What happens when you give experienced fighting game fans a deep game and give casuals lots of fan service? Dead or Alive 4...
Dead or Alive 4... what can I say about this game? Most hardcore fighting game fans think it's all about she kicks high and boob physics. I read previews for the game at IGN and GameSpot and it was like they didn't even try to figure out what was new. They went along with the "it plays basically the same with a few tweaks" line that we see in nearly all fighting game reviews. If I had not played the game myself, I would think it played just like DOA Ultimate and DOA3.
I'm a hardcore Tekken fan, and a high level Tekken player, so I know what depth in a fighting game is all about. I never would have bothered with Dead or Alive if not for the online aspects of DOA Ultimate. However, DOAU was the first 3D online fighter (Mortal Kombat has been exclusively for casuals since it went 3D, so I'll ignore Deception completely here), and it was a blast to play. It was a bit dated, running on a six year old fighting engine, and it was definitely lacking in depth, but it was still fun until Tekken 5 released.
It was at that point that I couldn't wait for DOA4. The Japanese and European versions of DOA3 featured several system advancements that made it play very differently from the US version. DOA4 picks up right where the true versions of DOA3 left off with all of those system advancements. What does this mean for all the hardcore fighting gamers like me who are out there wondering if DOA4 is worth the money? It means you need to get off the computer and head down to EB or GameStop because the first Xbox 360 fighting game is the best fighting game available.
Now before you send me hate mail saying I'm a Tekken fan and shouldn't be praising DOA so much, listen to my explanation. Tekken and Virtua Fighter are fighting games designed for the hardcore, high level fighting game players. Mortal Kombat and DOA are fighting games that appeal almost exclusively to the casual player who just want heads getting chopped off and boobies bouncing.
DOA4 appeals to both with perfect balance. It has enough depth to keep someone like me stuck to my HDTV figuring out how the ground game works, or how much frame advantage this attack has, and just learning the system and how to play at high levels, for months. Yet, at the same time, the casual player who just wants to know that Lisa's chest heaves up and down with enthusiasm will be just as pleased with DOA4. It's not as in-depth as VF4, but it's significantly deeper than any previous DOA title. Now let's break this down for the high level players out there.
When I was at Tecmo HQ last week, I had the privilege of playing Milkman from 1UP and EGM fame. Milkman is a great guy who is very enthusiastic about his fighting games. He's closer to Itagaki than any other US journalist and he understands high level play (although he's not a high level player himself - at least not in DOA). I played him for about 30 games, using random select without my main character being unlocked. I owned him completely, with Milkman only winning a handful of games.
Now I didn't tell that story to get an angry e-mail from Milkman or to have the hardcore people at DOA Central applauding my victory. I told the story because it proves my point. Milkman has had ample time with DOA4, while this was my first time playing anything more than a 60% complete build. Yet I used my knowledge of fighters to overcome his experience with the game. If I were to play him now, after spending countless hours with the game over the past few weeks, he probably wouldn't win a round. Not because he sucks, but because the amount of depth in DOA4 allows me to overcome someone who doesn't understand how the system works; the casual player if you will.
Dead or Alive 4 has made vast improvements to the fighting game engine since DOA Ultimate and the US version of DOA3. The countering system no longer lets the counter hang there just waiting for an attack. The window is still a bit too long, but it's much shorter than it used to be, which is a wonderful thing. In addition, if you do get countered at the end of the open window, the damage is negligible. Counter me, go ahead, I'll just launch you for 40% of your life while you're sitting there trying to spam counters all day long. That's what the DOA4 system allows me to do.
The ground game has also been tweaked so you can attack opponents on the ground if they sit there too long. You can still use a rising kick from the ground, and Team Ninja even added a rising kick that hits high (they used to only hit low or mid-level), but the standing player now has options. If you stay on the ground, I can hit you three consecutive times, and you'll automatically roll to your feet without having a chance to use a rising kick. Now I have the advantage and I'm in your face. If you roll out of the way immediately to avoid the ground hits, I'm still in your face. If you use a rising kick immediately, I can back dash out of the way and punish your missed attack. It's a dream come true for high level players.
Now at the same time, the casual players can still have fun playing the same DOA they've been playing for years. You don't have to dig deep to find all of the intricacies of the game play system. In fact, the graphics on this game are so amazing, that some of the hardcore players may find themselves showing off the fur on Gen Fu's outfit instead of the advanced mechanics of the ground game. The graphics in DOA4 are rivaled only by Call of Duty 2 and Project Gotham Racing 3. My only issue with the graphics is the skin on the characters. Itagaki's art style is to make the characters look like dolls, but with the amount of detail in the clothing and the backgrounds, the character's skin looks a bit underwhelming.
Let me also give a big thank you to Team Ninja for finally giving me a fighting game that takes full advantage of my home theater system. The stages come to life with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound as cheetahs and cars whiz by. It's a huge upgrade from the 5.1 heard in Dead or Alive Ultimate and a welcome advancement in fighting game sound.
Online play is also a great thing to have in a fighting game. I don't have much competition offline, the rest of the GameDaily staff is pretty weak when it comes to fighters. But with online play, I can find a challenging match at any time of day. Granted, the game does play a bit differently at the highest level thanks to the unavoidable latency that you'll find with all online games, but with 16 player lobbies and thousands of people online, I can take the small amount of latency in stride. And I do mean small, as playing people in Japan over the last few days has been smooth as butter.
I've gushed so much about DOA4 that I'm sure you're probably wondering if there's anything negative about the game (aside from the character skin). Well, the new online lobbies are a nice bonus, but they aren't very functional. When I enter a room, I want to immediately go to the end of the line and be waiting for my turn. With DOA4 I have to enter the new 3D lobby, then press start, then select join game. Only then am I placed at the end of the line, but I'm removed from the new lobby and placed in the standard DOAU-style 2D lobby. Why do I have to even go to the new lobby if I'm only there for a split second? I would really like to be able to sit in the new lobby while still waiting in line.
DOA4 is also missing clan support, which was a feature Itagaki said would be in the game at E3. I understand things get cut when deadlines need to be met, and DOA4 was already delayed enough from its original 11/22 release date. However, clans were huge in DOAU, and even though Itagaki said clan support would be a part of DOA4, we've still wound up without it. On its own, it's not a big deal, but coupled with the new lobby issue and the character skin, it was enough to drop this game from a perfect score. Although the score it got is certainly not a bad one, it could have been perfect. Maybe next time?
If you're a casual fighting game fan who has always liked Dead or Alive for its easy, pick up and play aspect, you'll love DOA4. If you're a hardcore fighting game fan who has always thought the DOA series was for the casuals, you'll love DOA4. If you've had an Xbox 360 for a month and are tired of your launch games, you'll love DOA4. If you're a Halo fan and want to beat some booty with a Spartan, you'll love DOA4. Are you starting to see a trend here? DOA4 is so close to being flawless it's unbelievable.
by Bryan Dawson