Dead Or Alive 4 Review - 

The latest instalment of Team Ninja�s bouncing franchise has arrived, is Dead or Alive 4 fun though, or simply a load of funbags?

First things first, this series hasn’t changed much since the first game debuted on the SEGA Saturn and Sony’s Playstation way back in the mid nineties, it didn’t bring anything new to the fighting arena crowded out by the sublime but technical Virtua Fighter or the more arcadey Tekken. In its second incarnation Dead or Alive found it’s niche, it’s gimmick. That gimmick was breasts, and lots of them. That’s not to say that the second game, which was by this time running on SEGA’s Naomi arcade board, wasn’t a technically accomplished fighter, the graphics broke new ground then and still hold their own now.

Dead or Alive 2 bought in counters and a more polished fighting mechanic to proceedings, which alienated as many players as it attracted, ‘button mashers’ felt they could play this game and do well…to a point, but once you met someone who had studied all the moves to a single character you were in big trouble, as this is where the more defensive moves came into there own. By the time the third game was released on the Xbox the refinement was by all means complete. But that didn’t stop Team Ninja releasing a ‘best of’ in Dead or Alive Ultimate, a new and improved version of the second game, but this time it was to be online, a request by the hardcore fans around the world to see who really was the greatest fighter on the planet.

Bang up to date; what does the fourth incarnation of this fighting franchise bring into the ring?

Well in all honesty, not that much. You have the usual roster of characters, the usual multi-tiered arenas and young ladies in their skimpys. The graphics do look extremely polished with far more detail on the fighters clothing and backgrounds and most of the arena’s have some sort of breakable section allowing you to inflict more damage on your opponent, such as leopard’s or dinosaurs running into the screen at different intervals or a giant staircase to knock your opposition down into.

The lighting in this game is probably one of the outstanding graphical effects, neons glow bright, electrified floors spark and blur the screen and reflections are cast off the fighters and their surroundings. A lot of detail has gone into the player models, as the polygon count has been made higher and you can really see this in the way the clothes and hair move in a smooth and flowing way.

There are now more than twenty characters to choose from, with sixteen being available from the start. The usual favourites are in the mix including Kasumi, Ryu from the Ninja Gaiden games, Ayane, Zack, Tina and everyone’s favourite wrestler Bass Armstrong.

Four entirely new characters make their debut in this game, Brad Wong has a drunken master style reminiscent of Shun Di form the Virtua Fighter series, Elliot is a quick but powerful fighter, Kokoro is another quick fighter and La Mariposa is another wrestling champ, although she has a bit more mobility than Bass or Tina. The new fighters are also joined by a couple of secret characters including a female Spartan from the Halo games.

The new roster of fighters is a welcome addition, as newcomers have been given a much better array of styles to play with. The whole game has also gone under a dramatic change in the timing of moves, especially in terms of the counters; old hands such as myself have had to adjust to the new pace of the game, which can only be a good thing for beginners as they are on a level playing field.

The usual game modes are there: story, survival, time attack and sparring, and of course Xbox Live modes all make a comeback from the last instalment.

Team Ninja are well renown for there unrelenting difficulty levels and this game is no different, there is no easy mode in this game and the normal mode is quite a challenge using some of the slower characters, one thing that has consistently annoyed me right from the beginning of the series is the ‘cheap’ bosses it always throws at you. The last character you play against in this game is none other than a clone of Kasumi, Alpha 152, she is a right bugger to defeat as her combos are almost relentless, and sometimes this last battle can go on forever as the computer is just too good, it seems it’s more pot luck to finally defeat her, rather than a hard fought victory put in by the player.

Once again Dead or Alive goes online across Xbox Live and the end result is a more stable affair than the previous game, the lobbys are better set out, you have a choice of background and avatar for your room, and everything has been geared to get you up and running as quickly as possible. The usual options of optimatch are present and correct, the more you play online you realise it’s best to play people from your own continent as lag has made the game almost unplayable against people from around the world, hopefully this can be fixed by a patch in the future. Playing against people close to you is very smooth from what I've experienced, and that’s certainly promising.

Rather cheekily Team Ninja has added zero Gamerpoints for being defeated when playing online, the other points you can gain range from unlocking all the costumes in the game (of which there are many) to finishing the game with all the characters.

The final movies you unlock when you finish the game with each character are worth a special mention not just for the stunning CGI but the surreal nature of some of the acts depicted.