Review by Gruel

"Unfortunately, this review isn't as luscious as the DOA vixens"

I'm starting to notice a trend lately for system launches. There are a certain few third party franchises these past couple generations that always seem to be there either at launch or shortly thereafter (“launch window”). First I noticed it being Ridge Racer being present around launch time for the PSone, PS2, PSP, DS, and Xbox 360. Then I noticed EA's and Activision's cash cow Madden and Tony Hawk games have been released on launch for almost all the platforms since the PS2 and up. The latest franchise I'm noticing is Tecmo's acclaimed fighter, Dead or Alive. Now arriving just a month past the 360 launch is Dead or Alive 4 (DOA4).

Almost all the old DOA favorites return for another go in DOA4 along with three featured new fighters. First there is Kokoro, a Ba Ji dancer from Japan. Then there is a mysterious masked woman luchadore named La Mariposa. Finally we have Eliot, a young British apprentice of Master Gen Fu. Oh yeah, I almost forgot about you know who. I'm talking about the secret Spartan, Nicole-458, from the Halo franchise, as well as a stage based off of the Nassau Station from Halo 2. She is also the only character that has English voice acting. Her only gimmick attack related to Halo is grabbing an opponent and sticking a plasma grenade to them (c'mon no pistol whip?).

I am glad to say that DOA4 doesn't disappoint. It continues to build upon the amazing gameplay aspects introduced in DOA3 and DOA Ultimate on the Xbox. The main controls feel mostly the same as the latest DOA installments. Other than a few adjustments I'll mention later on, a lot of DOA3 and Ultimate vets or novices alike should be able to get a solid grasp of the controls in no time. Thankfully, the new 360 controller eliminates the hard to reach black and white buttons with bumpers, making gameplay even easier.

One of the biggest gameplay additions of DOA in the Xbox era was the ability to counter moves. It didn't seem that big of a deal back in DOA3. It didn't happen too frequently, and didn't feel vital to gameplay. That is the complete opposite now in DOA4. Countering is absolutely vital to the controls and it will force you into completely redoing your plan of attack for each fight. Precise timing allows you to counter an opponent's attack in a plethora of ways, and it isn't as tricky to pull off like it was in DOA3 anymore. Practicing counters is essential, or else you'll be in for a world of trouble.

Why would you be in a world of trouble you ask? It is because the computer is ridiculously tough. I am not talking about the tougher difficulty settings either (which are insanely hard), it is the default normal difficulty (there is no easy difficulty) that had me cursing up a storm as it seemed the computer was countering over half the moves I was dishing out at them. Yes, I do recall just saying moves were easier to counter, but not in the crazy succession the AI pulls them off in. This may come as no surprise for some people as Tecmo is notorious for their game's tougher and more difficult levels of gameplay (Ninja Gaiden on Xbox anyone?).

On one hand I am thankful for the developers at Team Ninja for making the lowest setting a pain in the arse because it forced me to rethink my strategy and ultimately turned me into a better player. On the other hand, I was constantly irritated every frequent time I got my butt whooped (I lost track of times the computer got flawless victories on me) and came close to chucking my controller against the wall on numerous occasions. At least by Tecmo forcing me to play better I can now put up a fight against my friends and online.

DOA4's online offerings have some uniqueness to their depth. Almost all the online functionality introduced in DOA Ultimate has remained in tact for DOA4. Players still enter a room watching the current fight in progress and have to wait in que of the other players ahead of them as each loser goes to the bottom of the que, much like in arcades back in the day. Up to 14 players can be watching a fight at a time, and yes I have encountered some serious bouts of lag whenever there are more than just a mere four or five people watching at once. Some of the lag was minor and easy to ignore, other times it wasn't. However, I once created a match with a disabled que and invited a friend; we played for over an hour straight with very minimal lag until the game froze on both of us. Thankfully, this is the only time the game froze on me online. Players win online credits they can use to purchase items to change their online avatar, or pieces of furniture they can use to place in the new lobbies.

Lobbies are the rooms that gamers enter once they select an online game to join. There is even a little makeshift monitor in there of the current fight going on at hand. They are themed off things like Halloween and outer space, and the furniture pieces you purchase by earning credits allows for people to chill out and interact there while they wait. Unfortunately the catch is you do not move up the que of spectators until you enter the separate spectator section of that lobby. So it pretty much renders most of the whole lobby aspect useless unless you want to take a breather after going on a serious marathon of fights.

The rest of the modes from previous DOA installments return as well to up the replay value with the excellent online component. If you love the luscious DOA vixens, then you'll keep playing through the game's Story mode to unlock all their costumes and everyone's superbly crafted CG ending cinemas. Practice those counters and learn the insane combos in Sparring mode, for all you folks who don't have Xbox Live Gold you can even be a spectator offline of the CPU in Watch Mode. Other regulars also return like Time Attack, Survival, Versus, and Team Battle modes. Finally, there is the awesome Tag Battles returning (get three of your friends to play this with you and I guarantee you'll have hours of nonstop fun).

I remember when I saw the first screenshots of DOA4 I initially thought to myself, “the game looks good and all, but not so much improved from DOA3.” Boy, was I wrong. You have to see DOA4 in motion to truly appreciate it. It is the same art style as DOA3, yes, but there are so many little details that the screenshots cannot capture. All the characters look like they got a big polish job and couldn't have looked better. The animations are crisp and smooth and I haven't seen another 3D fighter transition from move-to-move better than DOA4. The stages that these feuds are settled in look just as gorgeous too. Whether waging war in city streets that has Forza-quality cars zooming by or battling in a creek with water that splashes beautifully as you move about in it, my jaw dropped by how stunning each stage shined.

I cannot say the same thing about the audio in DOA4. The usual assortment of dance/techno riffs dominates the background music as before, and for the most part they are pretty good. The sound effects are spot on as always, but not anything memorable. The thing I'm ticked about is other than Nicole-458, there is a complete lack of English voice acting for the characters. Sure you can say Tecmo is sticking to its roots, but DOA4 loses some points in my book when all the non-Japan native fighters shout away their battle taunts in Japanese. At least take the road of games like Tekken and Virtua Fighter that have all the character's voice acting performed in their native tongue.

It may have had a negative impact on missing the global launch of the 360 by a month (mostly in Japan anyways), but the wait was worth it. If you can get past that insanely hard computer AI and keep practicing away, then you will find yourself one of the best fighters on the market. This game has replay through the roof with a very good online component and a ton of unlockables and gameplay modes. If you are a fan of fighting games whatsoever, than go out and make Dead or Alive 4 one of the first games in your 360 library today.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/13/06

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