Outfits that would make your grandmother faint, stages that throb with colour and detail, and simple inputs that belie a deep system of counters and combos. Since its 1996 debut, Dead Or Alive has established itself as one of the glitziest, most bombastic 3D fighters on the market. On first contact, Dead Or Alive 5 looks to continue the tradition, but there are subtle, divisive changes here.
Story mode is the biggest departure. It’s now a sprawling timeline of bite-sized cutscenes containing short matches that act as basic tutorials for entry-level players. The narrative is a tiresome, comical soap opera that falls flat, with poor performances and contrived conflicts. Arcade mode, however, is damaged by the loss of the lush, joyous cutscenes of previous games (no doubt due to the resources being spent on Story mode instead), while the rest of the package – Survival, Time Attack and Versus – plays it safe.
The fighting system has been carried over near wholesale from DOA4. This is no bad thing, but the new Power Blows, which you can use to launch an opponent into the scenery when you’re below 50 per cent health, prove disorienting, breaking a fight’s flow as the camera shifts momentarily to frame a dramatic view.
Where DOA4’s backdrops often upstaged the cast with their distracting beauty, DOA5 is all about the heaving, high-flying bodies. The optional new ‘action’ camera zooms in to punctuate critical hits, and cranes around counters and for specials to show off some stellar modelling – fighters get progressively grubbier and sweatier as bouts continue. However, it also serves to highlight some choppy animation that prevents battles from flowing as freely and dynamically as before.
Some of DOA’s main attractions have always been the weird, wonderful stages, and it’s a shame to see DOA5 opt mostly for a bland industrial theme, as the team dedicates its attention to heightened character detail
New characters Rig, a taekwondo tough, and Mila, an MMA master, reinforce the sense of a more realist take on combat with their relatively authentic movesets and more grounded attire and stages. Then there are three Virtua Fighter characters to unlock. The presence of Akira, Sarah and Pai is jarring, uniting two genre strands that are worlds apart in their treatment of competitive martial arts. Regardless of their heritage, their styles slip into DOA5’s roster surprisingly well: Sarah’s long reach and aggressive attacks offer a mix of Jann Lee’s long kicks and Hitomi’s snappy jabs, while Akira and Pai feel closer to Leifang and Kokoro in their guarded, hard-to-read stances.
For all Team Ninja’s talk of keeping it more real, DOA5 is mostly business as usual. There are tweaks to the formula and aesthetic, but nothing too sacrilegious or enticing. It’s disappointing, then, that this has little to offer over its forebear.