Dead or Alive 4 Xbox 360 Review

Dead or Alive is back, bigger, badder and bouncier than ever. After last year’s remakes of the first two in the series Tecmo have finally given us an all new instalment and all the familiar faces are back along with a few new ones including the much hyped Spartan-458. Tecmo’s flagship series has arrived on the Xbox 360 with a bang and a good few wallops.

Graphics

Dead or Alive has always been a beautiful game (as long as you ignore the first instalment) but this time round Team Ninja have really gone to town on the visual front making good use of the Xbox 360’s hardware. At first glance things don’t seem to be greatly improved, which is more a testament to Team Ninja’s past efforts than a detriment to their latest work, but the more you look, the more the improvements become apparent. Character models as always are near perfect and look very close to past instalments, but on closer inspection the improvements are obvious, from Jann Lee’s bulging veins to Bass Armstrong’s fur trimmed collar. All these little improvements add to the character’s realism, making them look less plasticy and perfect than previously. If there’s one flaw with the character models though, it’s the hair, not all of them though, just the long haired characters. Long haired characters suffer from some strange condition that causes their hair to clump together into thick locks, no individual hairs here I’m afraid, but this is a very minor niggle and in no way detracts from the game’s stunning appearance.

The fighting arenas also don’t seem radically different from Dead or Alive Ultimate, but again once you look you see that everything is more detailed, water effects are even better than before and everything’s just generally shinier. There’s a lot more interactivity about them too. Examples of this are: when you’re fighting in the market, knocking over a basket or box of fruit will send it spilling to the floor and they all roll off individually at different tangents; and wildlife on a good number of levels, from the monkeys scurrying around the temples steps to the roving raptors on what I like to call the Jurassic Park level. These are small things but all add to the atmosphere of the levels
And finally there are the FMVs for the story endings, if you thought the in game graphics were amazing, these will absolutely knock your socks off. You could almost swear you were watching a movie with the realism of them. I won’t spoil anything for you by telling you what happens in them, but they have to be seen.

Gameplay

Gameplay-wise, Dead or Alive 4 does everything a sequel to a beat ’em up should, you’ve got new characters (more on them later), new moves for the characters, new arenas to fight in, a graphical overhaul and an improved counter system. For a long time Dead or Alive has been looked down upon by beat ’em up purists, always preferring their Tekkens and Virtua Fighters over the likes of Dead or Alive. But it’s a series that has evolved and developed over time, every game in the series has added to the gameplay, and this edition is no different. The game has come a long way now and the gameplay mechanics have never been better, the counter system has been improved again putting the game on an equal footing with game snobs favourites of Tekken and VF. The new moves along with the improved counter system means even long time Dead or Alive fans will need to do some retraining which keeps the gameplay fresh, even for the veterans. It also means you can’t just go in there and button bash your way through the game, you won’t last long using that approach.

The new arenas are also improved, the multi tier levels are there as ever, but now are much more interactive, having some destructible scenery and moving hazards to watch out for, these range from cars on what looks like the Vegas strip to velociraptors in a dinosaur infested jungle. These help keep even the most hardened Dead or Alive veteran from getting too complacent. Some difficulty levels have been removed too, easy and very easy difficulty levels are now gone, making normal difficulty the easiest level, this is another move that’s made the game easier to take seriously as it poses more of a challenge. This may make it more daunting for the beginner as, along with the AI which can be quite frankly brutal even on normal settings, makes the game very challenging to the point of being frustrating. The obvious answer to this is practice though, and thanks to the sparring mode you can learn the moves without the pressure of being in a win or lose situation.

Apart from Story and sparring mode all the usual Dead or Alive game modes are present: time attack, survival and team battle are all there in both single and tag modes. Tag mode has been given an addition as well in the multiplayer, it is now possible to play 4 player tag matches both off and online, which is a nice addition and a long time coming. The online game has also been given an overhaul with an all new lobby system, where people can join without actually entering the game. The lobby is a large area where you can move your avatar round and interact with others or just sit and watch the screen showing the game in progress. Avatars and Lobbies can be bought from Zack’s shop, points to spend in the shop have to be earned by winning games, this is all cosmetic though, and adds nothing to the gameplay, but is another way of judging the ability of players by their avatars or the hosts lobby. All the usual game types are available in the online mode, Winner Stays , Tournament, survival, team battle and loser stay are all pretty self explanatory, Kumite mode though is a little different, one of the players stays on constantly regardless of whether they win or lose and the other player take turns at fighting them. Another addition to the online game is an expanded player capacity, now rather than just 8 players in a game or lobby Dead or Alive 4 will accommodate 16, it may sound like this is just asking for lag in the game, but surprisingly this game doesn’t suffer from lag anywhere near as much as Dead or Alive Ultimate. It does still rear it’s head now and again, though the main cause is not the number of players in the game or even the players proximity (or lack of) to each other, here it is mainly caused by people entering or leaving the game. This can be annoying when it happens during your turn, but it’s nowhere near as bad a problem as it was in Ultimate.

Now onto the roster, most of the regulars are there, Kasumi, Ayane, Hayabusa, Hayate, Zack, Lei Fang, Hitomi, Bass, Jann Lee, Tina and Bayman are all available from the off, along with Christie and Brad Wong returning from Dead or Alive 3. Ein, Leon, Helena and Tengu are there too, but need unlocking, Gen Fu is in the game, but unfortunately not as a playable character. New characters making their first appearances are Kokoro, Eliot and La Mariposa. All are new characters to the series, but their back stories give them suitable connections to the Dead or Alive universe. Kokoro is a young girl who is an ex music student, and seems to be somehow related to Helena. Eliot is Gen Fus young protégé and fights in a very similar style to him and La Mariposa is another wrestler entering the Dead or Alive tournament, she starts of as a rival to Tina, but ends up as her tag team partner by the end of the game. All these characters have their own back story in the Dead or Alive universe but the final character in the game; Spartan-458 (or Nicole as she’s called) doesn’t, being transplanted from the Halo universe. The addition of this is purely a gimmick though as the character doesn’t seem anything special. If you’re going to buy the game purely on her inclusion in the game (as I’m sure Microsoft intended, and many will) then take my advice, don’t do it, buy the game for what it is, a quality beat ’em up, and not a piece of marketing for Bungie.

Sound

Like the visual side of the game, the audio is top notch. All the sound effects sound appropriately painful, the arenas have suitable ambient sound effects and the music is suitably atmospheric. All the characters still speak Japanese with the exceptions of La Mariposa and Spartan-458 as to be expected. Once again Aerosmith feature quite prominently in the game’s soundtrack too. All this is available, as you’d expect in full surround sound making the game a more immersive experience, so if you’ve got a big screen HDTV with a surround sound system you’ll get the most out of the game on both visual and audio fronts, but it’s still just as impressive without a top end set up.

Lifespan

Whilst the story modes for each character is quite short, there’s a lot of them to work through, something you’ll have to do several times with each character if you want to unlock all the costumes. Unfortunately there aren’t as many costumes as in Dead or Alive Ultimate, but still more than enough to keep you playing for a good while. Then after that there are the other single player game modes that the game has to offer so the single player has quite a long lifespan.

After that, there’s the bread and butter of any fighting game, the multiplayer, the online mode ensuring that you’ve always got somebody to play against meaning if your love for the game is strong enough it could last you forever.

Overall

Being the first beat ’em up in the market for the Xbox 360 Team Ninja could’ve just been lazy and rehashed the game with no improvements at all, but fortunately they haven’t and have provided us with a triple A title here which can hold its ground against the Tekkens and Virtua Fighters of this world and has set the bar very high for any other beat ’em ups that will follow it.

If you have an Xbox 360 and like beat ’em ups then you owe it to yourself to buy this game.

9.4 out of 10

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