Tecmo’s Dead or Alive 3 is one of the most-anticipated Xbox launch titles due largely to the technical brilliance of its visuals. Featuring more than vastly improved graphics, DOA3 also features amazing multi-tiered stages, deeper moves lists, elaborate tag-team modes and a much more technical approach to fighting. The game looks incredible and is a tour-de-force on many other fronts as well. The biggest question on most players’ minds is whether DOA3 sees the series achieving elite status with the likes of Virtua Fighter and Tekken. We take a look at this landmark title and examine whether it has undergone enough change to justify a new console purchase or if the impressive eye-candy is used to cover up substandard gameplay.
This martial arts series has taken on increasing prominence and popularity in the fighting genre as the 3 installments seem to build from the foundations of previous games to make each release seem like a quantum leap from the one before it. The first DOA game on the PS1 was notable mostly for its well-endowed beauties and the unique death zones at the edges of stages. DOA2 arrived on the Dreamcast and refined the formula with better graphics and a deeper moves system and impressive multi-tiered stages while last year’s DOA2 Hardcore hit the PS2 with fully realized stages and even better graphics. Now the series moves to the Xbox with quite a bit of fanfare. While there are some similarities to previous titles, much of what was already great has been intensified to make this sequel much more than a visual facelift. In fact, while the graphical improvements are the most immediate, the more you get into the game the deeper it gets.
All the standard modes are included here – story, time attack, tag-team and survival mode. There really hasn’t been that much change to these modes from the previous titles. Story mode unfolds as players beat opponents in single-round bouts and there seems to be a more cohesive plot this time around, though it’s still a bit disjointed and strange at points. Players can also unlock hidden costumes and cinema sequences by completing each character’s story arc, which adds some replay value to this mode. Time Attack is exactly like Story mode except each bout is a best of three and the goal is to beat the opponents in the fastest time. Two characters can be used as one team in DOA3’s tag-team mode. This has been upgraded substantially from last year’s model with more logical opponents and a greater variety of arenas in which to fight. Survival mode is also back but this time, players can’t earn more power and instead have to keep fighting opponents until their power-bars are depleted. A new training mode has also been thrown in to help players master all the various moves. All in all, DOA 3’s lasting impact remains mostly in the time-attack and tag-team modes which offer a lot of replay value.
Most of the characters from previous games have returned with a few new faces thrown in to keep things fresh. The new combatants compliment the existing lineup nicely. The biggest change in DOA3 is its new end-boss, who’s much more credible than the lame one in the last game. As usual, the players still balance each other out nicely though this time, the emphasis is more on skill than flashy moves, which makes for a longer, more satisfying game. While it seems to be a very similar to previous games on the surface, extended play reveals a much deeper and more flexible moves system with more combos, blocks and air-attacks than previously. This makes the battles far more strategic with a greater reliance on the actual skill of the player. What’s more, the death zones of previous games have been deemphasized, making the combat deeper and more satisfying with victories less dependant on flashy combos. There are many more nuances to the fighting system this time, with elaborate counters and finishing moves that keeps the player occupied for quite some time mastering all the ins and outs.
In addition to mastering the methods to beat other combatants, players will also have to be on the lookout for the various dangers presented by the stages themselves. These spectacular multi-tiered stages have become the series trademark but now, thanks to the Xbox’ increased processing power, they have become fully realized. These don’t occur in every single stage but occur often enough to play a big role in how DOA3 plays. You can knock an opponent off a cliff or make them plummet through a glass window in spectacular sequences – and not just once but now several times in each level. These drops also cause the victim to take a lot of damage so knowing where they are and how to knock an opponent through them can be a critical advantage. The other thing that’s differentiated the series are its ring-out death zones. While not all of the stages have them this time out, there are still the electrified ring edges at the ends of certain stages and slamming the opponent into these will likewise cause a devastating amount of damage.
Of course, none of these elaborate stages and maneuvers would be possible without the intense processing power of today’s systems. While it’s merely a launch title, Dead or Alive 3 delivers what is unquestionably the most sophisticated, beautiful environments ever seen in a 3D fighting game. The special effects are spectacular with incredible light sourcing, lens flares, particle effects and blurring used to make some truly astonishing visuals. More subtle environmental effects are also used extensively – backgrounds feature realistic flying birds, autumnal leaves blowing in the wind, extremely realistic water effects and more dazzling effects that make the environments seem completely natural and organic. During the winter battles, the characters actually leave tracks in the snow and can knock down clumps of it from tree branches when they slam their opponents into them. What’s more, the game’s camera system is extremely intelligent as objects that get in the way of the action are made transparent to make the view more effective.
It isn’t just the environments that are incredible, because the characters themselves are knockouts in more ways than one. A lot of effort went into each character with huge numbers of polygons expended on each combatant to make them seem almost lifelike. This makes them move with an unprecedented fluidity and realism that must be seen in motion to be appreciated. What’s most impressive about DOA3’s production values is how utterly seamless the entire experience seems, nothing looks pasted on and characters and objects interact beautifully with extensive shadows and consistent light-sourcing allowing the game to show a degree of realism that nothing to date has approached. If there’s one disjointed area of the game, it comes in the final boss confrontation. Gone are the sweeping, intelligent camera movements which are instead replaced by an awkward, fixed behind the player viewpoint that’s presented at an awkward angle that makes it overly difficult to judge attacks and timing. Of course, this was the single biggest problem with DOA2, so while this recurrence is disappointing, it doesn’t come as a big surprise. That annoying flaw aside, the look and feel of the game is absolutely breathtaking.
Still, this is without a doubt the best looking
fighting game ever to grace a game console. It’s silky smooth graphics are
sharp and amazing while the graphics engine does things no one could have
imagined without breaking a sweat. Even better, Tecmo’s Team Ninja development
house has made some major improvements beyond the façade to make for a deeper,
more satisfying fighting game. It’s not perfect – Dead or Alive 3 still
feels a bit too gimmicky and places and the final battle with the end boss doesn’t
feel or play as well as the rest of the game does. Still, these are minor
problems. While it’s been compared to other fighters a lot in the past, this
time the series makes a bold move into elite status and will now become the
standard that other fighters will be measured against. From both an aesthetic
and gameplay standpoint, Dead or Alive 3 is an absolute triumph that showcases
the Xbox brilliantly and that makes it a must-play launch title destined to be
remembered for quite some time.