Edge finally gets to take on 360′s highly anticipated fighter
Ultimate was always a name fit for ridicule: a suggestion of finality in a series everyone knew would continue. Dead or Alive has, after all, become the lipstick on the often quite solemn face of Xbox, and a vitally hedonistic vehicle for its creator’s inimitable pride.
4, however, is partial validation of that predecessor’s title. Faster, sharper, funnier and harder, it fails to offer uniform improvement, and is at times a lesser experience.
First impressions are of a fighting game in which a new hardware generation has given relatively little to its fighters. A naughty anime that reached a characterisation plateau on the original Xbox, it remains a softcore battle between immaculate action figures; the difference being that it’s no longer soft focus.
Its 360-powered engine makes no attempt to draw in whatever realistic blemishes were omitted by its predecessors, instead focusing on crinkled leather and denim seams, weathered floors and the postcard terrain that encircles them.
Environmental interactivity has increased, debris explodes in denser clouds and indestructible obstacles act as springboards for vaulting attacks while complicating (albeit only slightly) the visual arrangement of each arena.
Yet Team Ninja stands to be counted alongside those developers still to pursue 360′s enormous potential for coupling visual detail with visual depth.
In some cases, the absence of the latter is very nearly compensated for by the abundance of the former, stages such as Waterfall Valley taking satisfying strides towards photorealism despite deceptively crude geometry. But elsewhere the game and its purposefully ceramic cast simply appear plain.
Supporters of the argument that it’s all somehow integral to the DOA aesthetic need look no further than the game’s rich cutscenes for contrary evidence. The various CG companies to which they were outsourced have imagined an idealised version of the series at a time when the developer should arguably be realising it instead.
Considering the prominence of the game’s light sources – lurid neon, soft lanterns and blazing suns alike – its contrasts of light and shadow are disappointingly dull, lending its action a look that’s anachronistic beyond expectations.
Mechanically, some would suggest that action to be too rudimentary to warrant the intricate changes made to it in the past, but while the DOA 4 fighting system follows familiar patterns – combos occurring in sporadic bursts with somewhat awkward beats in between – a simple quickening of its pace has effected considerable change.
As you’d expect, the counter remains king, the much-vaunted reduction of active counter frames having surprisingly little effect on the ease with which they’re performed.
The impact of such reversals has been lessened, but the result is simply that you’ll perform more of them rather than adopt an alternative strategy. Admittedly, the structure of story mode is almost entirely familiar, and rifling through it with every character is little more than a three to four-hour job.
The true joy (and test) of a fighter, however, lies beyond the baptism of that initial story mode trawl, and DOA has historically lived and died by its provision of supplemental challenge.
Here, the game’s speed truly makes itself known. Itakagi, typically, wants the game’s online servers to be graced solely by those who have mastered its single-player modes: that’s his preference, not an enforcement, but experience the game’s aggression at default settings in Time Attack mode and you’ll appreciate the elitism of his view.
DOA 4 demands, at the very least, a base knowledge of both your own character’s command list and the ultimate hit zones of your opponents, victory being far from assured even then.
New charge attacks may be available, but the AI’s countering proficiency is intimidating and often overwhelming.
Much as with Soul Calibur III, its strategies can spike from passivity to onslaught at unpredictable times, and to exasperating effect when the clock is ticking.
Final boss Alpha-152 will have you wondering – especially in the wake of Jinpachi Mishima – whether versus-fighting game developers still know what it is to provide a satisfying final contest, as opposed to a brick wall of telepathic counters and whirlwind attacks.
Of course there’ll always be the Uriens and Geese Howards of any fighting circuit – player killers, if you like – but the balance in this case really is off by a stretch.
Alongside such flaws (of judgement rather than execution, it seems), there are also glitches and other technical shortcomings.
As the garments of a fallen Lei Fang glitch upon the windswept Tritower Heliport and inhumanly parted hair writhes oddly around characters’ shoulders, the considerably improved recovery animations can easily be forgotten. And those hopes of a remedied online mode will have to await, at best, a subsequent downloadable patch.
An overburdened branch of Argos operates in much the same way as the game’s new online lobby, and participating in a Quick Match bout is a proposal more laborious than its title suggests. Matches against players of similar bandwidth are reliably slick, but place one bad connection in a lobby and everyone feels the lag.
The prime concern in the protracted run-up to this game – as is now synonymous with the series generally – was that the enormous length of old rope from which Team Ninja likes to reap money would finally lose its allure. By the slimmest of margins, it hasn’t, because there are just enough curios here to sustain interest.
The game’s range of 360 Achievements is novel and should keep those who are now fixated upon such things busy for some time, while its Watch mode now features a sure-to-be-popular snapshot function (interestingly, you can only capture the action while it’s moving).
But still, with its limited range of costumes (broadened with lazy palette swaps) and unambitious Tag and Team battles, DOA 4 remains as familiar as the mild disappointment it delivers.
Source: <a href="http://www.gamesradar.com/reviews/default.asp?pagetypeid=2&articleid=42923&subsectionid=2516">www.gamesradar.com</a>