Monday, January 16, 2006

“Dead or Alive 4 (Xbox 360) Review”

I love Street Fighter II. (Yes, this is a DoA4 review, but indulge me, dammit.) I mean, as far as I’m concerned, fighting game-wise, nothing has topped it. Ever. The Street Fighter II series has some intangible qualities that no fighting has ever been able to reproduce, much less improve upon. The gameplay is simple, yet complex. The characters are now iconic. Hell, even the music is memorable.

But even still, instilled in me is the ever growing need for something newer and shinier, something better than what is already nearly perfect. No sooner had I mastered wake up dragon punches all those years ago that I started looking for the next ‘it’ game to replace it. Early on, it was Mortal Kombat. Killer Instinct made a run for the fighting game title. Then you had the barrage of SNK games. Some were good. Many were horrible. But in the end, even the good ones couldn’t compare to SF2.

Then came the 3D fighting games, and soon, button mashing became a viable fighting game strategy. This sickened me. Never in its admittedly short history, going back to Karate Champ, had the fighting game genre ever been even remotely easy to play. If you were a newb at Street Fighter, and you played someone that even kind of knew what he was doing, you got destroyed. End of story. Too bad. So sad. Suck it up and try again. And again. And again. Just like everyone else before you. All SF2 players had to go through this rite of passage before even being able to consistently throw a fireball, much less use it at the right time, or ultimately combo into it. SF2 took skill.

And these 3D fighting games, man, I mean, button mashing… ugh. And yeah, OK, I admit that button mashing isn’t going to win you any tournaments. But still, it gets you a lot further than it should. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not blind to the fact that 3D fighting games take skill to master, but it’s just not satisfying. Punch, Punch, Kick, Punch. Should *never* be considered a ‘move.’ And furthermore, it shouldn’t take 1/4 of a life bar away if you connect with it. (This is what sucked about KI, by the way.) Sure you have the timings and counters and shit like that, but honestly… all that stuff just seems… not… cool, I guess. It’s not that it doesn’t take skill to play games like Virtua Fighter or Tekken or Dead or Alive 4, it’s just that the skill needed to play those games just seems sort of gay. It’s kind of like being good at synchronized swimming. It’s hard and shit, no doubt, but wouldn’t you rather be good at real game like football or basketball or even golf?

So you’re probably thinking I hate Dead of Alive 4. The strange thing is, I don’t. As I said, I’m always looking for that one game to supplant SF2 as the best fighting game of all time. So I’m always welcoming the next big fighting game with open arms. Unfortunately, DoA4 isn’t the ultimate in fighting games. But, I begrudgingly admit that it’s still quite a bit of fun.

Perhaps I’m influenced by the fact that DoA4 is my only fighting game option on the Xbox 360. Or perhaps I’m enchanted by the online aspects of the game, or even by the hi-res boobies. In any case, I like this game. I admit it. And that should mean something from a guy that has hated nearly all 3D fighting games.

Graphics – 8.4

A sore point, for me, about the Xbox 360 is the lack of truly jaw dropping graphics in the 1st batch of games. DoA4 is among the games that disappoints graphically. Perhaps, it’s unfair to judge something based on how you think it should be, but you know what, I never said I was going to be fair. The graphics in DoA4 should be much better than they are. Period.

Of course, DoA4 has the obligatory jump in resolution and texture detail, a less than apparent jump in polygons, and a very nice framerate. Ho-hum. Boring. What I wanted to see in this generation was gameplay graphics that matched the graphics in the pre-rendered endings. Instead, what I got from my Xbox 1.5 was DoA 3.5.

Let’s take the characters’ hair. Where do I even start? It’s ass. The long flowing hair on the DoA 4 characters looks simply terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Why did they bother with long flowing ‘hair’ if they make it look more like magical ribbons that seem to move of their own volition… independently of any implied game physics… even going as far as going through the characters’ bodies. I mean, the hair polygons clipping into the shoulders of most of the characters is really noticeable. If they couldn’t do the hair right, they should have just left their hair short like in previous games.

The backgrounds are pretty good I guess, but nothing too great either. I really like the waterfall level. But when your character falls into the water, I want to see their clothes get wet. I want to see their hair droop down, soaked with water, and I want to see droplets of water go flying from their hair as their heads are popped back with a nasty kick to the face. But apparently we’ll have none of that.

The graphics are simply adequate with respect to the rest of the Xbox 360 games. People who jizz in their pants when they talk about the graphics would also probably be quite happy playing with an empty egg carton. They are easily amused. The graphics in DoA4 are nothing special people. Let’s be real.

Gameplay – 9.0

This is the real heart of the game. SF2 looks like ass by today’s standards, but the gameplay keeps me coming back again and again. I’m happy to report that the gameplay of DoA4 is decent. It’s got a nice feel to it, and while it’s very spam friendly, there are some definite skills that can be learned that will allow you to dominate less experienced players. Countering is one of those skills.

Let me just say that what I call a ‘counter,’ the game calls a ‘hold.’ Let me also say that whoever named the move where “you stop an opponents attack and retaliate against it with an attack of your own” a ‘hold’ is an idiot. It’s a fucking counter. Using their logic, a ‘throw’ would probably be called a ‘maneuver.’ Most likely this same idiot (probably Itagaki) is also the guy that named the guard/counter button, the ‘free’ button. Why not call it the ‘defense’ button? I chalk it up to the long history Japanese people have of being retarded when they name something in English. “Donkey Kong” anyone?

In any case, countering is a big deal. Apparently, it was a much bigger deal in earlier versions of DoA because it was overpowered. It had a long window where the counter was active, and it did way too much damage. The counter window has been reduced in DoA4, as has the damage performing a counter does. These are good things. That being said, there are 4 different ways you can counter in the game: forward + free (counters mid kicks), back + free (counters mid punches), up-back + free (counters high attacks) and down-back + free (counters low attacks). That means, if you’re really just guess as to what your opponent is going to do next, you only have a 25% chance of countering. Or more importantly, you have a 75% chance of getting pummeled. A word to the wise, don’t guess on what kind of counter to use. If in doubt, simply block.

The good players can pick up the attack strings being used against them and intelligently counter the last or next to the last attack. This is where being spammy gets you your ass handed to you. If you always do the same three fucking punches, a good player is going to start countering you.

Outside of counters, you have a lot of other nice subtleties in gameplay like stun moves that temporarily incapacitate your enemy if they block and multiple part throws. Nothing really new here as these things have been done before, but its still doesn’t change the fact that these moves deepen the gameplay.

Matches tend to be over pretty quickly when played at default settings: 2 rounds with the ‘Normal’ life bars. Almost too quickly. Over time, I preferred to play first to 3 rounds and with the life bars increased to Maximum to allow for longer rounds. This is with regard to Vs. mode of course. For single player games, you want that shit over as fast as possible because you’re going to be wanting to get through the game quickly to unlock bonus characters and costumes.

That brings me to the modes. There are only 2 modes worth a shit in my opinion, Story mode and Versus Mode. Story mode is how you earn the majority of your shit, so you probably want to play through that a few times. It’s not too bad. The rounds default to 1 round. But Versus mode is where I spend most of my time. That and Online Versus mode, which is basically the same shit. Time Attack and Survival? Fuck those. They’re only there to stretch out the game. Having to go through those modes to unlock the last few things really sucks.

Back to the online aspect… DoA4 does a great job of giving you an easy way to experience online Versus. Basically, the layout of online is like a virtual arcade. A group of 2 thru 16 people join a lobby. Register, then they join a game. People play their game. If it’s not your turn, you wait in line and watch the others play. When your turn comes up, if you win, great, you stay on and take another challenger. If you lose, back to the end of the line. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s awesome, and it works really well.

The only bad part of playing online is that the game can lock up on you from time to time. It generally does that when you mess around with the guide button while the game is loading. It does NOT like that. It’s easy to avoid, but it’s a bug that shouldn’t be there nonetheless. Oh, well.

What else do you wanna hear? About the Spartan? She sucks. Slow and predictable. The online lag? That just depends on your connection to the other guy. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but almost always playable. About the special DoA4 joystick? Yes, I have it and it rocks. I can’t wait to use it to play SF2 over Xbox Live Arcade. ;)

In summary, if you like how 3D fighting games play, in particular the DoA games, you’ll love the gameplay. There really isn’t a competition with regard to fighting games… soo… there you go.

Sound – 8.0

All I know is that Itagaki seems to have a hard on for Aerosmith. Why do they keep licensing Aerosmith for DoA games? WHY? Blech. Well, besides the Aerosmith, the rest of the songs aren’t bad, but they are easily forgettable. The punches and kicks and groans and grunts sound about right. The voice acting is a bit lame, however, not because it’s bad, but because it’s all in Japanese. I mean, the Americans, the Chinese, the French and German… all speak perfect Japanese. All except the Spartan. The lady who does the voice of the Spartan seemed to be the only non-Japanese name in all the credits. ;) It just doesn’t seem right that Bass speaks perfect Japanese.

Value – 9.1

If you like fighting games, you’ll play DoA4 a shitload. You can find it at some places for $49.99, but mostly it’s $59.99. Either way, if you want a fighting game, you’re gonna have to pay it. The value totally depends on how much Versus fighting you do and whether you play online. Overall, for me, it’s a great value.

Overall – 8.7

One last time: this is the only fighting game for the Xbox 360. If you liked older DoAs or even Tekken or some other bullshit, get it. End of story.


Penalty on offense. Illegal Block to the back!

That's a hardcore game of pattycake!

You were warned! No counting cards!!

Mmmmmmmm... boobies.

1 comment:

r4i said...

some notable standouts including the Las Vegas street level and the level based on a Japanese peach tree garden.