With an insurgence of beat-'em-up games, does Dead Or Alive 5 change enough to make it relevant? Find out in our hands-on preview.
Published on Feb 21, 2012
‘Fighting Entertainment’. That’s the term Team Ninja’s Yosuke Hayashi uses to describe his team’s attempt to drag Dead Or Alive back on track after years of the brand being used to sneak out swimsuit sticker albums and letchery simulators, but should this recategorisation be taken as a warning sign or the promise of an evolution within the genre?
With just four characters and a single stage so far, it’s hard to know for sure but while a lot has changed, even the most hardcore parry master couldn’t knock away the fact that it’s a hell of a lot of fun to play whatever it ends up being.
It’s all about the Power Attack in Dead Or Alive 5 and while we struggled to get our heads around the concept at first, it clicked within mere moments of picking up a stick.
The best comparison is Street Fighter IV’s Focus Attack, a charged strike that can be released at any time during the wind-up or seen through to the end to automatically launch into a killer blow.
Letting go early is perfect for scuppering attempts to interrupt the charge or find holes in incoming combos but hit the full thing (or just shy, though that may only be on counter hit like the crumple of a partial Focus) and the real fun begins.
The camera pulls in as time slows to a crawl, your fighter winding up for the killer blow but leaving you with one last part to play – choosing where your victim will end up.
On landing a successful Power Attack, targetable hazards will glow.
With a window of a second or two to redirect the opponent in roughly the direction you were facing when you launched the attack, they can be forcefully redirected into environmental hazards or over treacherous drops.
And the non-traditional punishment doesn’t stop there. The latter destination triggers what is known as a Cliffhanger moment – the most literal use of the term since the 1993 movie where Stallone hung from a cliff for 112 minutes – and subverts the action further still.
Each player retains control during what looks like a scripted sequence, the tumbling victim tasked with throwing out a hand to grab on (or electing not to, if they’d rather just take the fall damage without risk of a follow-up) while the attacker can try and nail a helpless hanger with either an attack or a throw to send them all the way to the bottom and really pile on the pain.
Again, though, prediction and guesswork can see the guy on the receiving end block, escape or reverse the attack (by hitting the same button used to launch it) and this sends both fighters to the bottom with minimal damage, sometimes even leaving the former punching bag with the upper hand.
These cunningly disguised QTEs pop up elsewhere too, though seemingly only following wherever the Power Attack leads. As seen in the Alpha build footage, opponents can be lobbed into cars and power stations, with button prompts sometimes subtly appearing in-world (hidden in a car bumper, for example) that can be pressed for bonus damage, or reportedly used by the victim to instead reduce it, though we never saw this in action.
After the initial blast, many Danger Zones continue to affect the battle.
Still, the Power Attack is clearly the focus of the game (pun very much intended) but it’s not the all-conquering tool it might seem so far. As much as the damage potential makes it worth the odd punt, the fact that it’s a telegraphed, linear strike means that the newly improved sidestep system – which seems to also offer advanced strafing options akin to VF5’s Offensive Move – deals with it easily.
Interestingly, though, blocking a fully charged Power Attack leaves you disadvantaged, cementing the sidestep as the preferable counter option. Well, that or using a Hold to reverse the attack, but poor timing here will see this risky alternative backfire horribly.
It’s still a fighter, then, albeit one that’s not afraid to experiment with flashy set pieces akin to the likes of the better Naruto games of recent years.
With more on show (which is a risky thing to ask for with this particular series), it’ll be far easier to tell whether Team Ninja’s balancing act will work out or not, though it’s with quiet confidence that we await the next big reveal. By which we don’t mean Tina.