# of Players:
1-4 (1-8 online)
Live, HDTV 480p, Memory Unit, In-game Dolby Digital
Initially released on the Sega Saturn platform, the original Dead
or Alive never made it outside of Japan due to the relatively
weak performance of the platform in the rest of the world. When it
was finally released as a PlayStation game in early 1998, it was met
with a somewhat lukewarm response. Known more for its bevy of buxom
beauties than its fast-paced combo-based fighting system, it was
ultimately overshadowed by the likes of
Tekken 3. A sequel completely followed, and was first
released on Dreamcast followed by a “Hardcore”
release on PS2. Since then the series has been solely an Xbox
affair, with both
Dead or Alive 3 and
Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball released to rave
reviews and excellent sales.
Now, the series has come full circle as the original Saturn version
of Dead or Alive and the PS2’s Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore
have been released as Dead or Alive Ultimate. As the title
suggests, this can easily be considered the ultimate version of both
games with the most important addition being that of online play.
While thrown in as more of an afterthought than anything else, the
original Dead or Alive (DOA1) serves as an interesting
historical piece that illustrates just how far the series has come.
It’s here that the reversal fighting system got its start, and even
back then it provided some intense battles. While not as deep as
the fighting in most “hardcore” fighting game series, DOA isn’t just
another button-masher like Toshinden either. Neophytes can
jump right in and perform reasonably well, but will stand little
chance against someone has practiced and mastered the art of
reversals. DOA is pretty much a straightforward port of the
original game, albeit one that runs in a higher resolution with
slightly cleaner graphics (which only serve to highlight the
low-poly character models). Since it’s packed with the infinitely
superior Dead or Alive 2 (DOA2) however, you’ll quickly toss
it aside as a mere novelty.
Dead or Alive 2 retains the same mechanics as the original,
although there are now more moves to perform and characters to
perform them with. Gone from the original DOA1 is the explosive
square arenas, replaced instead with enclosed (including exploding
walls) and multi-tiered stages. Multi-tiered stages are the most
fun, as knocking an opponent down to the next level always causes
massive damage and is simply cool to watch. The fast-paced
reversals remain intact, with a four-point counter system (as
opposed to DOA3’s three) making it more difficult than ever to
anticipate and counter an opponent’s moves. While the reversals at
times cause too much damage when executed (throwing the character
balance off a bit), missing a chance to reverse an opponent’s move
leaves the player wide-open to a brief counterattack. Thus
proficient players are rewarded whether a move is reversed or not
depending on the outcome.
In addition to the online gameplay (which I’ll talk about more
later), the other big additions come in the form of various
unlockables (characters and outfits), new story scenes and improved
arenas. Most of the arenas that originate from past DOA games have
been vastly improved, with additional tiers and the addition of
slopes. They’re also more interactive now. For example, one arena
starts out in small square area in a temple. Knock your opponent
through one wall and it’s a short fall to the ground, while on
another side it’s a long fall down a cliff to the waterfall below
resulting in much more damage. There are also slopes now, which
open up the game to several new moves that add even more depth to
the proceedings. Most of the unlockables are in the form of
potentially hundreds of new costumes (Tecmo hasn’t said how many
exactly), which are mainly obtained primarily by playing through the
story mode with various characters.
As welcome as those are, obviously the biggest improvement is in the
addition of an online mode Tecmo calls a “Virtual Arcade”. The idea
is that Tecmo wants to bring as much of the arcade feel as possible
to the Xbox Live experience. To this end, all of the online modes
offer the ability for players to watch others duke it out and talk
while waiting on their turn by creating a virtual arcade in each
session. These modes include Winner-Stays, Tournament, Team Battle,
Survival, Loser-Stays, and Kumite. In Winner-Stays, players
participate in one on one battle with the winner moving on to fight
the next challenger. Loser-Stays is the same, except the loser
moves on to fight again. This is probably the worst mode, since it
really doesn’t make sense to reward the loser with another round
(other than the potential embarrassment of having to stay “on stage”
so to speak). Tournament is just as it sounds, with up to 8 players
battling it out to determine the best around. Team Battle is the
online version of Tag-Team battles, with players cycling out to make
way for others. Survival tests each player’s ability to go as far
as they can with only one health bar, with a portion of the health
only restored to the Champion of each match. Finally, Kumite allows
the Champion to continue fighting all challengers until he quits
regardless of wins and losses. Excluding the Survival mode that
requires three players minimum, all online modes can be played by
two to eight players.
A cumulative point score is kept on all profiles, determining the
Grade you’ll fight under. Defeating higher ranked opponents adds
more to the overall point total than defeating lower ranked ones
(and vice versa for losing), and different gameplay modes offer
different point totals. It’s a simple, yet effective way to judge
your own progress against other players online and encourage players
to fight better opponents. Other stats are available as well,
including the all-important “Disconnects” figure that quickly lets
the player know who should be avoided like the plague.
Obviously timing is an important part of any fighting game, and as a
result lag can severely hurt the gameplay experience.
Unfortunately, I encountered some significant lag when playing both
DOA1 and DOA2. I don’t know if it’s a result of so many people
sharing one “virtual arcade” session or simply an early
after-release issue that hasn’t been ironed out yet. I’m guessing
the latter, since early reviews released at the time the game
launched seem to applaud it for lag-free online play. Nevertheless
it exists and it hurts the experience. It was never enough to
completely ruin the online game for me, but I was frustrated by it
on several occasions.
general, the graphics have been given a tremendous overhaul. As I
mentioned before, DOA1 looks similar to the original other than a
general cleaning up of things. DOA2, on the other hand, simply
looks incredible. The revised stages look fantastic, with large
multi-tiered areas and a ridiculous amount of detail. On one stage
dense snow falls outside of a home, while in another leaves slowly
drop to the ground while rabbits hop by in the background. The
character models are as detailed as they’ve ever been, and move
incredibly smooth at the same time. All of this, and yet the game
still runs in 480p at a consistent 60 frames per second. This is
easily the best looking fighting game on Xbox, and a strong
candidate for the best-looking game ever period.
The sound, on the other hand, isn’t as impressive if you’re still
stuck with a stereo setup. Apparently you miss a lot of the
environmental sound effects if you aren’t blessed with a true 5.1
setup, and I can attest to that fact. From what I’ve heard it’s
great though, so don’t let me discourage you if you do have a 5.1
setup. The music is another story, as it’s pretty much the same as
it was in both original games. I found it disappointing in DOA2
even then, as most of it is generic pseudo-80s Japan rock and techno
that only gets more annoying the longer it plays. My opinion hasn’t
changed. The voice acting is good enough, but hardly memorable.
Incredible graphics in DOA2; perhaps the best looking game on Xbox
yet (and yes, I am aware that Halo 2 is already out).
The new arenas are incredible, full of multiple tiers, bustling
activity, and innovative ways to exploit the terrain.
The Dead or Alive series has always had more depth than most
hardcore fighting fans give it credit for, even if it isn’t
Virtua Fighter. This makes it great for newbies and veterans
The online play is a wonderful addition to two classic brawlers, and
the idea of a “virtual arcade” should serve as the model for how
future online fighters are done.
Same generic music we heard before.
Lag hurts more in an online fighter than almost any other genre,
since it relies on quick reflexes.
The overt sexism is distracting in a negative way. Sure both the
men and the women are excellent physical specimens, but only the
women characters emphasize their “assets” to an absurd degree.
While the fighting in the Dead or Alive
series will never be as technically demanding or as deep as some
other fighting series, it has always excelled at delivering
entertaining and fast-paced matches full of outrageous moves and
beautiful (ahem) visuals. While
Soul Calibur 2 provides more depth, I can’t deny
that I’ve had more fun playing this game. The improvements make
DOA2 worth playing again even to fans of the original on DC/PS2, but
there’s no denying that veterans of the series will feel a somewhat
disappointing sense of déjà vu that makes $50 seem a bit too much.
The remake of Dead or Alive 2 is the real reason to own
Dead or Alive Ultimate, but the original is a nifty bonus that
is also fun to play in its own right. The addition of online play
makes Dead or Alive Ultimate overall the best fighting game
on Xbox (and best online fighter ever), and it would be one of the
best games on Xbox Live period if not for the persistent lag.