight with. Have at it." But anyway, there are 3 new characters. Kokoro a young female who uses the Hakkyokuken style of martial arts (think Akira from the Virtua Fighter series). Eliot is a young British boy and apprentice to Gen Fu, a mainstay character of the series who uses a style called Xynyi Liuhe Quan. And La Mariposa is a female who fights with a Lucha Libre style, like Mexican wrestling. All other characters from previous games return. The story centers on Helena taking over DOATEC and proceeds in the form of cutscenes specific to your character in between matches. But here's where the effort fails. From the beginning of the series, it's been obvious who Team Ninja had chosen to be the "lead" characters of the franchise; specifically the "ninjas" Ryu, Kasumi, Ayane, and Hayate. These characters always receieve the better cutscenes, better endings, more costumes, etc....which leaves the other not-so-important characters, that other players may find more interesting, with minimal attention. This is the same for DoA 4. The main characters have more complete story lines that culminate in final battles with other characters deemed to be their arch rivals. It makes for an interesting, creative way of ending the Story Mode. The problem: the other "generic" characters get to share one measly, glowing smurf of a final boss. And what a cheap b*tch she can be! It's basically a rehashed, glow-in-the-dark model of Kasumi with a few extra spin kicks and the ability to teleport. Lame.

GRAPHICS - 10/10
Seriously what did you expect? Even on the older Xbox the graphics were incredible. Now they're on the 360. On top of that, we once again are witness to life's painful lesson that perfect physical beauty is unobtainable. I mean, c'mon! Real women don't look like this with tan, perfectly shaped 44" legs, skinny little size 1 waists, round, supple DD breasts, and the ability to pull off triple-flip round house kicks without going top-heavy. I'm not complaining or anything. If you're gonna karate chop someone through a wall, you might as well look good doing it. Anyway, the backgrounds and lighting and reflections in the water are spectacular, exactly what you'd expect from the franchise.

GAMEPLAY - 7/10
OK here we go. This is the meat of any fighting game and the part I'm critical of the most. I'll start with the old and work up to the new. If you're new to the series, the game has 1 button for punches, 1 button for kicks, 1 button used to block (but holding back, away from your opponent, will also accomplish this), and 1 button to throw. More moves can also be found in pressing any two buttons simultaneously. Additionally, pushing the block button and any direction of the d-pad (forward, back, down-forward, down-back, etc) will initiate a parry/hold counter attack, depending on what type of attack your opponent threw at you. What it all comes down to is a fast paced battle of attack and counterattack. Despite its simplistic nature, and user-friendly accessibility for button-mashing newbies, the system does leave a lot of room to develop your own style and strategy of attacks and counters. Special moves and combos are fluently easy to pull off for rookies and veterans alike and each character has a hefty arsenal of moves to choose from. Best yet, there's a practice mode where you can use a passive computer opponent as a punching bag to practice all of these moves on.

There are also several other game modes to keep you entertained including: Time Trial, where you try to finish all your matches in as little time as possible. Survival, where you take on an endless gauntlet of opponents till you lose, and Tag Mode where you select two characters and go 2-on-2 against other teams of characters. The fun in Tag Mode is in finding different combos to pull with different teams of characters. Some characters even have special moves they can pull off only when paired off with a specific teammate. Online mode allows you to play against human opponents via XBOX live. A fair warning though: Online is the breeding ground for serious, skilled players. If you're new and want to get good (and I mean goooooood), start playing online against opponents with higher rankings than you. You'll lose... a lot... at first, but pay attention to what they do and the styles they use. Practice on the computer in Practice Mode, then go back onine and take on the skilled players. Stick to it and you'll see your ranking climb in due time.

The pace of the game is fast. Maybe a little too fast. For a 3d fighting game that doesn't go over the top with fireballs and flying lightning gods, DoA 4 tries to strattle the fine line between realistic fighting and action-crazy kung fu films. The downfall is that the final product gives a world in which the hulking, 300-pound muscle characters move and attack just as fast as the skinny little ninja characters. There is no dynamic between character size/type or fighting style. Everyone moves at the same speed: FAST! Because of this, another negative point arises. Characters show very little (if any) recoil from blocked attacks. It's not a far cry for one character to gain the upper hand quickly in a fight just by spamming the punch and kick buttons on a player who's initial intention was to block the first flurry of blows. This is extremely unfair because, the blocking player actually takes longer to recover from making the block than the attacking player takes from committing the attack. Seasoned players will quickly turn the tide of battle with a well-placed counter hold, but, against another seasoned player who knows how to mix up high and low attacks to avoid an easy counter, this can devastatingly end the match a little too quickly. This also lends to another negative point specific to DoA 4.

Through the first 3 chapters, characters had specific attacks just for hitting opponents on the ground. Nothing wrong there. Ground attacks are part of every fighting game. Unfortunately, Team Ninja thought it would be sweet in DoA 4 if ANY low attack could hit an opponent on the ground. Not a good move. Though it may seem like a good step towards realistic fighting for the game, it screws with the system because they (Team Ninja) didn't allow for characters on the ground to react fast enough to get up or out of the way of these relentless ground hits. Much like other fighting games, there is the ability to do a quick roll once you hit the ground to avoid laying idle for a few seconds as hit bait. The problem is, try as you might, this little maneuver either A) isn't always available in every situation...or B) can be very tricky to time right and pull off. Next thing you know, Hitomi is rushing at you with a low 4-hit combo over and over and over. Worse yet, once you're actually on the ground, or hit with a ground hit, your character is very unresponsive for a quick second before making an attempt to get up. Once again, this opens the door for your opponent to unleash more hell on you. As you can see, it's simply too easy for one side to gain the upper in a fight thanks to the revamped system.

Some casual players or newcomers will also be turned off to the fact that there is no adjustable difficulty in the game. The more you lose to any computer controlled opponent, the easier they become in the next match.

MUSIC/SOUND EFFECTS - 8/10
The music tracks are good, quality tracks. They're what you'd expect to hear during a high impact, intense kung fu fight. But they aren't very memorable. No song will stick in your head like Guile's or Ken's themes would from back in the Street Fighter 2 days. But Aerosmith is back with DoA 4's theme song "Eat the Rich" from their title cd. So that's a plus.

The sound effects are spot on. Connecting with a big uppercut or jump kick sounds like it hurts and noises come from all different directions depending on where you are on the stage.

REPLAYABILITY - 7/10
It's a fighting game. One play through won't last long. The real fun lies in taking on your friends or hopping online and trying your luck against the skilled competition from around the world. You may want to replay Story Mode to see ever character's ending or unlock additional characters and costumes, or maybe to even practice using some new combos in a real match. Other than that, there's not much more point to replaying.

BUY or RENT?
That depends. If you're a fan of the franchise, definitely buy it, but don't expect the same experience as DoA 3 or Hardcore. Remember, the fight system has been revamped, so it may feel a little awkward at first, but the same premise is there, as before.

If you're new to the show, you may want to rent first before you buy. DoA is like the board game Othello: Easy to learn, but difficult to master. If you're the kind of gamer that just likes to race from beginning to end, unlocking everything along the way, and then put the game back up on the shelf only to collect dust, definitely just rent it. You can easily clear everything in this game over a weekend, maybe even one day if you're really board.

FINAL SCORE - 7/10
Bottom line, it's the same DoA, yet not the same. Regardless, it's still a fun title.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/28/08

Game Release: Dead or Alive 4 (US, 12/29/05)


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