Reviewed by Reznik | 01.18.06
First and foremost, I will open by saying that this is not a review from a hardcore (DOA2 pun intended) Dead or Alive fan, nor an elite fighting game master. While I'm no slouch at a little melee combat, fighting games are usually diversions or a game to play when friends come by. For the most part I have been won over by stunning graphics and a satisfying amount of depth.
Another key note to the bias of this review, I was just hit by the DOA4 game data erase bug (for lack of a better name), and have just had 20+ hours of game progress erased. Bitterness. That being said, I still find myself right back at it, and continuously coming back to a very well-crafted fighting game that is still a sensory onslaught of visual goodness.
The fighting engine is deep and overall intuitive, just make sure that you customize your controller to a scheme you're most comfortable with. It's important to really get a feel for the basic controls early on, as the counter system has a complexity in and unto itself that will require some practice. The moves flow in logical progression to anyone with a basic competency in arcade fighting. While it may not have the full depth of Soul Calibur, there are still plenty of moves that work well together, and will make sure each and every match is different and memorable. The combo system is easy enough to grasp, and you quickly get a basic sense of move progression for each of the character's different fighting styles.
What will quickly polarize people on the game the game is the more complex counter system. One of the trademarks of the DOA series has been retooled into a more intricate system with a steeper learning curve. Forcing you to learn not just when to attempt to counter your opponent's attacks, but how as you need to try and anticipate a high or low attack, and whether it's a mid punch or kick. I cannot emphasize enough how much you need to take the time to practice this new system before challenging your friends or even attempting to play online. It makes sense once you get a handle on it, but as I mentioned, it will take some time and practice.
The true test of most fighting games, is when you, who have logged in hours of game play and have really taken time to learn the game, challenge your friend who has never played the game before. Let's refer to it as the button-masher test. Is the game easy enough for a casual player to pick up, hit a few buttons and pull off some interesting moves... while the one who takes time to master the game has a decided advantage? Well, for the most part the answer in this case is yes. The button-masher will be able to hold their own, with luck, determination and an unyielding thumb hammering the attack buttons they will put out a handful of victories. The system is deep and complex enough that in time, the one who chooses to really try and master the new system, especially the counter system should pick apart your opponents with little effort.
The physics of the game work well and more than adequately convey the sense that the characters exist in their own digital world. The larger hulking characters have a weight to them, and the smaller more agile characters defy gravity just long enough to impress. Throwing Bass out a second story window with lightning fast Ayane is justifiably satisfying, almost as satisfying as the tumultuous THUD his landing creates.
The game carries more variations and depth of game play than ever before, with everything from a story mode for each character, time attack, survival mode, single or tag variations, and a hefty online mode. Whether you want to waste 20 minutes before heading into work, or setting up a full-on tournament for friends (and rivals) for an all-day event DOA4 doesn't disappoint.
Everyone has their own favouritism with the fighting system they jive with most, be it Mortal Kombat, Soul Calibur, or Tekken, any fighting fan will enjoy this game in time. While my own preference remains with the Soul Calibur series, the biggest credit to DOA being that it has completely overshadowed it in terms of both playability and visual greatness.
While not my own personal preference, still demands a 9 out of 10
This is the reason why you play the game, and most importantly what truly makes it stand out. This title alone helps justify why we handed out a bag full of cash for the newest, baddest game console (and possibly why some of us got new home theatre systems to fully take advantage of the new hardware). Even with expectations as high as they were for Team Ninja's latest opus, they did not disappoint. In my opinion they have always been at the top of the list of stunning videogame graphics masters, and they once again show how they deserve, and in some cases demand that respect. Finally a game as slick as Itagaki himself.
The character models are all very richly detailed, and beautiful to look at. The infamous DOA girls look brilliant once again, and remind us why we actually bought DOA:XV, as well as remind us that we'd do it again if they made a sequel. Varied character styles from the looming, hulking girth of Bass to the intricately detailed veins and musculature of Jann Lee, all the characters have various costumes and accessories to really set them apart. The only complaint I can make is actually a credit to Team Ninja, in that if anything, the characters haven't evolved too far from DOA3 or XV. Animations are smooth, and polished, with only the occasional jitter between moves (especially throw combos), and they move at a fluid 60FPS.
You've never played a fighting game in levels as beautiful as this game boasts. Period. I've personally found myself at the receiving end of a brutal combo simply because I was lost in the beautiful expansive environments. Sporting various levels, interactive elements, and a graphical beauty that really needs to be experienced to be believed, it's quite simply the prettiest game you'll play on your 360 console to date. Kyoto in Bloom has you surrounded by gently falling cherry blossoms, while Gambler's Paradise is Vegas on steroids in a wash of neon. Attention to detail bonus point awarded for having your personal 'motto' from your Live profile scrolling on marquees. Nice Touch.
Sound is crisp and clean, and adds to the overall experience. However if you're not a huge J-pop fan, make sure to select your own custom soundtrack as the default seems a little lacking. Directional sound for the ambient environments is well done and the fighting sound effects carry all the necessary *umph* that a full-on-rounhouse kick to the stomach should deliver.
Jaw-dropping graphics net a 9.5 out of 10 , and well-crafted albeit non-intrusive sound earns 8.5 out of 10
While suffering from some occasional lag problems, the online mode is deep and robust. With customizable avatars for an unorthodox game lobby, DOA online lets you watch other people's matches, partake in tournaments, and does have an overall online arcade kind of feel to it. Replay value is high and will keep you coming back as Quick match & Optimatch options and game rankings will usually help keep your opposition balanced. Victories will earn you higher rankings and 'Zack dollars' to use to customize your characters further, and add unending variety to the game. The short answer being that it's everything DOA fans were hoping for in a online component to the series.
With levels as huge and intricate as this game sports, it warrants further mention. From throwing your opponent into oncoming traffic in the neon maelstrom that is Gambler's Paradise, to interference from the cheetah in Savannah Safari running you over, the beautiful environments are littered with things to interact with or throw your opponent over, into, or through.
Breaking new ground in the genre and further refining past innovations earns 9 out 10
Dedication to story mode will yield instant results, and long-term rewards as unlocking additional costumes, and eventually new characters is possible. From past DOA characters to a Halo-themed Spartan character, and up to 6 or 7 costumes for some characters, the determination to completing story mode over and over again is justified. Unless of course your game is erased, and you lose all that hard-earned data. (Bitterness.)
There are almost 50 Achievements to be earned, while some are rudimentary, like 'complete story mode' or '5hrs total game time' others seem next to impossible, as in '50 matches online undefeated'. Both quick fixes and long-term addicts will both earn points. And allow me to repeat myself...Attention to detail bonus point awarded for having your personal 'motto' from your Live profile scrolling on marquees. Just those little details that makes such a difference.
One complaint I have about the game experience is the computer opponent AI. As you play through the story mode your opponents tend to increase in difficulty the further you progress, and actually vary in difficulty from match to match. You may be defeated by the same character in the same match 5 times in a row until one match when your opponent drops 5 intelligence points and you defeat them effortlessly. Conversely, there is nothing more frustrating than the occasional time the computer opponent goes into, as the fans call it,"super saiyan counter mode" when you won't be able to land a single punch and the computer will tear you up into itty-bitty pieces without a polite apology. While it does add plenty more variety to the single player game, and overall makes for a better experience, you will yell and curse at your television.
Plenty of reasons to keep playing the game over and over and over and over... 8.5 out of 10
Probably the best showcase of what the Xbox 360 is capable of to date, and further cementing Itagaki and co. as masters of what they do best. High Kicks and breast physics don't hurt either. If you don't buy this game, you'll end up renting it repeatedly, so save yourself the money in the long-run and buy it outright. With few games coming out Q1 2006, this one's a no-brainer.