It's been over six years since fighting game fans last saw a proper Dead or Alive release. Dead or Alive 5 launched in 2012 when a lot of gamers were still getting mileage out of Soul Calibur 5, and many players missed out on DOA3 and DOA4 due to the two games' Xbox exclusivity. I was one of them — my last foray into Team Ninja's fighting series was with Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore way back on the PlayStation 2. That game has remained one of my favorite fighters through the years, though, mostly for its combo-focused combat, easy-to-approach design, and hearty variety of gameplay modes. If Dead or Alive 6 was going to live up to my memories, it was going to have to be something special. As it turns out, special is a great word to describe the series' latest entry, though maybe not for the reason players might be expecting.
Down and dirty
Given that it's been more than half a decade since the previous mainline Dead or Alive release, series fans would rightfully expect a few changes to the classic formula. They'll find them in Dead or Alive 6. Not only is it the most polished game in the entire series thanks to its current-generation foundation, it's also one of the most realistic. Chief among the latest graphical tweaks is a focus on visible damage representation, where kicks and punches are rendered with face-deforming animations, and combatants can become sweaty, scraped, tattered, and bloody as fights wear on.
Combined with the new visual overhaul and the fighters' penchants for wearing revealing clothing, players can expect to see plenty of sweaty, dirty guys and gals in various stages of trauma-induced disarray. It's certainly more realistic to behold — Team Ninja did a great job on that front — but, in classic Dead or Alive fashion, there's a bit of humor to the new visuals. For example, if fighters start getting beat down, not only will they get bruised and bloody, their clothes will start tearing. If they get beat enough, individual pieces of clothing will tear to the point where they simply disappear. I like to think Tomonobu Itagaki would approve.
With that said, Dead or Alive 6 does dial back the overt sexual overtones. It's true that there are a variety of revealing costumes, but there's nothing totally over-the-top this time around. There's still a bit of jiggle to way some of the fighters move, to put things delicately, but considering the extra dose of violence in the combat and animations, players probably won't get too distracted by scantily-clad characters appearing every now and then.
Of course, the new features on offer in Dead or Alive 6 are certainly more than skin-deep. The developers have been keen to make sure that the latest release is not only more accessible for newcomers, but also complex enough to satisfy combo-oriented players like myself. Toward the former goal, one of the biggest new additions is the Fatal Rush attack feature. Using just a single button, Fatal Rush allows fighters to execute combination attacks automatically, which provides an easy go-to for anyone trying to come to terms with an unfamiliar character. The Fatal Rush also ties into new Fatal Reversals, which opens opportunities by dropping the attacking character behind the opponent.
On the more offensively minded side is the new Break Gauge, which functions like the power-up meters found in many other popular fighting games. When the Break Gauge is half full, players can make use of an attack that stuns opponents or a Break Hold that can be used to interrupt combos. If it's completely full, the Fatal Rush button can be used to perform a Break Blow, a powerful attack that deals a tremendous amount of damage but is easily interrupted. Combined with the series' usual holds and throws, Dead or Alive 6 has a lot to offer players who don't mind diving into more intricate mechanics.
As for the action otherwise, things are about as series followers will remember. Fighters can move in three dimensions, and sidesteps can be used to dodge any non-sweeping attacks. Attacks can be high, mid, or low, and most basic buttons offer a few simple combos, a few of which can be strung together into lengthy chains. Counters and reversals are still a major component to matches, as are environmental hazards. Juggling is very much still in the mix, too, particularly with lighter combatants, but while heavier opponents can't be launched in the air as easily as others, players can hit them with ground-bounce attacks for the same sort of effect.
Sizing up the package
Dead or Alive 6 features all of usual sort of gameplay modes and additional features that series fans have come to expect by now, plus a few new surprises. The story mode is present once again, this time offering a branching-path narrative with a few opportunities for players to jump into scripted matches. Versus play is also available, as is Ranked Online play, where matches are three-win one-on-one bouts carried out through a very plain and functional menu. It's a spartan sort of online offering, but there is at least an option to adjust preferred connection quality when seeking opponents.
Solo-oriented gamers will no doubt be checking out DOA Quest mode, a new offering that drops players into matches with pre-set conditions. If all three conditions are met, players unlock new background music, and Pattern Parts, which are used to unlock costumes. More on that in a moment. DOA Quest is great: the winning conditions are fun, there's plenty of missions to go around, and it's yet-another way to try out different fighters and combos. Functionally, it's the perfect way to get into DOA6 gameplay without pushing through the game's lengthy tutorials.
It's a shame, then, that DOA Quest mode's major rewards are used to unlock costumes, because unlocking costumes — or indeed customizing characters — is one of the most frustrating parts of the game. Every costume for every character must be unlocked using Pattern Points. However, players can't manage where their Pattern Points actually go. There's no pool; the Pattern Points appear to simply drop into the most recently-unlocked costume or whichever costume the game chooses otherwise. Despite earning several thousand Pattern Points during my time with Dead or Alive 6, I wasn't able to unlock a single costume for any of my fighters.
Mop not included
I've always found Dead or Alive games to be oddly charming, and the latest series entry hasn't proved to be any different. Dead or Alive 6 has complex, satisfying combat and enough variety to keep players of all skill levels happy. It has great graphics, it's stylish, and it's packed with bonuses. It's also full of what still feels like unintentional humor, which somehow makes the experience more of a spectacle. Sadly, the unimpressive online infrastructure and convoluted character customization serve as two big blots that mar the overall experience. Given that those two could change in a future update, there's really nothing more holding back the experience. Team Ninja has crafted a brilliant fighting game, and Dead or Alive 6 feels like the best the series has seen yet.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 download code provided by the publisher. Dead or Alive 6 is available in retail and digital stores now. It has been rated M for Mature by the ESRB.
Dead or Alive 6
- Crisp graphics and stylish presentation
- Complex, satisfying combat
- Plenty of fighters, unlockables, and bonuses
- Decent selection of gameplay modes
- Combos galore
- Bewildering costume unlock requirements
- Near-inability to customize fighters
- Overly plain online multiplayer interface
Kevin Tucker posted a new article, Dead or Alive 6 review: Pleased as punch
Awesome review! The tag mode in DOA 6 is missing though. Regardless, people wanting a single player 3D fighting experience will surely find it a great fighting game. In my honest opinion, DOA is as fun as Tekken, Soul Calibur, and Mortal Kombat. Speaking of Mortal Kombat, I can't wait to play the upcoming 11th main installment.