Ah, Dead or Alive, the guilty pleasure of adolescent male gamers everywhere.
This is a series that has always been more famous for the attention to detail in the animation of its female protagonists than for the actual gameplay, but is the sixth entry in the series, Dead or Alive 6, any different? With promised tweaks to the way the game plays, and the addition of a “super” gauge and extra moves, has the Dead or Alive franchise finally come of age, or are we going to need seasickness pills to cope with the heaving bosoms? It’s time to strap on our black belts and find out.
Now, the first thing I should mention is that I’ve always had a soft spot for the DOA franchise. Playing it first back in the days of the original Playstation, I have played every title in the series, except for the Volleyball games, as they seemed just a step too far down Pervy Avenue for me. I even went to see the DOA movie at the cinema, and that’s two hours of my life I’m never getting back. There’s always been a joyfulness to the fast paced action of the DOA games, with the Danger Zones in the stages that can be triggered, and honestly, behind Killer Instinct, I’d probably rather play Dead or Alive than any of the more “serious” fighters out there.
With that little disclaimer out of the way, I feel that first up I have to address the visuals, and boy, they are very good this time around, absolutely pin sharp with amazing animation. And I don’t just mean on the ladies’ chests either, although there is certainly more jiggling than I would deem absolutely necessary. Interestingly though there is a an included option called “Softness”, which allows you to toggle “Natural Motion” on or off. I’d argue that there’s nothing natural about the motion of the young ladies, but it’s nice to see the elephant in the room being addressed.
Further to that, the animation of the fighters, their moves and even their hair is all so much better this time around, and with effects like the girls’ hair coming undone after a heavy beating, and bruises and dirt appearing on their faces and clothes, it all looks much more realistic. They even perspire after every round, which is maybe a step too far, but the effect is pretty cool.
To go alongside the visuals, and the audio is pretty much as you’d expect; whistling punches, crunching impacts and Jann Lee’s trade mark Bruce Lee squeaks. The voice acting and writing is straight out off the Big Book of Fighting Game Cliches, and the lip syncing is absolutely laughable, the characters’ mouths still moving a good 10 seconds after the dialogue has ceased, but the effect is endearing, like the cheesy martial arts movies I used to watch as a younger man.
So, Dead or Alive 6 on Xbox One looks good, but how does it play? Fast and Furious is the answer, which is always where the DOA series has shone. In fact, it’s fast, flashy, loud and brash, and completely unapologetic for all of those things. And I for one like it for this, as at no point is it trying to be like Street Fighter, which for my money is a little too uptight these days.
The addition of a super gauge, finally, has had a transformative effect on the actual gameplay too, but it feels more like an evolution than a revolution. Known as the Fatal Rush system, it has two facets: For the cost of one bar (there are two that can be charged up) the characters can perform a Fatal Hold, which can deflect any attack, leaving the enemy open to a counter, whereas a full two bars allows a Fatal Rush attack to be carried out, which culminates in a powerful attack which is depicted in loving slow motion and close up. These resemble the X-Ray attacks from the Mortal Kombat games, but just show the impact on the surface.
These attacks see Dead or Alive 6 show much stronger violence than the previous games, with characters ending up with blood streaking across their faces and clothes; they are genuinely wince inducing as there’s something troubling about seeing a woman get her face smashed in by a big burly bloke. But the effects are very impressive nonetheless.
There are controls in the options to tone these attacks and the amount of blood down, but the game’s rating is there for a good reason in this case. These attacks are accessed with a push of the RB button and make it very easy to pull off amazing combos. The rest of the keystones of DOA fighting are still present too, with the famous Triangle of attacks in full effect, and the counter system returning. The counters seem harder to pull off this time though, and working out the timing also seems a little trickier, but if I can offer one piece of advice for online fighting, it’s to practice counters, as it seems few online seem able to cope with them.
Dead or Alive 6 offers you plenty of options to play through, in addition to Ranked play, which is currently the only online mode available. The Story mode is an odd one – split up into a number of chapters, this seems to unlock entries in the chapters in a weird order. See, playing a mission in chapter 2, for instance, might unlock a chapter in the prologue and in Chapter 3. This makes the whole story approach feel weirdly disjointed, with entries appearing almost at random, and there never being any real flow to the narrative. What I can make out is that some people want to do some things, and some other people would rather they didn’t, and because of that there’s a fighting tournament going on. That’s about it to be honest, and the story mode is a bit of a let down.
DOA Quest is a more interesting proposition bringing us a series of missions with three objectives to achieve in each one. Trying to collect three stars in each mission will require a good knowledge of the game mechanics, and this is a mode I can see many playing for a while in an attempt to utterly master it. With later missions only unlocking if the requisite number of stars are collected, this promises to be a proper long term challenge.
The fight options are all here as well, with Versus, either locally or against the AI, Survival, Time Attack and Arcade modes all available to play. There is also the DOA Central option, where you can buy new outfits for the fighters, read facts in the encyclopedia and even watch fights that you have saved. The mechanism for unlocking the new outfits is quite interesting actually, and as you fight in various modes you get “parts” of outfits, collecting bits and pieces in order to obtain the full outfit. And yes, the outfits can be as skimpy as any found in previous Dead or Alive games.
And that then gets me to the online scene, and sadly this is not massively populated. Maybe this is because the only mode available is that of Ranked, but it takes a good five minutes to find a match each time, even after finishing one. And at the risk of being kind, the netcode doesn’t seem to be completely optimised either, with opponents obviously plugged into potatoes, as freezing, teleporting and disconnects are all too common. For a game that relies on flow and pressure to do well, the jerkiness of the online experience is a big disappointment.
All in all then and Dead or Alive 6 feels like it’s trying its best to grow up and be taken seriously. With jiggling turned off and the new Fatal Rush system in place, the game is easy to pick up, but seriously hard to master… just as it should be. All the tricks from the older games still work too, and much to my delight, the old Kasumi juggle combo is still available.
DOA6 is fast, fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously – the perfect way to wind down after a hard day at work. If you are looking for a new fighting game to embrace and spend time getting to know, you can do a lot worse than Dead or Alive 6, although I’m going to have to be slightly harsh with the scoring due to the online gremlins that are in place. Assuming these get fixed, then feel free to add another half point as you see fit.