The mighty flagship fighting game for Xbox has returned again at the beginning of Microsoft’s new consoles life. Dead or Alive 4 (DOA4) narrowly missed being released at launch but appeared on Japanese and American shop shelves up to a month later. Fighting games have never being plentiful on an Xbox console and with Tecmo’s/ Team Ninja’s support of the Xbox and of course the new blood Xbox 360 it is good so see that fans of the genre have something to get their paws on. DOA games have always been about fast paced fighting with a number of characters from across the globe and I think that other than the actual fighting one of its main appeals is the option to unlock various outfits for each character. This has been a big part of the game since its early appearance on the Playstation One and now several years later on the Xbox 360. You might argue “so what, who cares for costumes” but when you consider most fighting games offer few and most likely simple colour variations, DOA games are a breath of fresh air on the eyes at least especially when some characters had up to 20 different outfits. Well that was then and this is now and DOA 4 is the latest fighter in the series and the first fighter to appear on the Xbox 360.
The basic premise of any fighting game is to pick a character and then enter into matches verses the computer or against a friend and whilst many novice players can probably have a fair bit of enjoyment out of the game randomly hitting attack and block buttons at the correct time; the real depth to most fighting games is when you begin to look beneath the surface to discover that your chosen character has more than the 10 moves you used simply by randomly tapping buttons. Anyone new to fighting games or in fact new to DOA 4 should first hit the sparring mode which allows you to learn some moves (there’s a viewable comprehensive list) and start to understand the nuances of your chosen character. The sparring mode not only allows you to perform each move but also allows you to go toe to toe with a computer opponent who you can program to do all sorts of moves to help you practise certain situations that will occur during normal play; things like blocking combos or even learning to counter attack moves can be learnt here with relative ease but also a little bit of time investment. Sure you can throw yourself into the deep end and begin to attack some of the other modes on offer and maybe have a few victories from the offset but then you would be robbing yourself of understanding the game fully.
The story mode is probably the second place you are likely to enter as it is here where you are able to follow a rather vague storyline featuring your chosen character (there are 16 in total with one un-lockable character). What this translates to are various cut-scenes and dialogue prior to each fight as you work your way up to the end boss of the game. Completing Story mode with a character unlocks a movie sequence and an alternative outfit and again more outfits can be unlocked on subsequent plays. So if you want to get every outfit for all the characters then you are more than likely going to be spending a fair bit of time here. Story mode features only one round per bout and so depending on your skill doesn’t take too long to beat the 8 stages.
Time attack is more traditional fighting where players have to beat their opponent twice before they can progress to the next stage. This eliminates any fluke victories and also gives the loser of the first round a chance to hit back. As the name implies the onus here is on beating all who oppose you in the quickest time possible. Once complete you can check how you fair against other players across the globe if you are connected to Xbox Live. If not then you can still try and earn bronze, silver and gold awards for beating your opponents quickly. Time attack also allows you to use some of the characters unlocked from beating the story mode portion of the game.
The tag mode makes a welcome return and is pretty much the same as a normal match except this time you are allowed to pick two characters on your team and switch between them at any time during a fight. Tag matches allow for some rather spectacular team moves to be performed and naturally the person who isn’t fighting gets the chance to recover some energy. Tag matches also allow for some new combos to be unleashed and with some experimentation you can do some pretty flashy yet devastating moves.
The survival mode also makes a welcome return and allows players to take part in single or tag survival matches. In this mode there are no breaks in the action as once an opponent has been defeated, another takes his/her place by jumping into the ring. Again players can compare their scores with others across the globe but also try and attain the bronze, silver and gold awards.
The other modes on offer are various verses modes (more about those later) and of course the Watch mode which allows you to simply kick back and watch two or more CPU controlled characters duke it out for all eternity. Watch mode allows players the chance to mess around with the camera angles and also the option to take snapshots of the characters in action and store them in a gallery.
Now on to the actual fighting; firstly you choose a fighter from a healthy mixture of combatants comprising of various male and females from across the globe and each with their own style of fighting. Then it’s into the game to take on your first opponent. If you have spent some time in sparring mode and are familiar with past DOA games then it becomes quite clear that the game has changed a little from previous outings. Sure the mechanics are pretty much the same in that you punch, kick, counter and throw opponents until their health bar reaches zero but the nuances of the game have been altered. One thing that is more easily noticed is the counters which use a four point system for countering high attacks, mid attacks, low attacks and mid kicking attacks. This is nothing new but the timing has become a lot more challenging in the sense that players have a smaller window of opportunity to counter an attack than previously. Also the game offers a lot more moves for each character and a steady amount of moves which allow you to launch your opponent into the air and follow through with more attacks (Juggling) before they have a chance to counter attack or even block. Also being hit near walls can prove deadly as smashing an opponent into a wall and then following up with more attacks as they rebound seems to be a lot more effective. Ground attacks have also been slightly altered in the sense that you can hit a grounded opponent with more low moves. It also means that floored opponents need to use more thought in actually getting up such as using tech rolls (get up as soon as they hit the floor) or timed mid or low attacks from the side; being wary that a skilled player can launch another flurry of attacks should you get up sloppily.
One of the most noticeable changes is in the level of AI difficulty which appears to have been beefed up significantly. What this translates to is a computer controlled opponent countering your moves more often and being a lot more aggressive compared to previous games in the series. Some of you might call out the “Cheap” card and complain that the AI simply cheats and does the impossible where as more experienced players translate the AI to being clever in the sense that it forces you to learn powerful combos and also forces you to mix up your moves more. Simply repeating the same moves over and over isn’t going to get you very far at all unless you have mastered the art of blocking or countering. The most obvious cause for frustration amongst lesser skilled players is the end boss Kasumi Clone who not only attacks aggressively with huge combos that can drain half of your health bar away but can also grab you to cause similar damage. Again with simply learning and perseverance it becomes clear that even a character such as this has very distinct weaknesses, which you can use to your advantage. Smaller additions to the fighting include things like jumping over low obstacles and launching an attack whilst vaulting, which certainly looks impressive but is not something you will be able to use often unless the fight moves that way.
A lot has been said about the game’s graphics from the early screenshots that appeared last year. There seemed to be two schools of thought with one camp saying the game looks the same as DOA: Ultimate on Xbox and the other saying otherwise. I think its safe to say that there is probably some truth to both sides of the argument because although DOA 4 does not look like a huge leap forward in terms of graphics there are nuances that you will immediately notice whilst playing. The character models look mightily similar to their Xbox cousins but are animated a lot more with things like flowing outfits, ribbons and hair moving more realistically than previous games. The costumes themselves have been given a lot more polish and by using higher resolution textures look much better. The most noticeable improvement is probably found when looking at the stages which user better textures on surfaces and generally look fuller than previous games. On one stage which features a small stream below a rickety old wooden, rope bridge you can clearly see a higher level of details when looking at surfaces, especially the rocks which look almost photorealistic. There’s always been a level of interaction with the stages in DOA games and DOA 4 simply carries on this tradition and adds some of its own flavour such as vaulting over low objects during combat. What is more the game runs perfectly smoothly with all this high level of detail and it’s here where you have to appreciate that the Xbox wouldn’t be able to cope with it all.
Sound is as you would expect for a fighting game which features plenty of groans and fighting cries combined with the sound of knuckle or foot against body. There is dialogue in Japanese (there are English subtitles) which bring to life the characters and being foreign I can only say that the voice acting well performed. The music is rather lacking in my opinion and features remixed themes from the previous games. It’s actually quite low in the mix and something that is paced enough to suit the mood of the combat. Players are able to use their own music via the 360 dashboard which is a good thing if you are not so keen on the in game music; however there is some enjoyment hearing the Halo theme music being featured in the game when using the female Spartan un-lockable character.
When is a game complete? A good question when it comes to fighting games because in theory it could take months to learn all the moves for each character and then perfect them during combat. In the sense of unlocking everything in the game then competent players can probably accomplish this in a few days of solid play. Beating personal top scores is one thing to attain for after unlocking everything as is challenging friends for a game or two. If you are connected to Xbox Live then you have the added bonus of fighting against players from across the globe in various Tag and Single battle match types. Winning or losing in matches affects your overall ranking and also gains you points which can be used to purchase new costumes for the Characters or new items for your lobby avatar character. The lobbies online all have various themes and little characters running around. Here you can chat with other players and also watch matches that are taking place. You control the character and can dress him/her/it up to your hearts content if you have enough funds. The lobbies are simple, unique and a minor distraction from the main game, especially in appearance as everything is cute looking!
DOA 4 is an excellent addition to the current roster of games that have appeared since launch. It offers fast paced fighting with some familiar and new faces and it certainly looks very pretty indeed. The art style of the characters remains the same as in previous iterations of the game which is heavily influenced by anime (Japanese Animation). The core game mechanics feel fluid and fairly balanced; as no single character seems to dominate I guess time will tell if there is a tier system for the characters when the experts have had more time to experiment. Each character has their own style and level of difficulty to learn and it is here where players can invest the most time. To truly master any fighter you need to be proficient with all characters. DOA 4 offers an enjoyable yet frustrating experience depending on your levels of skill and patience. Players should be warned that they shouldn’t expect to be able to beat the game on a first play as the computer can be a little tricky at times; practice makes perfect and is more reliable than luck. DOA 4 is a solid fighting game which is a fun to play and look at addition to anyone’s gaming collection. The more work you put into this game the more you will get out of it.