Dead or Alive 5 is a game for those who are more than likely already fans of the Dead or Alive franchise. This may sound strange and simplified, but after spending some time with the latest installment, it’s the most accurate recommendation I can give. Dead or Alive 5 is not for the hardcore fighting game fan to try out, it isn’t even for the person who is intrigued by the new breast physics. Specifically, if you have never played Dead or Alive before, you should not even think about playing this game.
The fighting in Dead or Alive is rather unique. Based on a rock-paper-scissors system, the goal is to interrupt your opponent’s combos and counter using an attack of your own. Attacking at the same time as a throw will cause the attack to go through. Likewise, throwing takes precedence over “holds” (counterattacks used to intercept blows), and holds beat normal attacks. Though creative (and tremendously polished over the fourth game), the gameplay still feels like a clumsier version of SoulCalibur without weapons. The physics do not feel quite right (they are stiff), moving through the 3D arenas feels less fluid and more awkward and the attacks aren’t all that impressive to look it. The only major new addition to the system I’ve seen is the new “Power Blow”, a triggered powerful attack that looks cool and throws your enemy back. It’s nice to see, but don’t expect it to be leaps and bounds above the “super duper moves” in similar franchises.
On a positive note, the new arenas are fantastic. They feel lively, have major attention to detail and it feels great to knock an opponent out of an arena only to continue the fight somewhere else. And for such a traditional 3D fighter, I am most impressed by how expansive the stages are. While on the highest floor of a tower, you can either knock your opponent down stairs to get to a totally different floor, while throwing them out of the building entirely can lead the fight into a lush garden with just as much detail. Every single arena is excellent and it is nice to see a game take a feature so far.
Those expecting a beefy game in the vein of Mortal Kombat will be sorely disappointed. As with most fighters these days, you can expect to get your basic arcade mode, survival mode, versus mode, training modes, story, and online play. Though fans will still find ways to pull dozens of hours out of these modes, there is no denying that everything feels rudimentary. Arcade has no surprises, versus mode has CPU or human opponents, survival mode is…survival mode and the online play is just versus mode except it’s online and allows random battles to be filtered by skill. There are some neat titles that can be unlocked by beating missions (like kicking five times in a match or pulling off a big combo), but this is about as far as customization goes.
The story mode manages to be both impressive and unimpressive at the same time. Like the recent Mortal Kombat game, the story mode is a series of cutscenes and then a fight is triggered. Like Mortal Kombat, what triggers the fight is often barely-sensical and only there because the game needs to be more than two hours. One early fight gets started because one character refused to apologize to another for pointing out that a motorcycle has no place on a boat. When there is an opportunity to fight, there exists no point when a character will apologize for being a jerk or the argument diffuses itself.
As far as plot goes, it’s impressive to see that no punches are pulled to give fans a full plot with several developing plotlines involving the new Dead or Alive tournament and a new sinister plot. What this means however is that those coming into the series for the first time will have no idea what is going on, something unsettling considering this is by far the biggest mode. Even worse, the plot likes to jump around a lot and towards the end, it’s rather difficult to discern where and when parts in the story are taking place. Being someone who has an interest in Dead or Alive, even I found it to be poorly-explained. At four hours with little replay value (outside of the aforementioned missions), it just reiterates how not fully-featured the game is.
From a graphical standpoint, it’s good to see that Dead or Alive looks better than ever. It doesn’t push the generation to its limits, but the game is so colorful and detailed and makes fighting a joy to look at. The breast physics have also been revamped, but they look less realistic than ever before. They move so frequently that it feels like no character is wearing a bra no matter how fully clothed and the more sensitive movement looks rather creepy when you see a character standing still and their breasts are moving of their own accord, providing a “breathing” effect.
While it will be enough for some to say that this is the best Dead or Alive game yet, it is really only the people capable of making that statement who should buy this game. As someone who came in to SoulCalibur at IV and Mortal Kombat during the PS2 era, I have never seen a fighting game that was less beginner-friendly. Even more notable is how emaciated the game modes are, with the meatiest being a brief story mode that isn’t even close to the best. I love to see a game with this level of polish on it, but it is difficult to be enamored when there is not much to polish in the first place.