Dead or Alive 4

June 28, 2006

[i]Dead or Alive 3[/i] was one of the Xbox’s defining launch titles back in 2001, and Tecmo went all out on presentation for it to show just how much power the Xbox was capable of. While it just missed the launch, the series is back for the Xbox 360 with [i]Dead or Alive 4[/i] to show gamers that Team Ninja knows how to use the power of Microsoft’s consoles. A technically beautiful game and qualified fighter, [i]DOA4[/i] brings a worthy update to the series and utilizes the capabilities of the Xbox 360 to their fullest. With flawless graphics, great usage of Xbox Live service, and an improved fighting engine, [i]Dead or Alive 4[/i] may be the most ambitious title in the series to date.

[i]DOA4[/i] follows the individual stories of several different fighters, all embroiled into the Dead or Alive tournament (honestly, the way each fighter stumbles onto one another and enter random fights, it doesn’t seem like much of a tournament). In my past experiences with the series, the presentation of the story has seemed pretty minimal, but [i]DOA4[/i] tries to expand the main storyline into the cut scenes more than its predecessors have. While each character has their own story to go through, the game obviously has a central storyline in the conflict with DOATEC and a number of fighters, including Ryu Hayabusa, Kasumi, Hayate, and some other select characters. Looking back on DOA3, I enjoyed the single player story of [i]DOA4[/i] much more with the expanded storyline, and liked the fact that the storylines of each individual characters intertwine with each other.

Much of the fighting engine has remained the same, with one key exception. Countering has been made much more challenging in [i]DOA4[/i]. Actually, when I said much of the fighting system hasn’t changed, I lied. With the improved countering system, the other areas of the fighting engine, while remaining the same in execution, must be utilized differently now. This changes much of the game from the fighting system seen in Dead or Alive: Ultimate, so even masters of the series may be in for a surprise. Meanwhile, casual fans of fighting games will probably have a bit of a hard time conforming to such an advanced and, admittedly, complex fighting engine, making [i]DOA4[/i] a challenge for all.

All of the characters from past Dead or Alive games make their reappearance in [i]DOA4[/i], even those who were left out of the recent DOA:Ultimate like Brad Wong and Christie. Some new additions make their way onto the roster, including Kokoro, a Japanese Geisha in-training, Eliot, a Xing Yi Quan master, and La Mariposa, who fans of [i]Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball[/i] will recognize as Lisa. And yes, the Spartan character is in there as well. Each character brings something different to the table, with some being geared towards beginning players while others being reserved for the experts. Almost any fighting style you can think of is used in the game, from Hitomi’s karate to Ryu Hayabusa’s ninjutsu, and maybe a few you’ve never heard of.

There are plenty of game modes to choose from, but most of them are staples of the series seen in past games, including survival, timed mode, and tag battles. Probably the best game mode addition, though, is DOA Online. While online play isn’t exactly new to the series, as [i]DOA: Ultimate[/i] showed us, it is certainly a welcome addition to [i]DOA4[/i] and makes the game that much more enjoyable. [i]DOA4[/i]’s online mode has been updated a bit, mainly to be more friendly to Xbox Live users by giving them avatar customization and allowing for the spectating of online matches. There have been some other upgrades to make finding matches and the like more easy, but the main fighting aspects of online play remain the same. Among the Xbox 360’s current library, [i]DOA4[/i] ranks high as one of the best Live enabled games on the system as of now.

You’ve no doubt caught on that [i]DOA4[/i] is one of the Xbox 360’s most graphically impressive titles. The surroundings on each level just look breath-taking, and it helps that almost all of the environments have interactive elements to them, whether it be crashing out of a window or being run down by passing traffic (drivers don’t stop for ninjas). While the lighting, textures and frame rate all meld beautifully with one another, one of the only complaints is that the characters themselves haven’t seen a lot of improvement, mainly due to the fact that all the females still have porcelain skin while all the males are still decked out in muscle. Even so, it’s the little things that sometimes impress, and when characters grapple each other, their hands actually grab onto the enemy rather than clipping into their body. Also, those veins that show up on Jann Lee’s forehead and arms show up like daylight.

There isn’t much to question about [i]Dead or Alive 4[/i]. It is, without a doubt, a perfect blend of everything the series has introduced over the past few years with enough new elements to reel both novice and expert players into the ring. It’s hard to call [i]DOA4[/i] the life work of Team Ninja, with the excellent Ninja Gaiden getting in the way, but it certainly isn’t far behind. Fans of fighters owe it to themselves to play [i]Dead or Alive 4[/i] on the 360, and while the difficulty may turn off some fans outside of the genre, the game is very much one of the best things to be had on the Xbox 360 right now.

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.