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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Dead or Alive: Ultimate (Xbox)


By Michael Palisano

Tecmo's Dead or Alive series has always had a large fanbase with it's mix of tight fighting action, beautifully rendered environments and an undeniable sex appeal. Now, the developers at Team Ninja have come out with a definitive collection of the series' first two games on the Xbox in the form of DOA: Ultimate. Each game has been revamped to take full-advantage of the Xbox console's abilities, but there's more than pretty graphics. Players can now take the action online using the Live service and play in a variety of game modes. Join the Laser as we examine this collection and find out why this is the most exciting DOA release to date.

Taking the first two DOA fighters and updating them for the Xbox, Team Ninja and Tecmo have brought a pair of their classic Dead or Alive titles into the 21st century with the release of Dead or Alive Ultimate. Both titles were landmark releases in their own right when they were released, but the developers have put in a lot of effort into revamping them. This package includes the original Saturn Dead or Alive, which has been revamped with much cleaner lines, vastly improved rendering and more responsive controls. While its a nice blast from the past, and should appeal to hardcore gamers who loved the Saturn game, don't be shocked if the graphics in this version aren't up to your expectations. However, this release is still interesting to play if you want to examine how the characters' designs and backstories have evolved over the years. This solid port is quite enjoyable and still plays surprisingly well once you look beyond the graphical limitations. The most interesting aspect of DOA1's gameplay are the electrocution zones, which cause a great deal of damage when players step into them, causing fatal blows in many instances. This was definitely different from the ring-outs that predominated in other 3D fighters of the time. However, this solution still seems a bit primitive by today's standards and throws off the play balance. Luckily, the electrocution zones were expanded greatly to include more subtle placement and breakable environments in later games. The fighting system was simple and straightforward, but the characters' versatility and moves lists were refined a great deal in the second and third games. DOA1 is a cool playing version of the game and its inclusion in this collection makes it a cool extra that should please hardcore fans of the series.

More interesting is the enhanced version of DOA2 that is included in Ultimate. This game was originally released for the Sega Dreamcast, then enhanced as DOA2: Hardcore for the Playstation2's launch lineup. This latest edition has been thoroughly revamped once again with vastly improved graphics that reflect the added power of today's console technology with better character models, improved animation and better lighting effects. Each area has been updated and now have living creatures such as elephants and birds. The game's environmental effects make each arena feel alive with natural water, snow and wind effects giving the game a startlingly realistic look. DOA2's visual flourishes extend throughout the game, giving it a highly polished, realistic look few other Xbox titles can match. These graphical enhancements are quite impressive, and make DOA2 Ultimate easily one of the best-looking Xbox titles to date. Another big change comes in the level designs themselves. The areas you remember have been restructured to a large extent. This makes it feel almost like an entirely new game with the new layouts featuring more breakable areas, multi-tiered rings and obstacles in the arenas as well. DOA2's gameplay remains largely unchanged and still features the addictive fighting action players have come to expect. Players will find similar moves for all the characters in the game along with enhanced storylines and elaborate cutscenes that further flesh out the characters' storylines. There are several single and multiplayer modes in the game, with the usual story, tag battle and survival modes included. The game also offers more unlockable content than DOA1, with additional costumes becoming available when you play through the different modes.

Of course, the improved graphics, new costumes and, enhanced enviromnents are what sucks the player in immediately, but this alone would have made the package seem like a cheap repackaging of old games. Luckily, Tecmo has included one huge enhancement that brings new energy to these titles. The addition of Xbox Live support means that players now have the opportunity to play with others online. Both titles support online play with a number of modes. Players first need to create a profile and can then use their character in battle against other foes. The character creation process and intuitive interface used makes logging in and signing on quite simple. Once online, players can choose from a number of modes including standard one on one fighting modes, tournament modes, tag team matches and more. There are also variations where the winner or loser stays in the rounds, and more configurable options. In addition to standard fighting with another player, the most impressive mode is the new online Arcade mode, which allows up to eight players to compete online at the same time in a battle royale. This is all wrapped together smoothly with an impressive menu system that's easy to navigate and understand. Playing against other characters online definitely adds more depth and longevity to the experience, and the performance was excellent with little lag or hiccups in the overall online game. The high quality of the online experience is quite impressive, especially considering the fact that fighting games demand a high level of precision and responsiveness to work. This feature is definitely DOA Ultimate's strongest selling point, making an addictive single player experience all the more exciting and engaging.

You can't really fully explain the appeal of the Dead or Alive series without mentioning the game's inherent sex appeal. The scantily clad ladies in the game are undeniably alluring in their standard outfits, but players will also be able to download and unlock additional costumes which include the usual school uniforms and bikinis along with more exotic attire. The other key element in DOA is its strange design and bizarre, almost incoherent storyline. While there are some minor changes made, the games' storyline and cutscenes will still leave most players scratching their heads. Especially strange is the bizarre end-boss in DOA2, which doesn't make much sense at all. However, its all part of the series' charm. Tecmo's decision to leave the original Japanese voice-overs and use subtitles instead of westernizing the game keeps DOA's unique feel intact, though it doesn't make many of the plot points or anything else that much easier to understand. However, none of this should dissuade players looking to add DOA: Ultimate to their collection. This is an excellent value, like having two great games for the price of one, giving it plenty of replay value and longevity. The visual enhancements give the game a sleek look that ranks with the best Team Ninja have produced on the Xbox to date. The new level layouts and addition of online play make this a must purchase for anyone interested in the evolution of Dead or Alive. While the single player modes are fantastic, the game really comes alive when you plug it into Xbox Live where you'll find an entirely new array of unpredictable human challenges. Overall, this is an excellent addition to the series, and well-worth picking up for any fighting fan.

Grade: B

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