The Dead or Alive franchise often gets an unfair rap amongst the videogame public. It’s true that the character design – aesthetically at least – it one influenced by little more than titillation, but alongside this has been a solid, constantly evolving combat system that rivals the best the genre has to offer. Faith in Team NINJA may have been shaken of late, but Dead or Alive 5 was deemed necessary to show just what the studio is capable of following the very public departure of former lead design Tomonobu Itagaki, and in that it undeniably completes it’s objective.
Dead or Alive 5 makes many bold statements for the future of the Dead or Alive franchise, first and foremost is the expansion of the suite of gameplay modes. The Story mode has clearly been inspired by Mortal Kombat, and looks simply gorgeous throughout. The art direction is superb and the technical standard is almost unparalleled, despite the traditional wax doll look of the female cast. Though it’s entirely dismissible, just as forgettable as it a welcome additional to the progression of the genre, the Story mode offers both an introduction to the world of DOATEC and Dead or Alive 5, blending character introductions with tutorial prompts so well that they may as well not have bothered including the Training mode within the package.
Dead or Alive 5 also features the traditional assortment of Arcade, Time Attack and Survival modes than fans have come to know and love, as well as the online gameplay. Of course, the combat system is designed to perform best when playing against human opponents, so thankfully the online play is a remarkably stable presentation. The sheer fluidity of Dead or Alive is more important than in most other beat-‘em-ups, and as such the [previous outings have offered only a heavily flawed experience. Dead or Alive 5 sees each one of the many fighting innovations brought to life online just as if the player was sitting next to you. From the counter strikes and holds to the throw combos and critical blows, Dead or Alive 5 is every bit the online experience that the series demands but until now has been unable to provide.
It’s the Power Blow manoeuvre; however, that is one of the most obvious examples of this innovation. Clearly inspired by the X-Ray moves of Mortal Kombat, and thusly the Critical Finish mechanic featured in Soul Calibur V, Dead or Alive 5’s Power Blows are the exemplifying body to those original ideals, both means and ends. Avoidable by skill rather than merely a tap of the block button and devastating enough to take the risk of being left open to counter attack, Power Blows are the full stop of Dead or Alive 5’s determination to push forward the genre. They encourage aggressive play and fullest use of the densely populated arenas and are a landmark addition to the gameplay.
The variety of arenas is greatly appreciated, using the same multiple tier structure of earlier instalments and taking things even further. The circus themed The Show may be a questionable sidestep, but other arenas showcase some fantastic imagination, from explosive barrels to collapsing steelwork, metallic railings taking a dents from heavy impact with skulls to the possibility of being run-over mid-fight.
New character Mila is a very different proposition to the rest of the female cast, with slow blows landing with forceful impact and a very different timing frame and short range follow-up attacks. It makes a change to find such a heavy fisted female in Dead or Alive, a move which will certainly be welcomed by long time fans looking to master an entirely new fighting style. So too will the Virtua Fighter characters who appear as part of the line-up, making their first cameo outside of SEGA’s stable, offer a taste of something new despite their moves list blend not have necessarily resulted in an such an enjoyable new variation.
The visual quality of Dead or Alive 5 is of an incredibly high standard throughout. The animation of the Dead or Alive series has always been pushing against the boundaries of expectation, but here in Dead or Alive 5 there is no equal. The matured character designs are empathetic of an aging medium, though it could be argued that any good done here is undermined by the abnormally inflated cup sizes of the entire female cast. The soundtrack does not keep up this quality level however, with average voice acting and background music that wouldn’t feel out of place in a beat-‘em-up released a decade ago.
Though beat-‘em-up videogames were suffering an image of an outdated genre last time Dead or Alive had a home console outing, the years since Capcom dared to place that magic number ‘4’ on the end of a Street Fighter title have been kind. There have been many titles that have shown resolve and delivered engrossing, modern revisions to a well established genre, but it Dead or Alive 5 that is the boldest, most progressive of them all. Many will write of the series in the same way they always have, but any real beat-‘em-up fan will recognise the innovation in Dead or Alive 5 as a trendsetter for the future of the genre as we approach a new generation of hardware.
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