Kasumi, Kokoro, Leifang, Helena, and the Rest of the Girls Are Back . . . And They're Not Here to Play Volleyball
You can't blame a fighting game franchise for playing to its fans. Where the Mortal Kombat series delivers blood and gore, the Dead or Alive series serves T & A. While winning a match in Mortal Kombat rewards you with a chance to perform a fatality, the DOA games reward you by allowing you to control the camera, panning and zooming wherever you want on your character's victory pose. In fact, you're similarly rewarded for losing a fight in the single player mode of DOA 5, operating the camera as your character lies in agony, heavily panting, with no time limit to prevent you from continuing the fight in your own time.
To be fair, for those not interested in the cheesecake, DOA 5 offers an almost equal serving of beefcake. For almost every doe-eyed dame with a killer body, there's a male fighter with muscle mass that would make most movie stars jealous. Case in point, the two new additions to the game's roster. Mila, a spunky redhead with a heart of gold, is introduced alongside Rig, a blue-collar lughead with a secret past. They join almost every returning favorite from previous games, from Kasumi and Hayabusa to Kokoro (my personal fav) and Brad Wong. And with plenty of alternate costumes for each character, a less revealing outfit is always an option. The difference between fan service and pandering is in the eye of the beholder, but beneath the surface layer of eye candy, the DOA series has always been about great gameplay mechanics. And while the fun volleyball mechanics may be a flimsy excuse for enjoying the Xtreme series of spin-off games, DOA 5's combat makes it the best return to form for a fighting games series since last year's Mortal Kombat reboot.
For the uninitiated, DOA 5's fighting mechanics are based on a counter- heavy system. While it's no problem for a button masher to punch-kick combo through fights, nothing's more rewarding than catching another fighter's strike and tossing your opponent to the ground, or grabbing your rival at exactly the right opportunity to launch them into one of the series' trademark Danger Zones. New additions to the gameplay include the Critical Burst, which turns your enemy into a total punching bag when activated at the right moment, the Power Blow, which allows you to charge into your rival and target a highlighted Danger Zone in the background, triggering some of the game's cooler animations. There's also a Cliffhanger, which allows you to strike an opponent caught on a ledge and unleash a free fall combo as you travel through a stage's multiple tiers.
Upon starting, I was immediately taken with how beautiful DOA 5 looks, and I'm not just talking about the leading ladies. Fighters gleam with sweat and dirt accumulates on them as they are thrown to the ground during a fight, an alternative to using the "battle damage" of other fighting games to portray fight progression. Even the backgrounds are filled with details and effects, such as the flames leaping from totaled cars in a street scene. The characters themselves have all had massive makeovers, giving them more detailed and realistic appearances. Something similar was attempted in Soul Calbur 4, where the faces became softer and less cartoonish, but while that game ended up with generic looking characters, the DOA 5 characters all retain their distinct appearances and personalities. Bayman's new scar tells volumes about his character, while Christie's gentler face makes her a more disarming killer. Animations for the character's fighting moves are smoother now, too, and each portray a dramatically different fighting style, from Helena's graceful chops and kicks to Bayman's lumbering grapples.
The new fighting arenas do not disappoint. Among the best are "The Show", which puts you in front of a massive three-ring circus crowd while you and your nemesis avoid being trampled by tigers or turned into the human cannonball, "Hotzone", which looks like it's straight out of a Call of Duty game, complete with missiles that lock in on fallen fighters, and "The Ends of the Earth", an arena in Antarctica where ice crystals replace mud and penguins provide an audience.
I liked the game's story mode, though your feeling about the plot may correspond with your feelings about the much-maligned DOA movie. It's cheesy, but it makes sense for a fighting game. The obligatory tournament is there, with the game's less intense characters being completely focused on championing it, but there's a more sinister plot in the background, focusing on Helena's attempt to reform DOATEC and the shady deeds still being done by former members of the organization. Although the lead-ins to fights are a bit forced (a duel between mortal enemies and a sparring session between friends both have equal chance of ending with a helicopter being downed by a fighter being thrown into it), there's enough character moments and plot twists that I couldn't stop playing through the last several hours, even as the fights became repetitive. I also thought the voice actors for the English dub did a great job, for the most part, with the VA's behind Helena and Christie standing out (less than authentic accents aside).
Other modes include the standard variations on the arcade ladder, training, and several options for online fights. But the real star of the game is the offline versus mode, because nothing beats beating the tar out of a friend sitting next to you on the couch, without static getting in the way of your trash talking.
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