Dead or Alive's first foray onto the PlayStation 4 is everything that you'd expect, and not much else. Buxom women, chiselled men, and angry cyborg demons make up a decent sized character roster, while the modes on offer are standard fighting game fare. Dead or Alive 5: Last Round is the most complete edition of Koei Tecmo's brawler yet in terms of content, but is that enough to drag you back into the ring?
Usually making the headlines solely for its apparent obsession with the female form, there's an accessible, extremely enjoyable fighter at the core of the Dead or Alive series. If you've ever felt out of your comfort zone with more technical titles like Tekken or Street Fighter, this is a franchise that'll welcome you with open arms. The release has its nuances, for sure, but with a fluid, flowing combat system and relatively simple controls, Last Round remains a fantastic entry point for anyone still finding their footing in the fighting game world.
That's not to say that the brawler's overly basic, though. There's still a decent learning curve if you're interested in the finer points of battle, but even these are arguably far easier to understand than concepts found in similar releases. Take, for example, the game's stun mechanic. The key to success when playing online or at the higher difficulties is having a good grasp on the rhythm of your chosen combatant's moveset. Making the most of attacks that put your opponent into a stunned state, you'll be able to follow up with powerful special techniques or keep the pressure on with another combo.
It all sounds a bit vague, but the process is a strange one to describe. While there are still combo strings and various stances to master, most players will start off simply hammering out the easier combos which require little more than tapping the same face button in quick succession, but in time, it becomes apparent that breaking up the flow of these blows is more beneficial. Suddenly, off-beat button presses become the norm as you stun your enemies into submission, and as you begin to really wrap your head around a character's abilities, more advanced combos come naturally. As such, it's even possible to do a bit of button mashing once you're used to the aforementioned rhythm and still come out on top.
Needless to say, accessibility is really one of the title's greatest assets. There's no doubt that the game's perfect for parties, as almost everyone will be able to jump in and start pulling off good looking moves. Even the counter system manages to be hassle-free, without being overly effective. By tapping guard along with the relevant direction depending on what height your opponent's attack is, you'll nullify the move and strike back, so when you're on the offensive, it's important to switch up your blows by incorporating low hitters with jumping attacks, for example. This also means that fights are always great and varied to watch, because lashing out with the same moves over and over is just asking to be countered and punished.
Bolstering the brawler's flamboyant style are some nicely designed stages, most of which come with their own environmental hazards. You can be kicked off the roof of a skyscraper, punched over the edge of a waterfall, or even smashed into a moving train. Competitive players can turn off the additions if they wish, along with the action-orientated camera angles, but for everyone else, they provide an extra pinch of excitement to battles that are already fast and satisfying.
Dead or Alive 5's core is absolutely solid, then, so it's a shame that the title's let down elsewhere. The release's story mode remains nonsensical and hardly worth a second look once it's over, while the other modes on offer fail to really stand out. It's not that the game has to innovate, essentially being a re-release in the first place, but it would have been nice to have something that adds a bit more value to the overall package.
As it stands, playing through Last Round's predictable single player modes can feel stale, but thankfully, the online offering is solid, if similarly banal. Indeed, the netcode appears to be very stable, and the matchmaking is both fast and simple. It's perhaps a shame that there aren't more ways to customise your online experience, but the game gets the fundamentals just right, and in turn, the online portion of the release is likely where many players will end up spending most of their time.
However, it's disappointing to see that the game still looks incredibly similar to the PlayStation 3 original. Aside from some impressive new particle effects and some marginally better lighting, it's often hard to tell the difference between the two, but Last Round does include a plethora of unlockable costumes, some catchy new tunes, new stages, and a few fresh characters – all of which are welcome additions to the roster. It's also worth noting that if you've been keeping up with all of the DLC costumes, you'll be able to carry them over to this, which will result in an absolutely gigantic selection of crazy clothing.
If you're on the market for a flashy fighter that's perfect for some fast and fun local play, look no further than Dead or Alive 5: Last Round. Its accessibility makes it a brilliant alternative to the more technically demanding brawlers out there, and while much of what it does is unspectacular, it's a solid, satisfying title that's hard to put down when you really find your rhythm.