Video Game Rentals Delivered

Dead or Alive 4

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-04-28 20:21:02

Dead or Alive 4 - Rank A


Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo
Date: 12/29/05

The Dead or Alive franchise has a reputation for 1) a pandering lineup of martial artist hotties and 2) shallow button-mashing fighting mechanics. The first accusation is clearly well deserved, but I don't see that this should be a stigma, and there are male fighters on the roster. The second issue is more damning, as fans of Virtua Fighter, Soul Calibur, or even Tekken heap scorn and derision on the Dead or Alive series from the lofty heights of their supposed technical superiority. Both of these criticisms have some validity, but not nearly to the degree that detractors purport, and not for the reasons they advance.

I'll start with the graphics. I like the girls. I like eye candy. While Dead or Alive 4 does skirt with the exploitation of feminine imagery, you'd have to be either a Puritan or a radical feminist to deem it truly offensive. These are attractive, powerful women and (considering this is a fighting game) effort was spent on developing their personalities and motivations. All of the characters, including the male fighters, are fluidly and beautifully animated. Everything from ponytails and ribbons to the densely textured fabrics of martial arts robes flow and sway convincingly. The environments are equally stunning, whether filled with spectating monkeys or vivid cherry blossoms. The Dead or Alive series was instrumental in the innovation of interactive arenas, and you definitely have to take the ramifications of the environmental structures into account. Dead or Alive 4 is gorgeous in design, detail and scope.

The problem with the visuals is that, oddly enough, they've become too advanced. With the advent of the highly detailed density of high-definition graphics, the stylized anime-influenced look that worked so well in games past looks a bit...off. The character models can look a bit like porcelain dolls, sliding into the "uncanny valley". You won't notice it while concentrating on dishing out lightning quick punches and kicks, but they can look a tad bit creepy during downtime between rounds. In the same way, there are moments when the environments can appear too slick: the extremely detailed objects can appear plastic and inorganic, like disruptively incongruent CG effects in a movie. These are minor complaints, however, and they are completely overshadowed by Dead or Alive 4's overall beauty.

In terms of its fighting mechanics, Dead or Alive has always focused on speed and aggression. This has led to criticisms of mindlessness. It's true that this allows newbies to randomly mash buttons and pull off cool-looking moves, but it's not as if skill is completely excised from the equation. It's simply a different pace than the methodical deliberateness of Virtua Fighter. Dead or Alive favors furious timing and rhythm over precision, much as Muy Thai is more aggressive than Tae Kwon Do. There's a place for both. Dead or Alive 4, in particular, is faster and more unrelenting than ever.

In an effort to balance this, Dead or Alive features a dramatic reversal mechanic. You can intercept any strike and unleash a devastating counter with a single button press. Some fighting fans criticize this function as irreparably unbalancing, but they're fairly hard to pull off in Dead or Alive 4 (due to the game's speed and the addition of a fourth type of counter) and the reward for executing it successfully doesn't seem unduly excessive.

I'll come clean; I fancy myself as a fighting game aficionado, but it's been a long time since I've memorized move lists and combo patterns. I'm not hardcore enough to argue about the number of frames moves take, or which attacks have priority and why that's game breaking. However, I am confident in declaring that Dead or Alive 4 is the sharpest, tightest, and most balanced game in the series. Admittedly, it's still not as intricately deep as Virtua Fighter, but it does bring a unique dynamic quality to the table. At its best, there's a free-flowing rhythm of improvisation to the combat that allows for momentous turnarounds. Toss in respectable online performance, and Dead or Alive has finally matured into a premiere fighting game.

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