Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate Review

Dead Or Alive 5 bounces back into the gaming arena, offering high-paced tactical fighting alongside lots of titillation.

Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate: On the plus side

Tecmo’s been churning out Dead Or Alive games for quite some time now. I’ve just gone to look it up, and the first game — which sits in its Playstation form on my games shelf — came out in 1996, meaning that I feel old now — and the game is just now old enough to play itself, given its Australian M rating.

I could kick like that if I wanted to. (I'm not kidding anyone, am I?)
I could kick like that if I wanted to.
(I’m not kidding anyone, am I?)

Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate remains a one on one fighting game with extremely fluid visuals and an emphasis on combination juggle attacks; get the sequences right and you can deplete your foe’s life bar exceptionally quickly. It’s a setup that rewards a lot of careful play learning the underlying systems that most fighting games rely on, while still retaining a certain amount of “pick up and play” ability for novice fighting game fans.
This is the “Ultimate” edition of Dead Or Alive 5, which means it’s got the core gameplay and character set from the previous game, along with new training modes — because underneath the glitz there is a deep gaming system here — and five characters not found in the “regular” edition of the game — Momiji and Rachel from Ninja Gaiden, Leon and Ein from previous DOA games and Jacky Bryant from Virtua Fighter. Cross-series pollination is a serious thing in fighting games these days.

You’ve got 29 fighters to choose from in total, with quite a wide variety of fighting styles for straight up arcade play, or the lengthy (and often ridiculous) story mode.
Multiplayer is where Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate is still going to shine the brightest, as it is with most fighting games. It’s entirely feasible to get sucked into spending hours trying to master combinations, head online and be thrashed soundly by someone a little higher up the learning ladder than you are. That acts as a spur to train some more, and before you know it, you’ve spent a day trying to get marginally better at one of the game’s 29 characters. Mastering them all will take quite some time.

Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate: On the minus side

She sits in a submissive pose, whimpering gently, her large damp eyes looking up towards you pleadingly. A thin trickle of sweat runs swiftly down the inside of her ample cleavage…
It sounds like a low grade porn novel, but that’s a good description of Kasumi’s defeat pose — and it’s all quite deliberate. Dead Or Alive has never made a secret of its favouring of sexualisation of in-game characters; the original Playstation copy I referenced earlier infamously has a toggle switch for “Breast Bounce” mode.
Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate doesn’t shy away from this in the least. Even before opening the box I noted the rating included “Violence and sexualised gameplay”, and when the first bit of DLC offered up is a “naughty schoolgirl” outfit… well, it’s not exactly subtle, and it’s not exactly even-handed, either.

Is this acceptable school uniform anywhere? I doubt it...
Is this acceptable school uniform anywhere? I doubt it…

Female characters fight in outfits that in some cases must have been spot-welded to their ample silicon enhancements. Male characters tend towards the beefcake, but to nowhere near the same extreme.
Clearly that’s a matter of personal preference — some people will laugh it off, although it’s not presented in a satirical style, unless the style of Sid James has somehow become satirical — but while I love fighting games, this wasn’t a game that I was comfortable playing around my children, simply because of the rampant hyper-sexualisation of the game characters.
Again, Dead Or Alive has never shied away from this; it’s quite implicit that when you buy a Dead Or Alive game, that’s what you’re buying into. I can’t say it’s necessary to the gameplay, however, unless you’re doing things with a game controller I’d rather not think about.
Then there’s the issue with this being the “Ultimate” version of the game. Does it offer more than Dead Or Alive 5 did? Certainly — but only to a small degree, and one that’s perhaps of most interest to long-term fans of the series. I can’t help but wonder if there’s enough underlying code difference that this couldn’t have been optional DLC for the full game rather than a disc release.

Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate: Pricing

Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate retails at around $69.95; at the time of writing that’s what EBGames is charging for a pre-order while JB Hi-Fi lists it slightly cheaper at $64.95.

Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate: Fat Duck verdict

Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate plays well, whether it’s learning how the game works in single player, or taking it online — or on the sofa — for some serious pugilism. That’s a big plus, although it’s not as though there aren’t other fighting game options that are also worth playing.
I can’t deny that the sexualisation issue bothers me, but it took me a while to work out exactly why; I’ve long held that there’s a lot less threat in a pair of breasts than there is in a punch to the face or a gunshot wound.
The issue here is that it’s so particularly tilted towards Zoo-style exhibitionism for no other reason than the fact that it can, and that Team Ninja, really, really like breasts. They don’t add to the game in any real way.

For a certain segment of the audience, this will be enough to make it a must-buy.
For a certain segment of the audience, this will be enough to make it a must-buy.

That might be a blessing — I don’t think I want to play a game featuring actual sexualised attacks, per se, and such a thing almost certainly wouldn’t make it past the censors anyway — but it also sends out a rather strong message about objectification. I’m not entirely happy with that; your taste may vary.
There’s also the issue of it being a rather swift sequel. Dead or Alive 5 only came out last year, and was part of the Instant Game Collection on PS Plus a few months back. That makes it a harder sell if you’re only a casual fan with a PS3, although the version I reviewed was the Xbox 360 code.
So how do I sum up that particular set of quandaries? Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate plays well, but offers only a small subset of new features over its predecessor, alongside some seriously questionable attitudes towards titillation, but not to the same extent as, say, Dead Or Alive Beach Volleyball.
There are over 15 DOA games. Clearly, they're selling to an audience that wants them.
There are over 15 DOA games. Clearly, they’re selling to an audience that wants them.

Quite where you sit on that spectrum — and quite how dedicated to this particular games series you are — will determine whether or not it’s worth your while.

3 thoughts on “Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate Review”

  1. I must disagree with you somewhat with the sexualisation. The Dead or Alive 5 games all strike me as being quite self-referential with the sexualisation. There’s a knowingness about the game that a subset of the fans will want this (and indeed the original DoA 5 was meant to have more normally-proportioned women and this caused a fan outcry), and so it goes right over the top to, I believe, make a point.
    I agree it’s uncomfortable to play when children are around, though, especially with the DLC. But that in itself raises some interesting questions – we’re uncomfortable with the breasts and naughty schoolgirl uniforms, but the violence of this game, or others such as Soul Calibur or Tekken isn’t something we’re necessarily concerned with children seeing. In fact, you need to go all the way to Mortal Kombat before the violence becomes a problem.
    It’s a sad reflection on society, I’d argue. And I think Dead or Alive and its developers know that.

    1. It’s an interesting issue, and one that I had to stop and think carefully about in writing. For what it’s worth, I don’t play many fighting games around my children at all, but the violence/sexuality split is indeed one that society tends to tilt towards violence in a rather disturbing way.
      That being said — and I know your opinion is an informed one — I don’t think it’s self-referential in an effort to make a point. I think it’s pretty much self referential because breasts, and that’s about as far as it goes. Team Ninja’s games tend towards excess, and the excess in this case is one of sexualised characters, and most notably the female players.
      The breasts become a selling point — consider the embedded trailer clip above — because they’re breasts, and highly objectified breasts at that.

      1. I’m certainly not going to defend the marketing of Dead or Alive because I absolutely agree that it’s exploitative in the worst sense of the word.
        However, marketing aside, I really wonder how genuinely exploitative Dead or Alive aims to be in the game itself, and how much it’s a long and extended joke at the expense of gamers and the games industry itself. Kinda like how Mortal Kombat went from being a serious attempt to sell gore and violence to a hyperbolic parody.
        From a chat I had with Team Ninja’s director, Hayashi, I get the impression that that’s the intention of these games, at least. And Hayashi has absolutely no intention on reviving the DoA Beach Volleyball franchise, despite those games selling quite well. This indicates to me that Hayashi has a different attitude towards game design compared to his predecessor. With that said I don’t think it’s executed especially well, and I would point to Goichi Suda as a far more articulate argument for how you take exploitation and attack it from within, so to speak.

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