Dead or Alive 6 isn't the full-blown sequel to Dead or Alive 5 that we were hoping for. It's been over six whole years since the previous game first launched back on the PS3, and three years since the enhanced remaster, Dead or Alive 5: Last Round, hit PS4. Given the wait, we expected a lot more from this sixth main instalment, even if it is still a flashy and fun fighter.
The core of Dead or Alive is, er, alive and well here, but it's got a few extra bits bolted on. The most notable addition to the combat is the new 'break' system, which essentially boils down to each character having their own special move that does big damage. The attacks are tied to a newly introduced meter mechanic -- a bar that fills as you fight -- but you can also use this up on an all-powerful counter hold that covers just about every incoming option.
And so there's a slightly new dynamic in place where you're thinking about whether to burn your bar on offence of defence. It adds just a little more depth to the guessing game that is Dead or Alive's rock-paper-scissors-esque triangle of strikes-holds-throws, and as a bonus, the break attacks really pack a visual punch.
In fact, Dead or Alive has never seemed quite so crunchy. The impact of each blow is felt better than ever, and you almost feel bad for your opponent when you smash them off the edge of a stage and watch them smack into every single conveniently placed scaffolding platform before they hit the ground. It's brutal in a Homer Simpson trying to jump Springfield Gorge kind of way.
But yeah, if you've played Dead or Alive 5, everything's going to seem very familiar. Returning characters haven't changed much at all in the way that they fight, and the fundamental mechanics are largely untouched. Veterans will feel right at home, but even with this sixth entry, Dead or Alive still gives newcomers a warm welcome. Basic combos are easy to pull off, and as soon as you wrap your head around spacing and holds, you're in the zone.
It helps that there's a well made tutorial mode to run through, complete with character-specific training that covers effective moves and beginner combos. It's a great place to start, and it does an admirable job of breaking down the game's core elements without dumping too much information at once. Good stuff.
Speaking of modes, Dead or Alive 6 has a very respectable selection. You've got a full story mode -- more on that later -- a kind of challenge mode, arcade, time attack, and survival modes, versus mode, and, of course, online matches. Everything works just as you'd expect, and based on what we played of ranked matches, connection quality seems solid. However, it's worth noting that more casual lobby matches aren't available yet -- they're supposed to be added later this month.
The aforementioned challenge mode presents some increasingly tricky fights that task you with fulfilling different conditions. You might have to land a certain kind of attack on your opponent, or win with a set amount of health. It's fun enough, but it's a bit of a bummer that this is your main source of 'pattern parts'. Along with in-game money, these parts are required to unlock character costumes, and the specific costumes that you acquire parts for appear to be random. Because of this, actually unlocking your favourite fighter's wardrobe can be an absolute slog. Each outfit takes anywhere from 800 to 2000 pattern parts to make it available for purchase from the in-game shop, but completing a challenge fight only grants you a few hundred parts at most -- and arcade runs net you a laughable amount.
The additional costumes, by the way, are where you're going to find Dead or Alive 6's most revealing outfits. Each character starts off with just two clothing options -- one being a recolour -- and they're all pretty safe, as far as Dead or Alive goes. In a way, locking the more risque costumes behind such a grind feels cynical. Love it or hate it, titillation is a big part of these games, and having the "sexier" stuff greyed out on the character selection screen seems strange. And yes, there is a "I demand more jiggle" option buried in the menus.
But hey, at least the characters look great. Faces are detailed and exquisitely modelled, while animations are super smooth. Generally speaking, it's a lovely looking game in motion, but there are a few noticeable blemishes. Some stage textures, for example, are horrendous, and pausing the action often reveals some seriously jaggy, low quality assets scattered around each arena.
Because of this, story cutscenes in particular can look really bad. It's a jarring experience; the game is constantly flip-flopping between looking fantastic and looking downright terrible. Again, the visuals are something that we expected to be a lot more impressive after all this time.
This brings us neatly to the story mode, which, in a word, is woeful. It's fair enough if you enjoy the sheer schlockiness of the Dead or Alive plot and the nonsensical way that it's portrayed, but come on -- it's bloody awful. Between the dismal dialogue, baffling direction, and single-round fights -- not to mention the ridiculously cheap boss battles -- it's a waste of time. If you're a hardcore Dead or Alive fan or you just want to see the disaster unfold, you'll probably find something to like, but for everyone else, please don't buy Dead or Alive 6 expecting any form of entertainment from its story.
Dead or Alive 6 finds itself in this slightly awkward middle space where it's certainly a sequel, but it's not nearly the jump that we were expecting -- especially since it's been almost seven years since Dead or Alive 5. The new additions to combat are welcome but they're not exactly exciting, and the overall package is reasonably robust, but let down by tedious grinds and a terrible story mode. As a fighter, Dead or Alive is still fun, punchy, and accessible, but as an upgrade on the already solid Dead or Alive 5: Last Round, it feels underwhelming, and even a little rushed.