Dead or Alive 5 review

  • Sleek presentation and smooth graphics
  • Dazzling stage effects
  • A robust roster of different fighting styles
  • Difficult learning curve
  • Not knowing what new moves do
  • Weak Story mode

It’s hard to talk about Dead or Alive and not mention its cast of female fighters that are as lethal as they are scantily clad. After all, these displays of sensuality, coupled with a deceptively simple yet difficult-to-master combat system, are what define these games and bring fans back for more beautiful and oh-so-brutal battles. Nearly seven years after its predecessor graced the Xbox 360, Dead or Alive 5 emerges looking more grown-up, both in design and control, and places further emphasis on stage effects and visuals, making it quite the sight to behold.

Watch the Dead or Alive 5 launch trailer

Players familiar with the series will feel right at home jumping into a DOA5 match, as the core fighting system hasn’t changed much since its last installment. The game offers solo and tag battles, and combat still revolves around a complex rock-paper-scissors priority system (attacks beat throws, throws beat holds, and holds beat attacks) that takes time to master. Team Ninja rewarded defensive players by making holds do vast amounts of damage in DOA4, but that damage has now been scaled down, and because holds are more difficult to connect, DOA5 is more about studying your opponent’s moves rather than simply countering ad nauseam.

To balance the game further, all characters now have a special move called Critical Burst. Here’s how it works: Normally, when players are hit, their lifebars glow red and they become stunned, preventing all action other than holds. With Critical Burst, the stun becomes total, allowing you to wail on your opponent without having to deal with them countering you with a hold. It takes practice to implement them into your combos, but their inclusion elevates the fighting system even further.

All characters also now have a unique attack called the Power Blow, which can be used at any time during a match to push enemies away from you. Fully charging it when your health drops below 50% means your character will perform a string of unblockable moves that deal heavy damage. Power Blows takes time to charge, so it’s not overpowering by any means, but it can turn the tide of battle if you time it carefully or perform it at the end of a Critical Burst combo.

Much like the combat system, characters have also received a few welcomed adjustments and additions to their move-lists that complement the updated fighting system. There are over 20 playable characters to choose from, including newcomers Mila and Rig, who bring their MMA and Taekwondo skills to the ring and are excellent additions to the cast. Three guest fighters from Sega’s Virtua Fighter franchise are also in the game. Their fighting styles complement everyone else’s quite nicely, but they don’t have any involvement in the game’s story and feel out of place. Visually, everyone’s features are now more life-like and look less like anime characters (which is to say, the franchise’s notorious breast physics have been toned down). The game even adds more realism to battles by showing dirt accumulate over time on clothing and sweat dripping down a character’s face.

While past DOA games featured multi-tiered stages, breakable walls, and damaging traps, DOA5 takes it even further by including more elaborate Danger Zones, which seamlessly break the barrier between gameplay and cinematics. For instance, there’s one stage that takes place on a wooden raft by a river and can be lodged onto the water if you manage to push your opponent towards the tree that is holding it in place. You’ll start floating down the river until you reach the edge of a waterfall where you’ll stay until one of you gets pushed off, leading into a cutscene complete with aerial combos and a great view of the jungle below. Each stage will feel and look different depending on how the match is played out, so you may never make it off the waterfall in that particular stage, but knowing how to use the environment to your advantage makes fights more visually-appealing and makes you a smarter opponent.

DOA5’s Story mode (similar to that of Dead or Alive: Dimensions) is in the form of chapters that have you playing as every character to learn about their involvements following the fall of the villainous DOATEC. Its short plot is nothing spectacular, and because you’re bouncing from one character to the next, it is bound to get confusing. Its format, which doubles as the game’s tutorial, also distracts you from the action. In fact, despite introducing players to the game’s intricate fighting mechanics, DOA5 could benefit from a separate tutorial mode, as it’s not immediately clear how to use some of the new features until you encounter them during Story mode.

 Check out this gameplay footage from Dead or Alive 5

Playing DOA5 online, either in a ranked, simple, or tag match, feels just as good as any local match. There are some occasional lag spikes here and there, but the game’s much-improved netcode does a good job overall of keeping it to a minimum even when facing opponents from other regions and on the busiest of stages. Gone are the cumbersome lobbies of DOA4, and the new sleek menus make finding and creating matches a breeze.

There is no denying this Dead or Alive looks better than ever, but its improved fighting system is another step in the right direction. The game’s story mode leaves much to be desired, however, but fortunately the game’s other modes will keep you coming back for more once you finish. Ultimately, Dead or Alive 5’s new fighting mechanics and flashy stage effects turn battles into an entertaining, over-the-top experience anyone can get into--with enough practice, of course.

This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

More Info

Release date: Sep 25 2012 - Xbox 360, PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Fighting
Published by: TECMO KOEI
Developed by: Team Ninja
Franchise: Dead or Alive
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence


  • srijit-sen - October 7, 2012 7:58 a.m.

    how difficult is this game? marvel vs capcom 3 difficult? Tekken difficult? mortal kombat 9 difficult? or Street Fighter difficult? is there an easy mode? is co-op tag available? i am thinking of buying this. but i wasted my money with Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. so i want to proceed cautiously. Thanks.
  • samsneeze - September 26, 2012 9:18 a.m.

    Picked it up and played it all day yesterday. It moves on a totally different rhythm when compared to DoA4. Hit boxes are a half step larger and most stuns are no longer full stuns. Some levels are much too busy for my liking. Playing on Legend is pretty fun though. I still need to play through story mode, but I'm not sure I like how some characters are being portrayed. Also, Tina and Mila tag team cannot be beaten. This is an undeniable fact.
  • BladedFalcon - September 26, 2012 10:20 a.m.

    You can always turn the danger zones off if you want. Also, I still don't quite have a read on whether you actually like the game or not :P Glad to hear Mila turned out to be a good character apparently ^^
  • samsneeze - September 26, 2012 12:29 p.m.

    It's not so much the danger zones, just the over flashy-ness of the presentation. Like things go on in the background that can sometimes be very distracting. I like the game quite a bit. I'd be hard pressed to say I enjoy it more than Dead or Alive 4, but we'll see in a couple of weeks. And yes, Mila is <3.
  • n00b - September 25, 2012 3:25 p.m.

    breast physics have been toned down my ass
  • BladedFalcon - September 25, 2012 2:32 p.m.

    Well, yes. But considering she's not even playable in story mode until you beat the game with everyone else first. I think it's pretty clear that the intention was to take hers as the final ending, specially since her ending pretty much concerns everyone and everything, and not just her :P
  • Bitchslapthehomeless - September 25, 2012 11:16 a.m.

    Definitely picking this up on my way home from work.
  • BladedFalcon - September 25, 2012 7:34 a.m.

    Excellent! I was really hoping this game would deliver where it matters; Which is gameplay, and from the sound of it, it looks like it definitely does! It's a great relief that Tecmo did it right with this one... considering the disaster that Ninja Gaiden 3 turned out to be. I'm also happy to hear that the dynamic stages aren't just a tacked in cinematic extravaganza, and that they won't necessarily play out the same every single time you fight in a certain stage. Lastly... isn't complaining that a fighting game has a crappy story mode kinda like complaining that an RPG has too much dialog? Just sayin'...
  • robertpopovic - September 25, 2012 9:14 a.m.

    On that last bit; I'd say yes and no. Sure, fighting games hardly ever have stellar stories (Streetfighter, Mortal Kombat and Tekken spring to mind) yet at least I always loved it to beat the game with every character just to see their (often silly) story-ending, no matter how bad it was. Though the past few years fighting games have been making an effort like the Guilty Gear series ( at least I think your avatar is a chibi Sol Badguy :D) and the Blazblue series where several character stories get told inbetween battles and some join into 1 overlapping story. And some games like the last Mortal Kombat and Persona 4: Arena actually put in a story mode that could last you several hours. I like it when a story mode (or arcade mode with personal ending) fleshes out the overarching story and it's characters. Plus I'm too bad of a player to be playing online and I very rarely play fighting games with friends, so I need to have something to get my money's worth out of it. :D
  • BladedFalcon - September 25, 2012 9:48 a.m.

    Yes, but I mean, as far as I understand it from this (And other reviews) The actual single player content is as good in here as in previous DoA games, meaning you're no doubt getting those silly CG endings the series is known for still. What I meant is that the reviewer complained about the lameness of the story as if this was something uncanny to happen in the fighting game genre... Which let's be frank, as much as I love the genre, the story in the games is utterly confusing at best, (Guiilty Gear and Blaz Blue) and even when the single player mode is fleshed out as in MK9, the story still sucked spectacularly in that one, not to mention that it forced you to fight Shao Khan at least thrice :P And I'm actually also a loner, so I don't play fighting games online or with friends much, but if the gameplay of a fighting game is good and varied, it's more than enough to want me to give it a spin.
  • robertpopovic - September 25, 2012 11:07 a.m.

    I guess you're pretty much spot-on there. I used a wiki to follow the GG story, hehe. Still, I wonder how Persona 4 Arena holds up. Loved the RPG, but I still have to wait a while to play it due to living in Europe :(
  • Nap1400 - September 25, 2012 12:37 p.m.

    Reviewers always have to take the story into account, for some reason. It seems like it's part of the job. Kinda pointless in most cases, but it still happens. Side note: If you're looking for a fighting game that has a good story but not too complex, go for Skullgirls. That's what I believe to be what a story mode in fighting games should be. I guess it's kind of cheating because there's no voice acting in the cutscenes to botch, but it does a good job at storytelling nonetheless.
  • BladedFalcon - September 25, 2012 2:05 p.m.

    I did play skullgirls, and yeah, the story and characters were solid, though they still went deep into "mindfuck" territory with the final ending XD As for always taking story into account in the reviews... Well I don't remember them complaining about Saints Row: The Third or Skyrim's story... and both are pretty underwhelming storyline.
  • Nap1400 - September 25, 2012 2:19 p.m.

    That final ending was Double's. Her entire character is meant to mess with your head. :P

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