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 game and all the familiar faces are back - along with a few new ones including the much hyped Spartan-458 (from Halo fame). 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 are their usual eye-candy 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 more perfect than previously. If there’s one flaw with the character models though, it’s the hair on the long haired characters. They 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 better than ever 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. And finally there are the cinematics - if you thought the in-game graphics were amazing, these will absolutely knock your socks off.
Gameplay-wise, Dead or Alive 4 does everything a sequel to a beat ‘em up should, there are new characters, 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. 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 reworked putting the game on an equal footing with other similar titles. 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. Apart from Story and sparring mode all of 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. All of 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 players take turns at fighting them.
Now onto the roster (which is huge), 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 start, along with Christie and Brad Wong returning from Dead or Alive 3. All of the 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. 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 any other fighting games that will follow it.