Dead or Alive 5 is nothing if not utter nonsense. Tecmo Koei has had seven years to stuff its flashy fighting series full of gibberish, and it’s delivered. Unfortunately, it’s forgotten to fully advance the combat systems at the heart of the experience along the way – and the sequel feels like a half-step as a result.
This is still a fighting game designed for newcomers, and that’s fine – but there’s not enough here to keep genre veterans engaged. Counters are once again the key to the system, allowing you to reverse almost any attack assuming you keep a close eye on your opponent’s footsteps. This adds a sense of tension to bouts, as you attempt to play unpredictably while also trying to read your counterpart’s strategies. However, the system has barely changed since the series’ last Xbox 360 exclusive outing, and the game feels too familiar as a result.
There are some mechanical additions: Power Blows allow you to catapult your opponents across the screen when your health dips below 50 per cent. When performing one of these devastating attacks, you have some control over where your adversary lands, which plays into the new stage-specific Danger Zones mechanic. These essentially allow you to trigger mini-set pieces that take place in mid-battle, allowing you to change the state of the arena or the backdrop entirely. It certainly adds some excitement to fights – and there’s nothing more satisfying than sending your best mate flying into a circus cannon after kicking him 40ft across the floor – but it’s not necessarily enough to breathe new life into the otherwise tired format.
That is reserved for the Critical Burst mechanic, which allows you to stun a rival so badly that they are no longer able to counter your attacks. If you’re on the receiving end of one of these moves, it’s a frightening state to be in – but when the tables are turned, it’s an open invitation to unleash all manner of combos, launchers and juggles. The combat’s stylish enough to make performing these unblockable flurries entertaining, but it’s not a big enough advancement to overhaul the underlying gameplay.
Unfortunately, Dead or Alive 5 has stood still in other areas too. The roster of modes and activities is laughably lacklustre, with the usual array of Arcade, Versus, Time-Trial and Survival options on offer. There is a basic tag mode to keep you occupied if you enjoy that style of gameplay, but it compares unfavourably to the dedicated partner mechanics of Tekken Tag Tournament 2.
Outside of the online component, you’ll probably spend the majority of your time with Team Ninja’s fighter playing through the cringeworthy story mode. In truth, we love the idea of fleshed out campaigns in fighting games, and so we appreciate the inclusion here – but the pantomime plot can be hard work at times. Voice acting is woeful – though there is the option to switch to Japanese – and fight set-ups are almost always contrived. Thankfully, the component doesn’t take itself too seriously at all, and actually ends up entertaining by virtue of its own unfathomable stupidity. For example, there’s a five-minute cut-scene in which series veterans Brad Wong and Eliot fight over a rice cake. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
Equally preposterous is the character design. Once again, the female fighters feature all of the qualities of a teenage fantasy. Costumes are designed to maximise cleavage – apparently, jiggle physics now take into account clothing as well as size – and characters even get sweaty during fights, adding a titillating shine to their overexposed assets. It’s not exactly offensive like some white knights would have you believe, but it’s certainly needless. The characters would look much more interesting if they weren’t so over-sexualised.
At least the newcomers aren’t quite so over-the-top. Mila, an MMA fighter, likes to wear a comparatively prudish sports bra, while Rig, a taekwondo toughie, opts for a hooded sweater. The newcomers are joined by a trio of Virtua Fighter veterans, who slot perfectly into the game engine. Akira is almost identical to his original form, while Sarah and Pai’s snappy styles translate accurately as well.
In all, Dead or Alive 5 is an impressive looking game, with varied arenas packed with activity. One fight takes place in a circus training ring, while another is caught in the crossfire of a military campaign. All of the arenas play into the title’s overarching sense of flamboyance, and they provide a compelling atmosphere for the action.
The online experience is unsurprisingly predictable, with quick match and lobby options available. The net code is solid, and matches play out as intended without too many hiccups. There are a variety of titles to unlock as you progress through the various game modes – some of which are designed to keep you playing until at least 2025. Then again, we suppose longevity isn’t a bad thing, and it’s nice that there’s plenty for players to unlock should they want to.
For all its style and silliness, Dead or Alive 5 is a fairly conventional game. The ridiculous story mode is an enjoyable distraction for an afternoon – but it’s not enough to keep you hooked. Unless, you’re a fan of the fighting mechanics in general – which, aside from a few minor tweaks, are largely unchanged – there’s not a lot to get excited about here. Well, certainly not from a pure gameplay perspective anyway.