I’m a fighter, he’s a fighter, she’s a fighter, hey!
The Dead or Alive series has always been known as the fighting franchise that has an actually good combat system hidden underneath mountains of fan service and sometimes downright creepy portrayals of its female characters. This reputation has actively hurt the series and its community, despite its players telling everyone, “No, wait, there is a good fighting game here.” Dead or Alive 5 even went so far as to bring characters from the Virtua Fighter series and The King of Fighters into its roster. But between that game’s fan service issues and DLC that cost literal thousands of dollars in total, Dead or Alive seemed to be doing everything it could to hinder its own success.
When I played the first public build of Dead or Alive 6 at E3 2018, I left feeling hopeful that the series was getting back on the right track. The new Break Gauge added a unique layer to combat, the game looked great, and the developers made a point to tone down the creepy fan service and focus more on the game and its place in the FGC at large.
But my optimism came with the understanding that more would be added to the game over time. I was expecting new mechanics, obviously new characters, and something to set itself apart from Dead or Alive 5. Unfortunately, that didn’t really happen. Dead or Alive 6 isn’t that much different from its predecessor.
Bracing for the Break Gauge system
The new Break Gauge system allows players to perform a standard auto combo called a Fatal Rush, which is unique to each character, and a Break Blow move. Effectively acting as the game’s super move, the high-damage Break Blow can be added to the end of combos or to plow through an opponent’s attack. Players can also perform a Break Hold, a special counter that uses half of the Break Gauge to perform a hold that works against any move in the game — high, low, mid, everything. This adds a nice counterbalance to the complicated metagame of using holds to counter incoming attacks. The player on the offensive must keep an eye on the opponent’s Break Gauge to see if a Break Hold is coming and feint an attack, bait it out, etc.
The new system adds a fun new layer to the traditional rock, paper, scissors style of DoA’s combat, but everything else about DoA6 is painfully familiar. Combos are essentially the same as they were in Dead or Alive 5, and the new characters like street fighter (heh) Diego, as fun as they may be, don’t add anything revolutionary to the package. If you watched a match of Dead or Alive 6 where nobody used a Fatal Rush, Break Hold, or Break Blow, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a match of Dead or Alive 5. While the graphics do look good, they don’t seem like that much more than a shinier version Dead or Alive 5. I mean that literally because Dead or Alive 6 goes for a “sweaty” look for all of the characters in combat; characters at the end of a match look like they just came out of a bathtub full of Crisco.
Even the promise of “classing the game up” has fallen short since all the skimpy outfits are still in the game, but this time either behind a DLC paywall or a costume unlock system. Even worse, these “sexy” costumes are pretty lazy. Instead of highlighting what might make each character physically appealing and attractive, the “sexy” costumes are just more ensembles of string and cloth that seem better suited for an Xtreme Beach Volleyball entry.
Dead or Alive 6 also has a laughable Story Mode. It can be completed in under 3 hours, has about 30 seconds of cutscenes before and after each mission, and features some of the worst voice acting I have ever seen in a modern video game. The lip flaps don’t even match half the time, unintentionally making the game feel like some sort of Kung Pow-esque parody of kung fu movies (which would actually be great, the more I think about it…). Granted, Dead or Alive 6 is not here to give players a great story mode. But with companies like NetherRealm Studios nailing it out of the park every time they make a story mode, it makes Dead or Alive 6’s look even worse by comparison. I would have much rather preferred more development time had been put into new gameplay mechanics and extra modes.
The quest for game modes
Speaking of extra modes, Dead or Alive 6 also has the “DoA Quest” mode. This is a series of challenges players can compete in for extra points, costumes, and customization pieces for the game’s fun but limited character customization mode. These missions range from brain-dead easy objectives like landing a 5-hit combo to slightly more difficult ones like performing specific counters against the AI. DoA Quest is fun and gives players a little something extra to do beyond online and story modes, but by mission 15 objectives already begin to repeat themselves. A peek at the later end of the mode showed some truly absurd objectives fit for only the most dedicated players though.
Dead or Alive 6 does have two saving graces in its tutorial and online modes. The tutorial system goes into an absolutely crazy level of depth. It teaches players the extreme basics like using launchers and performing basic wall combos, and it also teaches stuff like how to perform counter hold-specific Fatal Stun combos. Players can only advance to the next tier of tutorials by passing a test, which will pit players against an AI opponent to use everything they just learned. The tutorial test is a concept I really like, and I hope more fighting games adopt it in the future.
The online mode in Dead or Alive 6 does a pretty admirable job as well. Fighting games live and die by their online netcode, and the netcode here does a decent job holding a steady connection. Some matches were laggier than others, and I did have some combos drop when I felt they shouldn’t have, but overall my online experience was enjoyable. As long as you set your search parameters for matches to only three bars and above, you will have a good time with Dead or Alive 6’s online functions. However, one major drawback is the lack of online lobbies, which was supposed to be added this month but has recently been delayed once more to April.
Dead or Alive 6 is too familiar
Dead or Alive 6 is a hard game to recommend because how much enjoyment you get out of it hinges completely on whether or not you bought and played Dead or Alive 5. If you are someone who played a whole heckuva lot of Dead or Alive 5, then you probably already bought this. But I still find it hard to recommend with what is currently available in the fighting game market, and especially with what is coming up very soon. If you didn’t play much or any of Dead or Alive 5, then Dead or Alive 6 is actually a fantastic place to start with the series, as much of the franchise fatigue won’t affect you. Dead or Alive 6’s biggest issue is that it feels more like another update for DoA5 rather than a fully new iteration of the franchise.
This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.
Platforms: PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Release Date: March 1, 2019
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Developer: Team Ninja