The fighting game genre is fast becoming saturated, with most franchises churning out multiple new games and HD remakes of past games by the truckload. Surprisingly, the Dead or Alive (DOA) franchise, including its Xtreme spin-offs, has been fairly quiet in this rat race. The latest – Dead or Alive 5 (DOA5), the first DOA game on the PS3, makes a late entry this gen, but does it manage to stand out?
The first thing that blatantly does stand out is the utter lack of fighters in the game’s character select screen. These days, it’s normal to expect 40+ characters right out of the box. In contrast, DOA5 has a total of 25 (5 unlockable), with three – Akira, Sarah and Pai Chan – borrowed from the Virtua Fighter series. If you’re new to the DOA universe, it might come as a surprise to discover that the four face buttons of your controller are simply mapped to punch, kick, block and throw. That’s it! There’s no low/medium/high punch, or left/right kick, or for that matter a complex combination of buttons to pull off a throw. The simple key configuration means that the game is extremely easy to pick up for players new to the DOA universe or to the fighting game genre in general. The game also provides an option to either fighting solo or as a tag team of two fighters, both of whom need to be defeated to end a brawl.
DOA5 does try and infuse some complexity into its fighting mechanism by introducing the rock-paper-scissors system involving strikes, throws and holds (countering the opponent’s blow by pressing back and block buttons at the moment just before impact) – strikes beat throws, throws beat holds, and holds beat strikes. However, this sounds more complex than it really is because most of the time, strikes beat just about everything else. Most people I’ve fought with care very little about holds and throws and just keep spamming a fast, long combo of their favourite fighter. Eventually, it all comes down to which fighter has the fastest strikes. Pick up Christie, who has a simple five-punch combo ending with a critical stun, and you will get through just about any battle easily.
The stages are fairly interactive and opponents can be inflicted extra damage when correctly pushed to strategic corners. A special move called Power Blow can also be performed by the player when their health drops below half. This move cinematically slams the opponent into the stage to deal mega damage.
The fighting can be experienced offline in a story mode, which is similar to that of Mortal Kombat, with fairly lengthy cutscenes in between the 70 or so stages spanning all the DOA5 fighters. Each stage also has a bonus objective, which can be ignored, teaching the game mechanics to a new player. Other offline modes are Arcade, Time Attack and Survival – which are all a series of eight rounds – and Versus and Training. The Training mode has a displayable command list of all the combos. There is also a Spectator mode that lets you pit CPU vs CPU and then sit back and just watch the endless fighting, taking photos which can be seen in the Album menu. Only titles and costumes can be unlocked, which happens automatically when completing the offline modes with different characters. The points earned during the matches are meaningless and contribute only towards the final leaderboard. In all, the offline mode is fairly basic and the elaborate Story mode cutscenes are the only saving grace.
The onlines modes are Rank Match, Simple Match and Lobby Match (with up to 16 people), with only Rank Match contributing towards ranked online grades. In a Rank Match, you can select various options such as neighbourhood region and opponent grade preferences and then fight an online opponent, at the end of which the game forces you to repeat and rinse without providing an option of a quick rematch. One can also find Replays of online matches, which proves to be a tedious task since searching fighter-specific replays is not possible. The online lag, fortunately, isn’t too bad.
The graphics are a mixed bag. The fighters look great and feel fluid in motion, with an extra emphasis given to the female fighters’ upper-body physics. The stages, however, feel a bit outdated. Perhaps their interactive nature hinders the ability to render them in a higher resolution. The loading times at the fighter select menu and before matches are also tolerable. Although the story mode cinematics are well done, it would have been nice had there been some for Arcade Mode endings as well. The background music is standard for fighting games and the voice acting is decent.
Dead or Alive 5 proves to be a good game that is easy to pick up and play. It tries to cater to people looking for simple button-mashing and also to those looking for something more complex. However, the lacking fighter roster as compared to rival series of today is a major hindrance in providing with a long term value. The fighting mechanics, which implode due to the overpowering fast striking combos, also fail to provide a deep fighting experience.