Review: Dead or Alive 5: Last Round

doa5-infoControversy has always surrounded the Dead or Alive franchise, the infamous fighting series with a heavy emphasis on scantily-clad women beating up equally semi-naked opponents. I picked up Team Ninja’s re-release of Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate, Dead or Alive 5: Last Round, with some reluctance; I typically avoid games with any ‘sexist’ tone and box quotes like “enhanced graphics make the hottest fights in gaming even hotter” and a CD printed to make it appear to have moist was certainly cringe worthy. Although having played – and thoroughly enjoyed – what the game has offered, I’ve come close to having my opinion totally reversed. Dead or Alive 5: Last Round is a game that certainly knows its niche. It’s totally understands how people view and play the game. It knows exactly what it is, a guilty pleasure.

Story

Whilst the game does feature a story mode, it is obviously not the main feature of the game and hence does not deserve to be treated as such. Hence, you can be forgiving of the absurdity, poor-pacing, lack of any real character development and lack therefore of most other concepts you usually associate with a ‘story’. Instead, the mode really serves as a vehicles to meet the roster of characters that appear in Last Round, learn their play styles and explore the variety of stages.

That being said, the story mode is not absent of enjoyable moments. There are several genres present within the one storyline; at times it attempts to be more thrilling and dramatic, at other times, comedic or soap opera-esque. This served me nicely as a first time player of the franchise as there were story arcs that diverted from an more elaborate back story and provided more straight forward context for the fights that were about to ensue.

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The overlapping character timelines – whilst poorly communicated and confusing – also allowed for some fun interactions between characters. That essentially sums up this mode, messy and confusing, but ultimately comedic and fun.

I see no point in becoming bogged down in the obvious short comings of a mode not integral to the game and likely neglected by most players, but if I were to have one criticism, it would simply be that is often over stays it’s welcome, cut scenes that simply did not to be as long or there at all.

Presentation
Always an important to any re-master or re-release is the presentation. Here, Team Ninja do a lot of things right. The ability to carry over DLC content from the previous generation, on top of full 1080p visuals, a 60 FPS frame rate, a new Soft Engine, 5 new characters, 33 brand new costumes, 2 new stages and new character customisation provides plenty of reason for fans to pick up the “all-inclusive final chapter of the Dead or Alive 5 series”.

Whilst it is not the most visually or technically impressive game you will have ever seen, the character models are generally, reasonably impressive and the environments unique, interesting and just as absurd as you would expect. I felt a little disappointed by the ‘dynamic interactive stages’; most just involved either you or your opponent being knocked off a high ledge in a similar fashion across different stages. However, some were nice little inclusions; watching your fight accidentally and unknowingly derail a New York train in the background made me laugh mid-way through a tough battle. In a similar vein, the character’s themselves are unique and varied, but largely one dimensional.

The sound design however was a drawback. I don’t feel like the soundtrack contributed overly well and the sound effects often seemed a little flat and dialogue tedious.

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However, what might be of more major concern to potential players of this game is the ‘boob physics’ – a term I should state is one I have adopted myself and not sourced from any form of the game’s promotion. Technically speaking, the ‘boob physics’ are phenomenal; fluid and lifelike although occasionally moving more left and right then I thought normal. In fact, all the movement in the game is quite impressive, the characters never still and animations are sufficiently varied, with some level of costume dynamism with hats and what not able to be knocked off. The goofy costumes are a bonus too.

On this topic, the DOA series has made a name of itself due to its excessive sexualisation of an otherwise lovable cast of female characters, and Last Round is no exception. This is one of the most conflicting experiences I had playing the game. On one hand, it is of course sleazy, pervy, insulting and sexist. Of course, I can totally understand why someone – especially women – would take offense to this. Personally, I did too. On the other hand however, as I stated in my introduction, this is a very self-aware game. It knows of the stigma is has attached to itself and exploits it. It knows its audience and simultaneously mocks them and teases them whilst still providing what is essentially, a guilty pleasure. The characters are all extreme caricatures, totally unbelievable, and therefore cannot be taken seriously. The male characters in the game are shown to be idiotic, creepy and nearly as harsh a representation of males as the innocent, sexualised representation of women. For this reason, I felt the game fairly critiqued the type of man that would try to adjust the angle on the ‘victory’ screen to appreciate their character model, a feature that more often than not isn’t as revealing as you may like.

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For these reasons and more, I don’t think Dead or Alive 5: Last Round deserves to be too harshly criticised in it’s approach. Obviously people will feel offended and they have every right to, but the game seems to mock those who objectify them, subtly critiquing the sexual desire apparently entrenched in human nature.

But perhaps this is me simply reading to heavily into the confusing mix of messages and interpreting it in a strange way. Maybe it’s my own way of justifying the game. Anyhow, enough with the self psycho-analysis; it doesn’t change the fact that I would not play this game in front of my mother.

Gameplay
Arguably more important than anything else however, the gameplay is damn solid. Attacks are greatly varied and there is a depth in the combat that will certainly appeal to the more experienced fighter. That being said, it is accessible to casual players such as myself and detailed tutorials – although often hard to interpret – allow for gradual instruction. Regardless of your ability, there is a lot of fun to be had with this game.

Each fight typically moves in phases, with combos typically only broken with a clever series of blocks or counter strikes. Tactics is involved in both, and a knowledge of each individual character can certainly reward you, with an effective block or critical strike certainly very satisfying. On screen tools can be turned on to provide prompts that guide you into certain combos and extensive training for each character is also included to better understand the vast array of fight styles and combos unique to each.

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There is a variety of game modes, although not perhaps as much seen in other fighting games, like Super Smash Bros for instance (for those of you that count it as a fighting game). I’d have liked to seen more in this department, I felt that the game modes didn’t really reflect the craziness of the rest of the game and some greater risk taking would have been appreciated by me. However, Last Round does provide an appropriate mix of modes suitable for the game – which includes a spectator mode in which you can watch (and photograph) custom CPU fights – and online play is of course a nice inclusion for those that want to challenge themselves in more competitive matches.

It’s a game that is easy to pick up but hard to master, exactly what you want in this genre. But, there is another ‘but’. The complexity of the combat requires precise movements of left analogue stick, which often became frustrating. I don’t like to see difficulty come from the controls and perhaps a more ingenious control design would have improved my experience. In its defence again, there is room to change your controls via the in-game settings, although none 100% satisfied me.

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