Dead or Alive 5 has been overdue for as long as it takes to complete a college bachelor’s degree with some light semesters sprinkled in because mommy and daddy are footing the bill. In fact, it has been so long since Dead or Alive 4 made its high definition console debut that my brain shelved the release year into some unreachable dusty corner. The correct answer after some quick Googling is 2006, the same year Seattle’s Seahawks last competed in the Super Bowl.
Six years later we finally get the full blown Dead or Alive 5 sequel on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 fans of the fighting franchise have been clamoring for. There have been offshoot platform exclusive cleavage-obsessed distractions between now and then, but they weren’t the sequel that offered a direct continuation of the Dead or Alive narrative.
To refresh your memory, the Dead or Alive franchise is the video game fighting version of pornography. This comparison is not made due to all the female characters’ carrying a heavy load up top where it counts. Sure, there is an ongoing narrative that slowly plays out, but two characters will go from exchanging pleasantries to all-out brawling for virtually no reason whatsoever. There is even a music cue to signal “it’s on,” much like the infamous porn twang that instantly turns a casual chat into a sex romp.
The story picks up with Helena taking control of DOATEC on a new mobile base of operations and working hard to reform it and change public perception about the once corrupt company. To accomplish this, she decides holding another Dead or Alive tournament is the best way to go. There’s no tournament without fighters so off goes Zack in a helicopter to recruit familiar faces from around the globe with his unique personality.
Team Ninja has put a considerable amount of energy into differentiating the fighters, their personalities, and their laughable yet creepily satisfying sub-plots. Several of the characters cross paths before reaching the tournament and, in all the cases, a new Dead or Alive tournament provides just what their lives have been lacking. Kasumi’s quest is especially intriguing to follow as it revolves around her seeking out her missing clone.
It can be frustrating as the narrative progressives to make small jumps back in time. The goal is to get all of the characters to the Dead or Alive tournament via winning a long series of individual fights. Having to re-watch portions of cut-scenes and fight a few minutes before the previous fight occurred is creatively commendable on paper, but feels like a step back while actually doing the dirty work.
Once a fight starts for silly reasons such as Rig insulting Bass about having a motorcycle on an oil rig, Dead or Alive 5 feels like an old friend that’s come back after a long hiatus. Tons of familiar characters are joined by new ones like Sarah Bryant and Akira from Virtua Fighter. Only now they visually look more compelling, are animated more fluently and uniquely to their personal fighting styles, and fight in larger, interactive stages that are wonderfully rendered.
Taking a cue from modern sports games, the Dead or Alive fighters now drip in sweat and their hair and clothes become wet as a match wears on. This becomes most evident at the conclusion of a match when you get an up-close look at your fighter either performing their short victory dance or moan of defeat. These fighters are much more lifelike than any of their predecessors and set a high bar headed into the next console generation of fighting games.
Sweat and big breasts go hand-in-hand making em>Dead or Alive 5 the sexiest entry in the franchise thus far before bikini DLC drops. Some players only want to fight and could care less about how realistic their digital ladies of the ring look. Those that salivate at Helena’s defiance of gravity will not be let down by Team Ninja’s latest efforts to stimulate male sex drives.
Stepping inside the ring remains no button mashing affair as it should in a triple-A fighting franchise. The Dead or Alive games have always required quick thinking and timely defense/counter moves to be successful during their evolution and Dead or Alive 5 is no different. Learning to block and grab opponents is crucial to victory, especially as the opponents become faster and, later on in the game, tag-team against you.
Sometimes there is an extra fighter at your disposal as well and there are some sweet tag-team moves to land a killer blow while making the switch. That’s more button combinations that need remembering, all the more reason extended practice is required to truly master the game.
Power Blows are all-new to Dead or Alive and become an available weapon after a fighter’s health drops below 50 percent. They take some time to charge, but once executed are indefensible and a fantastic new weapon to use when beaten down to near submission.
Adding to the extensive “things to remember” list are finishing moves tied to the design of a stage. The stages in Dead or Alive 5 are more expansive than ever seen in the franchise, some extending multiple levels across a building or structure. As one of the fighters uses Power Blows against another, the stage becomes unstable and an interactive move can be triggered that uses an element of the stage to heavily damage or finish the opponent off.
Finding each of these stage events is sort of like looking for a repeating easter egg. Because they can be somewhat tricky to trigger, they feel a little more unique and less redundant. Like everything else in the game these stage events are worth finding to witness their excellent animation and visual awe.
One recommended way to trigger a stage event is via the second big new offensive weapon, the Critical Burst. This is an extension of stunning an opponent where you can hit them several times to get them stunned, then launch a Critical Burst to put them in a stun that they cannot counter from. That opens the door for landing a Power Blow or other array of attacks against the equivalent of a punching bag that cannot fight back.
Dead or Alive 4 was one of the best online games for its time. Dead or Alive 5 builds upon that with lobbies and social features, but they are nothing remarkable compared to what’s been available in many games over the past several years.
All the basics are present including ranked matches, basic matches, tournaments and lobbies that house up to 16 players. When thumbs get tired from fighting, an observer mode let’s players kick back and watch other matches while chatting with friends. Engaging in this passive mode once will snag a Trophy/Achievement so it’s worth taking a look at.
Team Ninja delivers more tools in Dead or Alive 5 that cement its crown as the most well-rounded game in the franchise. Training mode is almost a game unto itself with a cool trainable dummy and data at the ready for analyzing. Performance stats are more than plentiful. Replays from offline or online matches can be saved and shared. Photo mode is back and better than ever to snap still from saved matches. It’s hard to think of something Dead or Alive 5 does not offer that it should in this console generation.
Six plus years is a long time to wait for a sequel. Team Ninja’s work on Dead or Alive 5 doesn’t reinvent the franchise after its long-awaited arrival, but it does modernize it and make it feel simultaneously fresh and familiar with some key tweaks. Let’s hope we do not have to wait for the Cleveland Browns to reach the Super Bowl before Dead or Alive 6.
– Dan Bradley
Shop for Dead or Alive 5 on Xbox 360 or PS3 for a discounted price with free shipping at Amazon.com (September 25, 2012 release date).