Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate
Last year’s Dead or Alive 5 was the only major 3D fighter released then that actually played like what you would think a current-gen fighter to be. Tekken, SoulCalibur, and Virtua Fighter’s latest entries play great, but feel like they’re higher-res versions of games from prior generations. DOA 5 was the most accessible entry in the franchise yet thanks to a careful difficulty curve, and at least on PSN, Ultimate makes it the most accessible possible because of its free-to-play model. As expected, Ultimate features everything Dead or Alive 5 had in addition to the additional content in the Vita incarnation – and as a nice bonus, you can continue your DOA 5 Plus data here.
If you avoided DOA 5 because 4 was too tough, you’ll want to get back into the series with 5 because it’s far less difficult. Like Dimensions before it, DOA 5 enemies don’t just set out to destroy you. They’ve taken a more traditional fighting game approach to things as opposed to say, a Ninja Gaiden one that is all about challenge. There’s plenty of challenge here, but you’re eased into it. You can choose to play offline in a ton of modes. You’ve got the usual arcade mode, a survival mode, time attack, a training mode, and tag team versions of each. Survival mode is my favorite of the bunch since arcade doesn’t have a story and just takes more time. It forces you to fight smart since your health bar doesn’t quite refill between battles, and pits you against ten foes one after the other.
You’ve got a handful of difficulty options to choose from, and it’s definitely best to work your way up to avoid feeling overwhelmed. You’ll struggle, then you’ll beat eight enemies, then nine, then you absolutely won’t be able to stop until you beat the tenth foe. It’s exhilarating and provides some of the most fun in the game. There’s also a lot of fun to be had just doing versus matches, saving replays, and taking dazzling-looking snapshots from them. Like a photo mode in a racing game, there’s something special about nabbing that perfect shot.
Ultimate brings back DOA 5’s ridiculous and long storyline. It’s silly, but amusing and something that those looking to focus on the free-to-play version can skip without feeling like they’re missing much of substance. It’s a long tale that encompasses as much of the cast as humanly possible and actually develops the characters to some degree – or at least explains who they are and what their motivations are on a superficial level. For many, it seems to be “you are in shape and within ten feet of me, SO WE MUST FIGHT”, which I’m fine with since there are other, far more wacky things like Zack blasting into a circus tent as a human cannonball to invite two fighters to the tourney. The story mode is a fine mix of serious and silly, and is impossible to not enjoy. For goodness sake, what other story mode is going to give you cloning and a guy with a Christmas light afro outfit? The acting in it is perfect too – like the story, it’s great B-movie fare that is somewhat self-aware, but not TOO self-aware. Beyond being entertaining to watch, the story mode allows you to unlock titles for yourself, new characters (like a few from the VF series), and teaches you the finer points of the game by giving you optional missions to complete (like countering X amount of times within a fight) in addition to beating your opponent.
So you’ve got tons to do offline, and online (at least on the 360) lets you do the normal ranked or unranked battles in either one-on-one or tag team play, and you can also take part in a lobby-based tournament with up to 16 players. There’s some outstanding integration between offline and online play because you can add people you’ve fought online to a list, and then they can challenge you (if you leave the option on) to a battle while you’re offline. It’s basically the same as being in the arcade and having a second player join in, but I can’t recall it being done like this in a home fighting game. Sadly, the PS3 version is currently plagued by a broken online system where you can’t do rankled one-on-one fights – the screen just hangs endlessly. Given that the PS3 version is dealing with server loads for Ultimate and DOA 5 +, it’s not surprising that there would be an issue, but it is shocking that one is present that renders a part of the game unplayable.
Lag is an issue online sometimes, and strangely enough, there’s slowdown in offline play as well. I’ve enjoyed both DOA 5 and DOA 5 Plus and never encountered it in either version, so having it in the Ultimate edition just seems bizarre. Hopefully it’s something that is patched up down the line because even with a day-one update, it’s still an issue.
DOA 5’s roster including three VF fighters was a huge-ish deal, while Ultimate adds Jacky Bryant to the mix from that series and gives you Momiji and Rachel from the Ninja Gaiden games, as well as Leon and Ein from DOA. The past DOA characters feel natural, and the new crossover characters work well too. No one feels unbalanced, despite Jacky traditionally being used to spam super-fast kicks a lot. He feels like the best new addition due to his faster style meshing perfectly with this franchise’s emphasis on flash and speed.
The stages themselves have been a selling point since the second game, and what that game began with danger zones and multiple tiers is continued on nicely here. Every stage doesn’t just have a distinct look, but requires you to play slightly differently. The wrestling ring area for example has ropes you can spring off of if you’re light enough, while the rig stage is surrounded by fire and giant things that can explode. The military warzone has MISSILES BEING LAUNCHED AT YOU if you land in the wrong spot, so avoid doing that, while the raft stage might just be the most exciting since it starts off serene, and can then quickly escalate into you and your opponent zooming down a river with a broken part of the raft serving as something you can be thrown past and resulting in one of many possible giant falls in the game.
The DOA games have always been heralded for looking great, and this one is no exception. The newly redesigned character models mostly look human now instead of like action figures. With that change comes a more realistic flow for clothing, and little touches like dirt building on the characters as a fight wears on. It’s a little thing, but really impressive to see in action and of course, the backgrounds themselves are still gorgeous with a ton of stuff going on. They’re all intricately-detailed too, and seeing stuff like each individual pipe fall down in one stage and then leading to more craziness goes on remains impressive every time you see it.
Move animations are outstanding and the fluidity of counters is the best in the business. From the slick animation of things like Hiroshi Tanahashi’s Slingblade for Lisa to the more impactful offense like Bass’s punches or Mila’s slams into walls, everything seems exactly as it should. Transition animations are great, and seeing Mila go from a powerslam to an armbar, or tackle into a mount with some ground and pound never ceases to amaze me. Brad Wong’s offense is probably the most impressive to look at because there’s so much going on with every part of his body and yet the animations are unbelievably smooth. They didn’t even try and cut corners when you do stuff like kick him into a handstand – he falls (or flies) as he should…unless you use something super powerful and then he flies many, many feet in the air.
DOA 5’s Ultimate is largely the same as the original release. The music is fine, but doesn’t really stick with you much afterwards. I love the sound effect work here though. The sound of flames going off in the background of one stage really adds to the intensity and pretty much every stage benefits from little atmospheric touches like that. They go a long way to truly make each stage stand out from the others and not just feel like you could be fighting in any area and it wouldn’t really matter because the only thing that really separates them is how the areas look, with nothing really affecting the game to a greater degree than that.
Overall, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate offers up the best roster in the series yet, but the present online play being crippled on the PS3 and offline slowdown prevents it from being the best-playing incarnation of the game. If you’ve got DOA 5, you may want to hold out until Ultimate’s issues are resolved before buying this revised edition. The original game is my favorite fighting game this generation – and that’s with me not being the biggest fan of it before. I enjoyed the series, but never quite liked it as much as I thought I would because I love 3D fighters. It was the game that sold me on the greatness of the franchise.
When things work as they should, Ultimate has got the smoothest gameplay of anything out there now and delivers the goods online more often than not. It also raises the bar for graphics in fighters and has some great animation too. The story mode’s a blast to play through and provides the right mix of drama and B-movie wackiness to make it fun to get through despite its epic length. If you’ve ever loved the series before, make this a part of your collection ASAP, and if you’ve been turned off by it before, at least try the free-to-play game out to see if you like the gameplay mechanics.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
This review is based on a digital copy of Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate for the PlayStation 3 provided by Tecmo Koei.