Dead or Alive 4 is the first game I've ever played that has caused rapid hair loss due to stress. I swear I've lost more hair while playing this game than my entire family has in three generations. My thumbs are also blistered, which is about the nerdiest thing I've ever experienced, and I'm pretty sure I'm suffering from a mild case of insomnia thanks to a certain never-ending two-round fight in Time Attack mode. Yes, these are all symptoms of those who have played Team Ninja's uber-hard Dead or Alive 4. But I guess the real question here is: Is it all worth it in the end? Dead or Alive 4 (the rumoured final game in the series) has definitely hit the 360 with a bang, and while most casual gamers will be turned off by its unforgiving A.I., those willing to put in the extra few hours will find a beautiful game, rich with features and an online mode to die for.
The first thing you'll probably notice about DOA 4, once you've got it up and running, is that it really doesn't feel like a brand new game - more of an expansion pack of sorts. It's not until you actually dive into the game's various play modes and spend a hefty amount of hours learning the game's hundreds of combinations and counter attacks before you really start to notice a difference between this and others in the series. Dead or Alive 4 is simply not a pick-up-and-play kind of game and, similar to Perfect Dark Zero, cannot be judged based on first impressions alone.
The first time you actually enter a match and begin to play, chances are you're going to get your butt kicked, and not even because of the ruthless A.I., but because of the game's gorgeous visuals. Dead or Alive 4 is the best-looking game on the Xbox 360 - period. The environments are ultra detailed, animations are super smooth and it all runs at a dreamlike 60 frames per second. Gambler's paradise for example, is chock-full of reflective puddles, bright neon lights and plenty of other visual treats. As my best friend (and Xbox sceptic at that) put it: "holy crap, this game looks good."
'The environments are ultra detailed, animations are super smooth and it all runs at a dreamlike 60 frames per second.'
I guess the only real visual complaints have to do with the character models themselves. Itagaki has once again chosen to go with the porcelain doll look, which, depending on your tastes, is either a good thing or a bad thing. Personally I've never had a problem with Itagaki's artistic take on the human body, but when placed against environments as detailed as those in DOA 4, the characters look a little... odd. Furthermore, aside from a higher poly-count for each character's garments, the models really don't look that much better than they did in DOA Ultimate, or DOA 3 for that matter. Finally, the game's other visual shortcoming is something that's plagued every game in the series - clipping. Hitomi's hair for example, swerves right through the collar of her jean jacket, and when a character grapples another, their legs often press right through the opponent's body. It's a little strange, yes, but it's nothing worth getting your underwear in a knot over.
But what good are visuals if there's no game to back it up? Fortunately Team Ninja has filled DOA 4 with a number of features, ranging from the deep sparring mode, to the classic Time Attack and Survival modes. You can also view your stats, play online (more on that later), enter the story mode, or view photos you've taken. The photo mode is a great idea, and something I'd like to see in every title, but DOA 4's photo mode is practically useless. You can't actually pause the match at any point and snap a shot; instead, you have to take photos while the characters are in full motion, and because of the game's speed, getting a good photo is about as hard as beating the game's final boss.
Dead or Alive 4 also sports an updated roster of characters. All of the classics return, such as the cheap, but fan favourite, Hayabusa, Itagaki's love interest, Kasumi, and pretty much every other character that has graced the series. The newest additions to the DOA family come in the form of the difficult-to-master Kokoro, my personal favourite, Eliot, and the stylish La Mariposa, with her ground-based wrestling manoeuvres. But the biggest surprise to the roster is the addition of a Spartan (aptly named Nicole) from the Halo universe. How did she get involved in the tournament? Who the hell cares! Does she fit in with the roster? No, but who the hell cares! Does she have any interesting unlockable costumes that aren't just colour variations? No, but who the hell... err...wait, I care!
Now, I know it's probably about time to talk about the gameplay, but I've got to address the costume issue. Every DOA game thus far has had plenty of unique costumes for just about every character. Heck, the DOA series wouldn't be what it is today without the ability to play a little dress up. It's what drives players to beat the game over and over again. But DOA 4's costume set is seriously lacking. Lei Fang for instance has almost six unlockable costumes that are just colour variations of the first - same with Hitomi. And characters that deserve more costumes, like Christie, have gotten the shaft. What gives? Xbox Live Marketplace perhaps.
Ok, so I've gotten a little ahead of myself. What's changed since DOA Ultimate? Well the biggest change is the game's counter system. Previous titles were pretty much a counter fest, with the fights going back and forth until someone lost the match. In DOA 4, it's still a counter fest, but it's not necessarily you who's doing the countering. You see, the window of opportunity to counter has been greatly reduced giving you only a split second to decide whether the attack is high, low, or a throw, and then enter in the appropriate counter command. So if Tina decides to give you a punch to the noggin, press back and X to counter it, or if it's a high attack, press back, up and X and so on. Because the game is so unbelievably fast, you basically have to memorize each character's move set to be able to counter well, and even then, getting the timing right can be a real pain, especially during the later matches. If all else fails, you can block your opponent's attack, but that proves to be a difficult affair as well. In fact, there's no real need to block at all as half the time the A.I. uses an alternate attack to break through your defences, and even when you think the attack should have been blocked, the computer still manages to get in a few hits.