Review: 'Dead or Alive 5' - Still Kickin'

I've always observed the split between the trio of major 3D fighting franchises as going something like this: Virtua Fighter is your home to highly-detailed character models with deep, technical fighting and a consistently dry presentation; Tekken brings the flash with an easy-to-pick up set of moves with a diverse set of characters in a bizarre world of demons and attempted patricide by volcano; finally, somewhere in the middle are the fast-paced DOA games which have long had the twin priorities of heavily counter-based fighting and fan service.

And if Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is a celebration of the expansive history and evolution of the series, Dead or Alive 5 is likewise a commitment to the growing set of features in Team Ninja's franchise, bringing some modern, must-have fighting game tropes while still feeling decidedly like DOA.

Dead or Alive 5 returns to the fighting game scene with 23 fighters, including newbies Rig (style: Taekwondo) and Mila (style: MMA brawling) along with Virtua Fighter characters Akira and Sarah just so you get a little bit of the versus thing.

You can unlock classic characters from the series by playing through the lengthy Story mode (which also serves as a tutorial surrounding the DOA basics like combos and counter holds). The Story/training mix which has shown up in Tekken Tag 2 and the Mortal Kombat relaunch, should really be a key feature in any story-based fighting game going forward. Team Ninja's approach is to drop single player and tag matches in between cutscenes, providing a detailed explanation of holds, throws, simple strikes, tag throws, and combos before challenging you to try them yourself. The developers made the decision to make these challenges optional, so if you can't execute a seven-hit juggle on an opponent, you'll still be able to progress through the story as long as you beat them. This is a no-frustration approach to helping new players learn the ropes, but it also takes away some of the muscle training that comes from doing it until you get it right.

As far as the story goes, while the fighting game has historically been the domain of some of less-than-compelling storytelling, DOA 5 feels especially disjointed with numerous jumps in time and location, characters dropping in and out, and swirling suspicions about the formerly evil company DOATEC under Helena deciding to throw another tournament. It lacks the delirious weirdness of Mortal Kombat's epic, time traveling odyssey or the charm and humor or the TT2 combat simulation, and no real compelling heavy shows up until the final act (and even then, it's just another "perfect fighter" type deal).

But you came for the fighting and DOA 5 delivers the same fast and loose fighting of previous entries, leaning towards rapid-fire timing to grab high, medium, and low attacks while attempting to send enemies flying throw walls, floors, off balconies, and into critical zones on the well-constructed levels (the most visually interesting and active levels in the latest batch of 3D fighters, actually).

Yes, Team Ninja has brought the jiggle and wiggle physics to the lineup of female fighters, and your mileage may vary in terms of whether you're into the anime eyes set in CG faces character designs that Team Ninja went for here. Character models aren't that exceptional, and clipping is pretty noticeable during cutscenes, but DOA 5 is by no means an ugly game.

Curiously, there's no sort of customization mode for the game, but there are plenty of other standard modes included here: there's the solo and tag Arcade mode with the option to allow you to accept Throwdowns from online opponents, and then there's Versus, Time Attack, Survival, and Training. The Multiplayer offering allows you to choose from Ranked and Player matches along with a Quick Match, a Spectator Mode, and an online Dojo mode to train against another player. Special mention should also be given to the fact that you can rematch with the same fighter or keep the same challenger and choose new fighters at the end of the bout (again, something that should be standard across all fighters).

There's nothing groundbreaking here, nor anything that will likely change your mind about the series, but DOA 5 delivers a very good Dead or Alive game, and if you're looking to add another polished 3D fighter to your library, you could do much worse.

Dead or Alive 5 is available now for the PS3 and Xbox 360.

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