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First Play: Dead or Alive 4


One of the most anticipated new titles for the Xbox360 — Dead or Alive 4 — finally arrived a few weeks ago, and I recently picked up a copy. Strangely, I didn’t get around to playing it for a few days, but have finally delved into it in detail this weekend. DOA4 is the latest in the popular fighting game franchise that’s become an Xbox exclusive, and while the basic formula is unchanged from the last two or three installments, DOA4 is definitely the prettiest — and the most fun.

First of all, playing Dead or Alive in gorgeous 1080i HD is amazing. I thought Xtreme Beach Volleyball looked good at 480p, but its visuals were forgettable compared to this. Going hand-in-hand with DOA4‘s high resolutions are some staggeringly detailed visuals, particularly of the various stages in which you can choose to fight. These locations — including a seaside market, Kyoto in bloom, a lush natural waterfall and more — are easily the most jaw-dropping surroundings I’ve ever witnessed in a game, surpassing even DVD movies. (Have we finally arrived at the day when CG-rendered landscapes look better than the real thing?) The character detail is also bumped up a notch, with lifelike hair, skin textures, clothing and material shading.

There’s even massive amounts of detail in stuff you wouldn’t normally pay attention to. One of the stages, for example, is a pro wrestling ring. From what I could see, about half of the crowd consists of individual human figures (rather than just static or animated crowd textures) — and they’re all doing different stuff; waving different signs, jumping up and down, etc. The detail is just mind-boggling. There are really no other words.

Gameplay-wise, all of your old DOA4 favorites are here. There’s story mode, time attack, survival, sparring, and more. Now you also have a “watch” mode where you can watch two computer-controlled characters fight it out. Watch mode adds a Gran Turismo-style camera function whereby you can take snapshots of the fight and save them to an album for later viewing. The only thing missing is the ability to save these albums down to a USB key or other portable storage device, but to be fair, I haven’t tried such a thing — it may be possible. But so far, the Xbox360 seems less keen to allow you to do stuff like that than even the PS2 did.

There’s the typical swath of unlockable items — costumes, characters, and so on. Beating story mode with a particular character, for example, awards you with a new costume for that character. Some characters’ story modes also unlock hidden characters. And to be able to select Helena, I believe you have to beat story mode with every other available character first. This kind of stuff is built-in to keep you playing, obviously.

The combat system is somewhat improved. Now there is a whole system of defensive and counter-moves which gets a lot more focus than in previous games. It’s also a lot harder to counter than it used to be, from what I understand. To be honest, I’m an old-school button masher, which just doesn’t work in DOA. When you were raised on fighting games like Street Fighter II, with characters like Chun-Li who could destroy the entire world just by mashing a kick button, you get into this habit. DOA forces you to know what you’re doing by giving each character a repertoire of moves that are a combination of sequential button pushes and control stick maneuvers. Blocking is more than just moving the stick away from your foe. You must anticipate a high, low, or mid attack; differentiate between punches and kicks; and do all of this with the perfect timing so that you press the buttons just as the attack is about to strike. It’s more realistic this way, and much more difficult. But as such, when you learn to do it right, it’s much more satisfying.

So, whereas in previous DOA games I’ve mostly just tried to button mash and remember a couple of moves here and there, this time I’ve been spending some serious hours trying to really get the combat system down. Last night I was awarded the “five hours of gameplay” achievement (haha), and I’m already vastly improved over my old button-mashing ways. I’ve got a long ways to go, of course, but I’m actually executing real moves and even doing successful counter-moves. From my experience with DOA4 so far, I can tell you that counter-moves are essential. The final boss character, for example, is more easily beaten if you can counter even some of her maneuvers. Countering requires that your timing and reflexes be impeccable.

As far as the character lineup goes, there are some new additions. Kokoro is a Japanese girl whose occupation is listed as “Geisha in training.” La Mariposa, apparently a stage name, is really none other than Lisa from DOAX, sporting a wild costume like something out of pro wrestling (apparently, from what I can gather, she and Tina are rivals). There are also some secret hidden characters that I haven’t unlocked yet, one of whom is Spartan-458 from the Halo novels (of which I am a big fan). You have to beat story mode with every character — even all the other locked ones! — to unlock the Spartan, so that is presently my goal.

Of course, it wouldn’t be DOA without lots of eye candy and fanservice. The bosom-bouncing is back in all of its typical exaggeratedness, and the various cinematic endings for each character — well, the female ones, anyway — are full of DOAX-style goofiness usually with little-to-no clothing involved. (Leifang’s entire ending revolves around a train ride where some old man accidentally touches her breast, so she kicks him out the window.) The actual stories of story mode seem typically vacuous, but somewhat better than usual and not quite as cheesy this time around — or perhaps, it seems more obvious this time when humor is meant to be humor, and drama is meant to be drama, if you catch my drift.

So far, I’ve beaten story mode (on Normal difficulty) with eight characters: Kokoro, Leifang, Brad Wong, Hayabusa, Kasumi, Hitomi, Lisa and Jann Lee. Right now there seems to be a dearth of information online about DOA4 (it’s still too new) so I don’t have any details about how to unlock the other secrets, but I’ve got plenty to busy myself with until more clues emerge. And I have to say, I’m having a lot more fun with DOA4 now that I’ve taken the time to learn how to play it properly. It’s very rewarding this way.

To sum up, I’m very pleased with DOA4 and expect to get a lot more gameplay hours out of it. In addition, learning to play like a real enthusiast and not a button-masher will help improve my performance on the older DOA games as well, so I might actually stand a chance against my friends the next time we get together. 😉

And, after seeing this taste of DOA in high-def, now I’m anxious to see the upcoming DOAX2. Ohhh yeah!