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DoA 6 (Check on Amazon.com) is finally here: for fans of 3D fighting games, the Dead or Alive saga has never been the benchmark of the genre. Crushed between category giants such as Tekken, Virtua Fighter and SoulCalibur, the Koei Tecmo series has always struggled to win a place in the hearts of players. Over the years Dead or Alive has changed skin several times, moving away from Virtua Fighter, his main source of inspiration. Although born as a sort of clone of the SEGA fighting game, the title created by Tomonobu Itagaki initially attracted the attention of the audience with the design of its protagonists and the iconic game mechanic based on the concept of rock-paper-scissor, replaced by the attack, grip, and counter.
Year after year, not knowing how to improve or evolve the combat system, Team Ninja worked first on the complexity of the arenas, then on the countless costumes and crossover with other titles. This evolutionary path reached its peak with Dead or Alive 5. The classic gameplay was enriched with new mechanics that rewarded the use of precise and thoughtful counterattacks, that triggered a devastating blow that could initiate a series of high damage combos.
It was a mechanic that awarded a more strategic approach to combat and that was properly exploited by those players who like to spend a lot of time in training mode. Unfortunately, when all the other publishers took the world of esports by storm, Team Ninja instead focused on costumes.
Simplification at any cost
With DoA 6 it seems that Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja have decided to reverse the course. Enter the Break Gauge a new two-tiered meter that triggers useful special techniques with which to overturn the fate of a fight. The meter increases by scoring shots or effectively countering them, but there are also techniques with which you can fill the bar very quickly.
Each character in Dead or Alive 6 can count on attacks called Break Blows, which cause a stun leaving the opponent completely helpless. The only way out of this situation is to spend a portion of the Break Gauge and execute a Break Hold.
This is a countermove capable of intercepting all attacks: a very useful technique to get out of a bad spot. Its greatest advantage, however, is that it can also be used during a Break Blow, an attack that normally renders any kind of reaction impossible.
Break Blows, on the other hand, are moves that can be executed by consuming the entirety of the Break Gauge. These attacks cause massive damage and are able to counter some of the adversary’s assaults, allowing them to turn a situation upside down.
Although the new game mechanics were introduced by Team Ninja with the intention of modernizing Dead or Alive, they did nothing but shift a balance that, albeit dated, worked quite well. Adding these new elements to the original formula has weakened the strength of the game that was overly balanced.
New mechanics aside, the old combat system is still present and still very much amusing. Few 3D fighting games are able to welcome beginners like Dead or Alive, and matches against novice players always turn into a frantic battle of countermoves and unlikely combos.
It takes no time, however, to overcome this first initial “frantic button smashing” stage, and start to use countermoves carefully selected by reading the opponent’s attacks. In Dead or Alive 6, all these virtues have remained unchanged and are appreciated despite the unconvincing novelties.
An unsatisfactory offer
The technical implementation of the game isn’t a significant leap forward compared to the previous episode: the developers have worked well on lighting, which helps to create some eye-catching and pleasant scenes, but at a more careful analysis you can still observe blurry textures, aliasing issues, and some slowdowns that are impossible to forgive in a fast paced fighting game.
In Dead or Alive 6, you can choose between action mode, which focuses on framerate, and cinematic mode, which boosts details. This solution, already present in Nioh, doesn’t do justice to a fighting game where developers should focus primarily on fluidity, and then think about the rest. The presence of this option lets you understand the general confusion surrounding title development. The confusion was also confirmed by the marketing campaign that initially stated that this would be the least sexualized chapter of Dead or Alive, and then backpedaled at the first sign of fan protest. In the roster, we find two new characters, Diego and Nico. In order to add these two, the team sacrificed fan favorites such as Ein, Gen Fu and Leon. The absence of Mai Shiranui is understandable since it’s a matter of copyright, but the same cannot be said for the characters that are the intellectual property of Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo.
The story mode alternates narrative sequences with increasingly difficult fights. The plot has some interesting cues, especially in the advanced stages, that will make you feel at home.
In addition, there are several single-player missions that require you to achieve certain goals during battles with predefined characters. You will be urged to complete them mainly to accumulate points with which to win costumes and purchase the many unlockable items.
To improve your fighting chances, there is the inevitable tutorial, paired with a training mode with which to study combos and prepare for online multiplayer.
An open construction site
The online mode of DOA6 is so poorly put together that it seems incomplete. Players can only compete in Ranked games. There is no option to create lobbies and invite friends, you can only fight random players chosen by the game.
We played around twenty games in order to test the gameplay and we were faced with significant stuttering or slowdowns even when the connection quality was reported to be good. Fortunately, you can decide whether to accept or reject a match based on the quality of the connection, appropriately signaled at the time of pairing. In this way, some disasters can be avoided, although there is still a wide margin of uncertainty.
Dead or Alive 6 (Check on Amazon.com) is a fun game, but it struggles to match the previous chapter of the series, which is still very good. The gameplay suffers from the inclusion of new mechanics that do not mix perfectly with the traditional combat system. The technical realization did not make the expected leap forward and the content offer is not on par with the price of purchase. Despite all this, it’s still a pleasant game that can entertain you for hours and hours, thanks to the good quality of the single-player mode and a generous dose of unlockable content. Given the developer’s history, we will surely witness a gradual increase in production content bound to be released in the coming months. Just have a little patience.