OXCGN’s Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate Review
Down the rabbit hole for a button masher
by Rocco Rinaldo
©2013 Rocco Rinaldo
In a world where fighting someone is the equivalent of shaking hands and gargantuan breasts sway slightly and drip with immensely well rendered sweat, one button masher set out to see how deep down the fighting game rabbit hole he could go.
DOA5U, more of a 5.5 in the series than a sequel or standalone title, is a great jumping in point for new gamers. As a series, Dead or Alive has often been discredited for its pervy nature and soap opera tendencies.
But once you get passed the scantily clad women and the dialogue that sounds like it was written by a teenager who’s watched too many Michael Bay films, you’re greeted by a solid fighting game.
Now full disclosure, I’m a button masher through and through so I figured it would be a great idea to stop playing the tutorial about half way through the basic lessons. This was a mistake. Not a fatal one, but one that saw me beaten in 10 second flat over and over again – not to mention embarrassing myself online (more about that later).
DOA5U has a huge tutorial; there are hours of lessons covering everything from basic movement and countering to more advanced moves like juggling. As a beginner the tutorial seemed intimidating, there was just so much stuff to do but the game guides you through with a first gentle then firm hand.
Context is key
The fighting looks phenomenal and handles smoothly, a huge amount of effort has been put into making each fighter’s style feel different and it is rare to see characters sharing the same animations. As someone whose fighting game experience is limited to brief time with Tekken Tag and Super Smash Bros, the inclusion of changing between levels via highly animated and destructive transitions is something that I think will serve to keep beginners interested.
As someone who hasn’t really followed the evolution of this technique in fighting games, they were a welcome addition to the game and whilst not as spectacular as the transitions in something like Injustice they all made sense in the context of the level and added something to the combat.
I think that they were also especially helpful for me as they allowed me to chain button mashing combos for extra damages as I slammed my opponent against an electrified fence or wall of pipes.
As I said, I didn’t complete the tutorial on my first sit down with the game. I was too impatient; I wanted to play the story. Now I can’t help but think that the story is somehow self aware of how ridiculous it is. At no point in the game is there any attempt to rationalise why everyone fights each other at the drop of a hat and the game seems to really play on the juvenile humour that is expected from the series.
I have to give the game props for doing this, often throughout the non-linear episodic story I found myself chuckling at how ridiculous some of the interactions were but not because they were cringe worthy but because they were so self aware.
The story plays out like a like a globe trotting kung fu soap opera absolutely caked in pastiche and innuendo from the fast talking Zach being shot from a cannon in a clown costume to Eliot staring down Christie’s top whilst he orders milk from her in a bar, there are tons of cheap laughs.
These silly moments are where the story is its more bearable, when the game tries to be serious such as with Kasumi and her search for her clone it’s just boring. The story moves fast and did succeed in giving me a lot of information in a very short space of time.
Each chapter begins with a little blurb about the character you will be playing with for the next three rounds, each round could starts with a little cut scene where two or more characters will basically look at each other and start to fight. What I found most problematic about the story mode was the short amount of time actually fighting, often rounds will last less than a minute then you will have to sit through more cut scenes before starting another short fight.
I think the purpose was to introduce every character but I would have preferred at least two rounds per fight just to allow for me to see a little more of how the fighters operate. As for cut scenes some are genuinely enjoyable (such as when Brad and Eliot fight over the last dumpling at dinner) and these scenes are expertly rendered and play out like any big budget martial arts film.
Then there are the boring scenes where people just stand around talking about DOATEC.
Where the cut scenes are lacking technically is in the accuracy of the lip-syncing and in the background textures. Often the backgrounds will be fully of jagged lines and lack the polish that has been applied to the character models.
This isn’t game breaking or too annoying but when the designers went to so much trouble to animate such beautifully choreographed fight scenes and craft such detailed character models the lack of polish in the backgrounds becomes really apparent.
Now onto the fighting. DOA5U presents a deep fighting system that allowed a button masher to progress relatively unhindered but also opened up my eyes to the immense complexity of modern fighting games.
As someone unused to countering at specific heights for specific attacks or having to block in the same way many of my fights began with me trying to pummel my opponent faster than they could chain a devastating 9 or 10 hit combo.
After some time I decided to try out the arcade mode to test out what I had learned in the training and story modes. With a roster of 30 characters and dozens of unlockable costumes this is the area that will provide the most value for both casual and hardcore DOA fans.
I chose to fight as Tina, a busty southern gal, who uses a mixture of wrestling moves and wears a star spangled bikini. After some initial success on the rookie difficulty I was invited to battle someone online…it didn’t go well.
On a positive note DOA5U works brilliantly online, the challenges simply appear as a small notification on the lower right of the screen and with one button press you are connected and taken to the character selection screen.
Within a minute I was matched up, had selected my character and was facing my opponent. That’s when the colossal ass kicking began, of the 4 rounds I played I won one and that was through sheer luck and button mashing. There was no lag or other technical issues whilst online and afterwards I was put right back into arcade mode.
The match-making was faster than anything I’ve ever experienced on COD or BF3 and given how far away my PS3 is from my router the lack of lag was impressive.
With this humble awakening I went back to the tutorial and tried to learn some useful skills. A few hours later and with a rudimentary understanding of blocking, countering, throwing as well as powered up attacks and chaining combos I set out to try to try to shake my button mashing ways.
It didn’t last long…
I’m a brawler, not a tactician but if any game could slowly change my behaviours I think it would be DOA5U. There is an immense sense of satisfaction in pulling off a difficult combo (or for me a simple combo). And when I saw my online opponent back flipping and raining blows down on my rag-dolling body I couldn’t help but look on in awe.
Now this game isn’t perfect there are some things that are a little unsettling about the presentation of the game. Firstly, when you lose your character slumps to the ground with a heaving bosom and looks forlorn for a little bit too long before you can select try again.
Often with the costumes in the game this means you are staring right at a female characters cleavage or for the men their bare chests and often they are dripping with really well rendered sweat. Like creepily well-rendered sweat and panting. This is in conjunction with the always slightly pulsating breasts.
It isn’t even seemingly an intention to make chests move realistically, the men’s chests are relatively stationary and the women’s are always moving, maybe it’s just some fan service but I think it might alienate some gamers who think it is overly sexist and as a result think the fighting mechanics will be shallow as a result.
The costumes are also on the skimpy side, this applies both to the male and female fighters but the female costumes are on the more objectifying end of the spectrum and it seems the more modes you complete the less clothes the female fighters will wear. In fact, on starting up the game for the first time the news tracker informed me that ‘naughty schoolgirl outfits’ were now available in the PSN store.
I see this as something that might alienate new potential players although it has been a hallmark of the series for a long time. As to how the game handles loading and general game play 98% of the time the game runs very smoothly but because there is generally so little time between fights in story mode and cut scenes there is a lot of loading. Also, because the game auto-saves when a story match begins if you trigger a stage transition at the beginning of a fight it can prompt a loading wheel and a brief pause whilst the save operation finishes and the transition loads.
This only happened once during my time with the game but it was surprising seeing as prior to that everything no matter how chaotic or fast ran without a hitch.
In closing, DOA5U is a great fighter. I don’t think it will be everyone’s cup of tea because of the juvenile humour and the overt objectification of women. But for someone who rarely plays fighters and never for more than 10 minutes at a time I found myself putting hours into this game.
I got lost in the complexity of the fighting system always trying to better my skills so I could feel that sense of accomplishment that comes from doing something technically difficult and visually spectacular.
I fell down the rabbit hole and whilst I’m not completely converted I have a new appreciation for fighting games and for the first time might actually spend many more hours perfecting my skills.