Dead or Alive 5 is a deceptive game: behind all the gorgeous women and explosive areas rests a dynamic and enjoyable fighter.

The Good

  • Complex and hard-hitting fighting mechanics
  • Stable online play
  • Smooth character animations.

The Bad

  • Poorly executed educational mode
  • Sorting replays is a chore.

The Dead or Alive series has always had an enthusiastic appreciation for the fairer sex. Dead or Alive 5 is no exception. Katsumi, Hitomi, Tina, and the rest of this top-heavy cast have returned as full-figured as ever. But DOA5′s exaggerated brand of beauty is only skin deep. It’s the foundation of solid fighting mechanics that gives this game its true appeal.

Kasumi and Ayane square off to see whose ninjutsu reigns supreme.

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Combat in Dead or Alive 5 is divided into strikes, holds, and throws. These attack types form an rock, paper, scissors relationship: strike beats throw, throw beats hold, and hold beats strike. Strike has a good chance at beating hold as well, since the defending player must execute the correct hold with perfect timing. Strikes also have the greatest potential for damage because you can combo them together–while the majority of holds and throws end with a hard knockdown. This damage potential is further enhanced by one of DOA5′s two new techniques, the critical burst.

Critical bursts are a new tool designed to extend combos and guarantee damage. Visually, they are almost indistinguishable from normal strikes, but successfully landing one puts opponents into a helpless state. From here, attacking players can finish out their combo unhindered by the possibility of a hold. The second new technique is the power blow. You can perform this highly cinematic attack only once per round, and only when you are below half health. Landing the power blow triggers a brief combo, and then the recipient is slammed into the environment, which deals substantial damage.

Mila assaults Juan Lee after a successful cliffhanger event.

Mila assaults Juan Lee after a successful cliffhanger event.

Moment-to-moment fighting in Dead or Alive 5 carries with it a satisfying feeling of weight and brutality. While difficult to perform consistently, holds grant quick-witted defenders an active way to influence the fight. However, being on offense has a definite advantage. The addition of critical bursts gives skilled fighters a means to maximize damage, making matches more lethal than ever before. Throws and holds have their uses, but are simply not as potent as punches and kicks.

Dead or Alive 5 still has plenty to offer for those unconcerned with the relationship between throws and strikes. In a fighting landscape filled with meters, gauges, and hyper combos, Dead or Alive 5 masks some of its complexity with a minimalist appearance. Take the critical bursts discussed earlier. There is a very subtle visual cue that indicates when you can successfully perform one; however, it is so slight that you would miss it if you didn’t know to look for it.

Without a cluttered HUD, this fighter draws the eye toward its outrageous visuals. What starts as a friendly sparring match between friends could easily end up causing a massive train car pileup or a raging oil fire. Dubbed danger zones, the environmental hazards can give you an edge (so long as you’re not the one getting your head slammed into an electrified barrier), and their over-the-top violence adds some extra excitement to the fight. These design choices let newer players pick up and enjoy the game, while still feeding seasoned fighters the information they need.

Zack may act goofy, but he's just as deadly as the rest of the roster.

Zack may act goofy, but he’s just as deadly as the rest of the roster.

For players new to the Dead or Alive series, the best place to start is the game’s Story mode, which doubles as its main educational mode. In brief, series veteran Helena has assumed control of DOATEC, a corporation that does something and is hosting another tournament to celebrate. Each fighter has his or her own reason for entering, but it’s difficult to keep track of when (and why) events are happening. The plot is entertaining in its ridiculousness, but not so much that you stop laughing at the story and start laughing with it.

Dead or Alive 5 is a deceptive game: behind all the gorgeous women and explosive areas rests a dynamic and enjoyable fighter.

By Maxwell McGee