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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Dead or Alive 4 (Xbox 360)


By Michael Palisano

Dead or Alive 4 hits players with a level of visual detail and smoothness that's unprecedented. The multi-planed backgrounds, impressively detailed textures, beautiful character animation, lush environments and, stunning lighting effects define what a true 'next-generation' experience should offer. DOA 4's gameplay flows beautifully with an almost dance like flair. The commands have been tweaked with a more advanced countering system that deepens the experience. Team Ninja has also included extensive online support that allows you to battle against foes on Xbox Live with no loss of visual quality or game flow. Despite a lack of innovation in game modes, this highly polished fighter definitely makes a strong impression, making this one of the best Xbox 360 titles yet.

Tecmo's Dead or Alive 4 is the newest installment in the long-running, popular fighting game franchise that began nearly a decade ago on the original Playstation console. Since then, the series has become almost synonymous with console launches, with sterling editions accompanying the Dreamcast, PS2 and Xbox debuts. Now, with the arrival of Microsoft's Xbox 360, players are once again treated to another fighting game that's both a feast for the eyes and a solid game that offers plenty of challenge and excitement. As you might expect, DOA 4 offers an array of standard modes including Sparring mode, where you can practice your moves, Versus mode where you can battle against a friend and Survival mode in which you're placed against a never ending series of enemies to see how long you can last. Time Attack mode is a test to see how long it will take you to beat the game with standard rules. Players can also choose Story mode, where you battle through a single character's plot to discover their secrets. There's also a Team Attack mode where you can select up to 7 different characters to battle it out. These in-game modes are complimented by some extra modes such as Watch, which allows you to view other fighters battle it out. You can also see detailed stats on your battles in the User mode. If you want to relive your greatest moments, you can save them and view them later in Battle Mode and can view your character rankings as well. As you complete these various stages, you'll be able to unlock a variety of rewards including extra costumes, hidden characters and other items, which keeps your motivation level high. DOA 4's gameplay modes are fairly standard for the series and don't diverge from the norm, but should offer enough variety and challenge to satisfy most gamers.

Players will find all of their favorite characters like Bayman, Kasume, Hitomi, Ryu Hayabusa (from Ninja Gaiden) and Ayane joined with several new fighters including a mysterious masked woman named La Mariposa, Gen Fu's young apprentice Elliot, and the elegant Kokoro. Each of these fighters brings a unique style and fighting discipline to the arena, with dozens of different special moves, attacks, counters and techniques to master. DOA 4's fighting system this time around is a bit more complicated and has been fine-tuned to a large degree, placing a greater emphasis on counters and defensive moves while making button mashing a bit harder to do successfully. Most of the characters have a variety of throws and grabs which they can use to create chains and inflict heavy damage with massive combos. In addition to these physical attacks, players can use the arenas as weapons by throwing their opponent into walls, down stairs and through windows. This was a feature of several previous games, but DOA 4 has refined the structure so that these multi-tiered arenas are better intergrated into the game. From a control standpoint, DOA 4 plays smoothly on either a standard or deluxe joystick controller. Players will find the standard controller more than adequate to the task, with most buttons well mapped to their functions. The shift buttons are consigned to special moves and combos, while frequently used commands are assigned to the face buttons. Players can also use either the standard d-pad or the left analog stick for movement, either of which offer a responsive command system. If you really want to go all-out for this title, Hori has issued a special-edition joystick controller for the game that's beautifully designed and solidly constructed. The traditional joystick is responsive, though it lacks analog support, though DOA 4 doesn't use this feature that extensively, so it's not a major issue.

The implementation of these multi-planed battle arenas is impressive from a technical standpoint, allowing players to feel like they're battling in a real environment, not a static closed-in arena. Adding to the superb implementation is the fact that each trigger causes a different event. Since each one has a different layout with unique trigger points, they create different strategies for each battle. Some have only one or two minor break points, while others feature several dramatic falls, all of which adds plenty of variety to the battles. At random points, players will also find other obstacles such as cars or a rampaging dinosaur that run across the arena as well. Some arenas also feature wired walls, which will electrocute the character if they're slammed into them. There also seems to be a better balance between the characters, with fewer overpowering moves lists. The damage massive combos do seems to have been reduced, though a skilled player can still inflict an almost impossible amount of damage in a very short time. This makes the battles fairer with few cheap shots. The improved balance and parrying system also makes the battles more intense with more blows, since the characters have more even matches for the most part. This deeper set of moves should make the game more satisfying to veteran gamers, but the accessible and intuitive control-sets means that DOA 4 remains accessible to newcomers making for a well-rounded fighting game.

The standard gameplay modes are fairly interesting and offer plenty of depth but DOA 4 really shines in its new Xbox Live mode which allows DOA fans to battle it out against other players online. In order to keep the balance between fighters, each player is ranked based on their skill level and number of wins, which is displayed in the lobby. Adding to the excitement is the fact that players can compete online in a number of tournament modes which support up to 16 players. There are also single player battles, versus battles and knockout rounds to compete in, giving DOA 4's online component plenty of depth. In addition, players can view other matches occurring in real time, which helps to immerse you further into the onscreen action. While its not surprising that this feature works well, another feature that's compelling is the ability to use the points you win during online battles in the store to purchase extras for the game, which makes this more worthwhile than just seeing your name in flashing lights on a toteboard. This is definitely good news for those gamers who might have felt that this mode would be an afterthought. Instead, Team Ninja has obviously put a lot of thought into the game's online modes and its features and implementation make it a model of what the next-generation of broadband gaming should offer.

Obviously, the one area where the game shines brightest are its visuals, which are simply amazing throughout. DOA 4's characters move with an incredible amount of realism, with silky smooth animation that gives each character lifelike movement. The level of detail in their facial expressions, clothing and skins is incredible. Fabrics in each character's costumes acts naturally and flows with their movement in believable fashion. The characters' skin tones and body structures approach photorealism in certain areas, such as bulging veins in some of the muscles which makes them seem almost alive. However the game still retains much of its anime style, so there's still plenty of style to be had. Dead or Alive 4's environments dramatically showcase the Xbox 360's power, whether it's a stunningly recreated dinosaur park with life-like beasts, the glowing neon streets of Las Vegas or an elaborate Temple in the middle of a jungle, each location in the game is infused with an astonishing level of detail that makes them literally jump off the screen. The music is fairly decent if forgettable for the most part, with the exception of a few grating tracks that seem out of place. Tecmo also deserves credit for not trying to over-Westernize the game by keeping the original Japanese voice-overs intact with subtitles. Overall, DOA 4's production values are second to none and the game's highly polished appearance makes it the best looking 3D fighter on any platform to date.

While DOA 4 is highly polished in most major areas, with the basic formula now refined for the most part, the basic single player game modes remain a basically the same as they were in DOA3. The addition of a photo mode adds little depth to the experience, with almost essentially the same structure as previous games, which is somewhat disappointing. However, most players probably won't notice these problems, since they'll instead find themselves astonished by the game's sheer technical beauty. The multi-tiered stages and outdoor levels stand out as particularly beautiful and will leave you astonished by their level of detail. DOA 4's beauty is more than skin-deep however, since the refined and newly balanced gameplay offers more strategy with a much deeper counter system that makes button mashing a thing of the past. This makes the fights more interesting, allowing you to battle back from deficits much easier than before which makes for a more satisfying experience overall. Add in multiple gameplay modes, extensive online support and an improved storyline and you have a title that's transcended its reputation as a cheap 'girlie' game and transformed itself into a stylish fighter that can stand up there with the best. DOA 4's razor-sharp visuals, refined fighting system, addictive gameplay and extensive online and solo gameplay modes make it a highly polished 3D fighter that should be on every Xbox 360's owner's must-buy list.

Grade: B+

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