Dead or Alive 5 Alpha Impressions

I have been a huge fan of Dead or Alive since the first offering appeared at my local arcade. I’ve owned each title in the series at some point or another (volleyball included) and have come to expect a few consistencies in each new version. while the newest title in the series still takes a great deal of pride in showing off the female form, and ninja, it is the first to not be overseen by Tomonobu Itagaki. I will admit that I was very concerned about the effect his departure would have on one of my favorite series in all of gaming, but to my great surprise, the game is shaping up to be better than ever. please bear in mind, this is a very early version of the game (the one that came with Ninja Gaiden 3: Collector’s Edition), so as we get closer to release, my opinion may change.

The first notable change for the series comes in the form of a graphical overhaul. For example, look at the differences in Kasumi from DoA 4 vs. DoA 5:

As you can see, the new version of Kasumi is much more grounded in reality. while DoA 4 models lent themselves to a much more “cartoony” look, the newer versions look almost human. This is true for each of the characters, the most notable change being Hitomi, so far. it took a good deal of getting used to this new art style, but after a few hours with the characters, I can safely say the new look is a vast improvement. Animation hasn’t seen much of a change from previous releases. Each hit still looks and sounds brutal, but the animation does run smoother than the previous DoAs.

Dead or Alive wouldn’t be Dead or Alive without the easily recognizable fighting mechanics. The series has always lent itself to be more accessible for casual fighting fans than, say, Street Fighter. The alpha version of DoA 5 includes four playable characters, Hitomi, Ayane, Hayabusa and Ein(Hayate). with my time spent on each, I can safely say that the game is still casual friendly, but has a bit more meat on it’s bones this time around. when I started playing the game, I spent some time learning my way around and held my own. As I started getting comfortable with each character, things started getting easier and more flashy. I can’t say, yet, that the game will hold up with hardcore fighting fans, but it is safe to say that this entry into the series will give players more reward for their time spent.

Countering is still an important focus for the series, though it seems a bit more skill based this time around. In DoA 4, especially, countering was a pretty simple way to dominate less experienced players. it would seem that this version does not give as big of a window to counter as the previous versions did. There is also a rumbling around the community that the counter window will be tightened even more. while the system is very important to the series, I feel that a move to a more exacting timing requirement will increase the appeal of the game to both the hardcore and casual sides of the market.

The biggest improvement to the series, by far, comes from the environments the characters fight throughout. while I’ve only experienced one level so far, it is pretty amazing. The fighters start out in a construction site surrounded by explosives, which all hardhat areas need, and random pylons and other hard surfaces to slam opponents into. As the fight continues, the surroundings will slowly break apart until one fighter gains the upper hand to push the other over the edge. Multi-tiered stages are nothing new to the series, but the interactions that occur as characters begin their fall to their doom is.

As the attacker, you will see a quick time prompt that will allow you to combo or throw your opponent off a ledge. If there is a difference in the damage based on your choice it is minor, and things seem purely cosmetic. As a defender, you will also see quick time prompts as you fall from a ledge. First you need to grab the ledge to keep from falling without a chance to react to your aggressor, then you can follow it up with a block or evade. it would appear that these will change the damage or success of the attackers choice, though only being able to play single player did not give me the chance to test this for a certainty. The PS3 was not really good at answering my questions.

Once the combatants have reached the second tier of the arena, even more options show up. In this area on the alpha demo, the characters are surrounded by a street scene of Prototype level destruction. Buildings, cars, roads and more hard objects are burning. As the fight continues, a new move really shines. At any time, a player can hold the heavy attack button to charge up a bigger attack. If the charged hit lands, a short, flashy combo is performed. Following that, a cutscene allows the player to choose an object to slam their opponent towards. In the second tier of the level, a car comes flying from off screen and if the timing is right, the opponent can be punched into it while it flies through the air. once initiated, another cutscene shows the unfortunate combatant flying towards the car, receive a “free ride” on it’s fender, and land in a crushed heap. I have seen a character survive this attack once, and only once. Another option pushes the opponent into a wrecked car that then gets crushed by a falling steel beam. normally the opponent escapes in the nick of time, but I look forward to the time he or she doesn’t.

At the end of the day,my time with the Dead or Alive 5 Alpha put all my fears to rest. The game, even in this early state, feels complete, deep and accessible all at the same time. I can only imagine what a few more months of work will allow Team Ninja to accomplish. Hopefully, I can bring a preview of the Virtua Fighter character(s) in the near future to you, fine readers. My biggest concern is ensuring that the characters feel true to their origins in a way that the Tekken characters did not in Street Fighter x Tekken. If you’ve had a chance to play the alpha, post your thoughts in the comments below and let us know what you think of the early build.

Follow Chris on Twitter @TheCGravelle for constant updates on video games, Magic: The Gathering, and his daughter, and @RipTen  for the latest news and more.

Dead or Alive 5 Alpha Impressions

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