For the most part, Dead or Alive 5 is the same Dead or Alive game you’ve played three times before. That’s not a bad thing, there’s something overwhelmingly addictive and fluid about the fighting mechanics. The formula has been tweaked – yes, the female characters now look less like inflatable dolls, yes, you can now interact with environments in strange, over-the-top ways, and yes, you can now sidestep to avoid strikes – but for the most part, things haven’t really changed.
Which is basically what you want from the next incarnation of a fighting game series, isn’t it? A few noticeable ‘advances’ in an otherwise, welcomingly familiar game. Well, Dead or Alive fans, there’s enough here to remind you why you love the series, and enough to convince you to fork over money for it.
The first thing fans will notice is the new look. I know, it’s superficial to kick off a review with a discussion about graphics, but Dead or Alive has always been… preoccupied with the look (and bounce) of its characters. This time around, the characters seem more like real people than they ever have before. Gone is the porcelain sheen character models had in previous incarnations, replaced with entirely more realistic skin tones. The female bodies are slightly less ridiculously proportioned, as if Team Ninja want to reiterate that these aren’t just characters to be ogled at, but ones to be fought with.
It feels like a game that wants to be taken more seriously than its predecessors. In the past, it was T and A first, gameplay second. Taking the spotlight off the character’s sexuality (even if only slightly), really gives what really are solid fighting mechanics room to stand up on their own right.
For those who are unfamiliar with Dead or Alive, fighting in the series is built around three truths: that a strike beats a throw, that a throw beats a hold and that a hold beats a strike. It’s a series that’s always been easy to pick up and play, fast, wildly fun and rewarding when properly mastered. The fundamentals remain largely unchanged in Dead or Alive 5. There are two big changes. You can now sidestep and immediately counter attacks, and interact with your environments in more ways. The first is a welcome addition to the series – sidestepping is a feature in so many other fighters, and its absence in Dead or Alive felt jarring – while the second adds a new level of strategy and spectacle to the fights.
As always, there are a range of modes to keep you occupied. The Story Mode continues to baffle players with its mostly nonsensical plot, but the introduction of secondary missions during the fights keeps the mode from feeling like a complete waste of time. Dead or Alive 5 sees the return of Tag Battle, it’s nowhere near as complex as Tekken Tag’s mechanics, but still fun, nonetheless.
Dead or Alive 4 was a bit of a letdown when it was released earlier in this current generation. It felt as though it had both feet planted firmly in the series’ cartoony past, and while Dead or Alive 5 isn’t a leap in a new direction, it feels like the first truly ‘next-gen’ Dead or Alive game, and a refreshing first step in a new Tomonobu Itagaki-less direction.