Review by Jitawa

"Next Gen Graphics and Past Gen Gameplay"

DOA4 is the newest opus from Itagaki and the rest of Team Ninja. Fans of Ninja Gaiden will be happy to see that Ryu remains in the series, and now sports his the ninja gear from his most recent outing. For the purposes of this review I've broken down my the game into a Preface, Single Player, Multiplayer, Graphics, and Sound/Music.

Preface (no score):
People tend to have strong opinions about the various fighting franchises out there, so I figured I should mention where I was coming from. The last DOA I played was DOA2:Hardcore for the PS2. I liked the game, and was pretty excited about picking up this newest next-gen fighter. The last fighting game I really got into was Soul Calibur 2 for the Xbox, which I thought was great. It was nice to see the mechanics and gameplay of fighting games improving, since days of yore.

Bearing that in mind, I have a few criticisms of DOA4, which may not impact your opinion of the game:

First off, the voiceovers are all in Japanese (well, one exception). There's a strong sentiment with folks out there suggesting that Japanese voiceovers are superior to English ones. I'd be inclined to say that if the previous DOA English voiceovers were bad (and they were), they need new VAs, not to just toss the whole idea. I personally don't care if the voices in Japanese (or any foreign language for that matter) are done by the best A-list movie actors in their country... or even the Prime Minister - if I can't understand what they're saying, what's the point? Obviously, some of the characters ARE Japanese, but it seems silly that an American DJ who's talking to himself... would do so in Japanese. Likewise, seeing an American wrestler walk out with a American Flag halter top and start spouting Japanese to her American father... it's just ridiculous - regardless of how bad you think American voice-acting has been in the past. Subtitles just aren't the same.

Secondly, I had the impression that fighting games were progressing past some of the more stupid mechanisms of the past. It aims for realism in environments and fighting mechanics, yet retains one of the more silly items from fighting games in general: juggling. A match between two opponents in a fighting game should ideally be based sheerly on skill, and allow both combatants ample opportunity to evidence such. Juggling is, and always will be, a cheap maneuver since it basically take the steering wheel away from one of the players. It may show skill on the jugglers part in putting someone in the air and keeping them there, but if the other player basically loses on account of a single maneuver -- what has been proven? That the game was designed poorly, and that it has very abusable elements (this, after Itagaki delayed it for balancing). How realistic is some girl keeping a wrestler permanently airborne with straight punches? You can't win a match solely by juggling (that I've seen anyhow), but it's still irksome that stuff like this is still around (especially for a game that touts it's countering and defensive gameplay).

Lastly, while they seem to have done a pretty good job with collision detection and clipping, there remains a number of apparent glitches or oversights in terms of hit connecting and such. By this, I mean low attacks like foot sweeps will occasionally knock characters out of the sky, when there obviously was no connection made between the two bodies. And while matters like these are bound to happen, there's a fair number of attacks which appear as if they should land first, but are trumped by attacks which are seemingly in the process of.. or still executing. The latter of these issues is mostly aesthetically displeasing, but it annoying to see on a replay if you get taken out by it.

Single Player (5):
The DOA series has long had a rep as a pick-up-in-play sort of fighter (button masher to some). The difficulty has been ramped up from previous installments, and even on normal.. many players will likely get smacked around. The game has changed into a more defense-focused game, since the AI is very much aggressive and offensive. For many gamers, it may take some adjusting to see that to play effectively you need to counter/block and generally be more wary of your opponents.

Unfortunately, there's little to help you in this area. If you have experience doing blocking and countering from other games (like guard impacts in Soul Calibur2) you may adapt pretty quickly, otherwise it's mostly a trial by fire. The game includes a sparring mode, where you can have the opponent spam the same attacks over and over, but it's not the same as learning to execute the moves in a fight situation. There are two viable alternatives: one is playing against human opponents on Xbox-live (assuming you have a connection/subscription), though this is a hit and miss proposition. The other is to learn against the fairly difficult AI. This calls to mind one of the games major shortcomings: no lower difficulties. If you can't hack it in Normal, you can't really do anything else (and you can't unlock most of the content either). I can't help but feel sorry for fighting novices who come to the game, and can't really enjoy it because of a steep learning curve.

For people that have played DOA previously, the window for which a counter can be performed has been shortened by a fair margin. Most of the difficulty comes from learning to time these moves, and predicting your enemies attacks. The latter being the more difficult.

Which brings us to another issue in single-player: the AI. The AI will never have any problems reading your attacks, and countering. For whatever reason (this is what makes even the "Normal" difficulty hard), the AI has been made psychic and will often be catching and countering your moves. So, you may not know what the AI will do next, but it knows what buttons you're pressing. If you play a defensive game (and get good at recognizing all the different characters attacks), this is less of a problem. The biggest AI abuser, and just overall cheapest character is the final boss (for most characters, some characters will fight an alternate opponent). He/She is blindingly fast, has single attacks (not combos mind you) that will take your health down by half, can teleport out of the way of your attacks only to appear right behind you and lay the smack down. He/she also has long fast high damage combos - this bout is likely to frustrate many players (especially in Time-Attack Mode). Not unbeatable, but definitely cheap.

Since most of the problems in single-player are AI related, the mutiplayer experience is vastly superior. All your opponents have the same shot as you at reading moves and performing a counter. The only reason I don't rate this a 10 is because there are balance issues with characters. Some are just better, some have pseudo-advantages... the luchadora has a number of "off-the-ropes" attacks that are specific to a single stage for instance, so her possible move-set changes depending on the battleground. Fighting games have always had characters with cheap attacks, but it is a bit disappointing.

Multiplayer games can unlock various items (including costumes if you dislike the single player) though the prices are kinda steep. There are waiting rooms and avatars, and various customizations... all very cool. All of my games so far have been lag-free, and the element of being spectator to the matches you aren't in gives it a certain.. "waiting for your turn" at the arcade feeling... very cool. I think most people will enjoy the multiplayer.

The graphics and detail in the game are outstanding. It looks and runs silky smooth in high-def. The characters all look great, some would say "not-realistic", but the level of detail and articulation of movements is still wonderful. The environments are particularly well done. Many elements are destructable, the playable areas are vast, and even the spectators look good. The attention to detail is certainly greater than I've ever seen in any game: Example -- In the ringside arena, fans will be hoisting signs with the names of the fighters, these change to match the current pugilists. Other things like seeing your gamer motto scroll by on the Marquee are just gravy. It's a great looking game.

The game sounds good. Punches tend to sound like punches (or like punches sound in fighting games anyhow), and sound effects are generally appropriate. Nothing really wowed me in this area. The music was "ok", Aerosmith is noteworthy, but other than that it was pretty non-descript. I have a problem slamming music in a 360 game though, since you really can listen to whatever you want off the hard-drive if you're so inclined.

The game features breath-taking environments and super-fluid combat. The game also possess a strong multiplayer component with a slick interface and some cool options. The overall presentation is marred by an overly steep learning curve, cheap AI, and several issues that bothered me personally (voices, cheap mechanics, and some general "glitches").

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 01/04/06

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