The Dead or Alive franchise often gets an unfair rap amongst the videogame public. It’s true that the character design – aesthetically at least – is one influenced by little more than titillation. Alongside this however, has been a solid, constantly evolving combat system that rivals the best the genre has to offer. Faith in Team Ninja may have been shaken at the time. However, Dead or Alive 5 demonstrated just how capable the studio was following the very public departure of former lead design Tomonobu Itagaki. It undeniably completed that objective, even with misgivings surrounding its monetisation model.

Dead or Alive 5 makes many bold statements for the future of the Dead or Alive franchise, first and foremost is the expansion of the suite of gameplay modes. The Story mode was clearly inspired by Mortal Kombat, and looks simply gorgeous throughout. The art direction is superb and the technical standard is almost unparalleled. And this is despite the traditional wax doll look of the female cast. Though it’s entirely dismissible, it’s just as forgettable as it a welcome additional to the progression of the genre. The mode offers both an introduction to the world of DOATEC and Dead or Alive 5. It blends character introductions with tutorial prompts so well that they may as well not have bothered including the Training mode within the package.

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Dead or Online

Dead or Alive 5 also features the traditional assortment of Arcade, Time Attack and Survival modes that fans have come to know and love, as well as the online gameplay. Of course, the combat system is designed to perform best when playing against human opponents. Thankfully the online play was a remarkably stable presentation. The sheer fluidity of Dead or Alive is more important than in most other beat-‘em-ups. As such the previous outings have offered a heavily flawed online experience. Dead or Alive 5 sees each one of the many fighting innovations brought to life online almost as if the player was sitting next to you. From the counter strikes and holds to the throw combos and critical blows, Dead or Alive 5 is every bit the online experience that the series demands but had previously been unable to provide.

New Game, New Moves

It’s the Power Blow manoeuvre; however, that is one of the most obvious examples of this innovation. The addition was inspired by the Mortal Kombat‘s X-Ray, and thusly the Critical Finish mechanic of Soul Calibur VDead or Alive 5’s Power Blows are the exemplifying body to those original ideals, both means and ends. Avoidable by skill rather than merely a tap of the block button, yet devastating enough to take the risk of being left open to counter attack. Power Blows are the full stop of Dead or Alive 5’s determination to push forward the genre. They encourage aggressive play and fullest use of the densely populated arenas and are a landmark addition to the gameplay.

The variety of arenas is greatly appreciated. Each uses the same multiple tier structure of earlier instalments and many take things even further. The circus themed The Show may be a questionable sidestep, but other arenas showcase some fantastic imagination. From explosive barrels to collapsing steelwork, metallic railings taking a dents from heavy impact with skulls to the possibility of being run-over mid-fight.

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Dead or Alive 5 Brings Mila to the Battleground

New character Mila is a very different proposition to the rest of the female cast. Slow blows landing with forceful impact and a very different timing frame with short range follow-up attacks. It makes a change to find such a heavy fisted female in Dead or Alive. This is a move which was welcomed by long time fans looking to master an entirely new fighting style. So too did the Virtua Fighter characters who appear as part of the line-up, making their first cameo outside of SEGA’s stable. However, while they offered a taste of something new, their moves list blend didn’t result in an such an enjoyable new variation.

The visual quality of Dead or Alive 5 is of an incredibly high standard throughout. The animation of the Dead or Alive series has always been pushing against the boundaries of expectation. Yet here in Dead or Alive 5 there are few equals. The matured character designs are empathetic of an aging medium, and are very much welcomed. Though it could be argued that any good done here is undermined by the abnormally inflated cup sizes of the entire female cast. The soundtrack does not keep up this quality level however. The average voice acting and background music wouldn’t feel out of place in a beat-‘em-up released two decades ago.

Dead or Alive 5 screenshot

Dead or Alive 5

Though beat-‘em-up videogames were suffering the image of an outdated genre when Dead or Alive 4 rolled around, the years since Capcom dared to place that magic number ‘4’ on the end of a Street Fighter title have been kind. There have been many games that have shown resolve and delivered engrossing, modern revisions to a well established genre. But Dead or Alive 5 was one of the boldest, most progressive of them all. Many would write of the series in the same way they always have. However, any real beat-‘em-up fan will recognise the innovation in Dead or Alive 5 as a trendsetter. And not just for it’s then-unique free-to-play model, but in a gameplay performance that can still be felt in the genre a decade later.

Categories: Games