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Dead or Alive 4. (Xbox 360)

April 10, 2006

What do we expect from a sequel? How much does the number 2 (or 3, or 4) affect how we look at a game? It seems to be the effect of various factors including genre, format and franchise, which change our perception. If you start to play this game without a sense of déjà vu, then you probably haven’t played a Dead Or Alive game since the first.

A good fighting sequel needs an improved selection of fighters. This isn’t a problem for Dead Or Alive 4, carrying over the previous line-up, adding in a few surprises and introducing four new entrants. However, these new characters don’t have any dramatic impact on the game due to one playing remarkably similar to the heavyweights, and another two that feel identical; only one character actually seems fresh. In truth, the roster in DOA has always felt superficial because of the powerful counter system; all the characters can be played in the same manner, with few exceptions (Tina’s more effective grabs or Brad Wong’s slippery movements being two examples). Those returning feel no different, rarely having any new moves applied to them, so DOA veterans will have no trouble rediscovering their lost skills with old favourites.

There is actually very little that sets the gameplay mechanics apart from DOA: Ultimate. However several minor alterations are in place, which help to create a more believable game that flows a lot better. Primarily, the ground game has changed; whereas you were relatively safe if knocked down in Ultimate, you are now as vulnerable as if you are being juggled. Another small addition is that levels feature small walls that characters can be knocked over, after which an attacker can dive over to assault them. While hardly groundbreaking, it does add to the strategies behind combat. Overall the levels are far more interesting, with more diversity and various interesting features (such as cars that can hit you in one level). Perhaps the biggest alteration to the traditional DOA formula is the reduction in counter time, the game follows the same inputs as Ultimate but reduces the time in which the enemy must make contact to about half of what it was before. This is enough to throw some players off if they were countering experts in previous iterations in the franchise, but a change that means hammering mid punch/kick counter and hoping is a far less effective tactic than it was in the other titles.

The final box that a sequel should tick is the most obvious, and that is the visual aspect of the game. In the fashion of what has come before, the obligatory Ultimate comparison should be made here, and it is as poignant as ever. The character models have not changed a lot. Rather than focus on improving these Tecmo have put their efforts into the overall presentation of the levels. Where once the scenery felt slightly detached, with lions and spectators having a lot less attention paid to them than the lovely ladies, all the creatures and objects that make up the scenery now seem well polished, reacting to players and helping to create a more effective experience. The levels themselves are now far more vibrant, causing the player to admire them as much as the fighters. The minor enhancements that have been made to characters come in the form of veins, enhanced lighting and improved textures, but hair is still an occasional glitchy, blocky mess.

The game’s most effective update is in its LIVE play, and most significantly in its presentation of the lobby. Every player is given a fully customizable avatar, which you can alter the look of by buying accessories at Zack’s shop with the points you earn by playing on LIVE. These lobbies add a lighthearted feel to the online game, and whilst there you can watch the current combatants from cinematic camera angles while activating random emotes with your avatar. The game still suffers from lag, which varies from annoying to game destroying. The lag not only causes games to last far too long, it allows players to use counters with insane accuracy, thus causing the game to lose its fast-paced, twitchy gameplay. When it isn’t under the strain, DOA 4 is a good fighting game that players can get stuck into, trying to raise their online grade and customize their avatar.

So DOA 4 is a sequel by numbers, but one that never tries to break free from the foundations its predecessors have laid before it. If you’ve never tried a DOA game before, this is a fine place to start. But if you have played either of the recent XBox incarnations to death, be wary when considering your purchase of this game.

7/10

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