Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Review: Dead or Alive Ultimate (XBox)
Posted by Shocker :: 11:17 PM

Okay, so I rented DOA: Ultimate a few weeks ago, and ever since, I've tried to fob off the review of it to other people (Chris, Ariel). But they all balked, so let me pop this one out for you guys.

As a compilation, DOA Ultimate will basically be judged on completeness, but we can look at some gameplay aspects. DOA Ultimate is a massive two-disc compilation of the original Dead or Alive and Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate. As for DOA1, you'll most likely not be playing it much, but it is nice to see that the graphics have been updated a bit (though nowhere near DOA 2/3 levels). DOA1 can be played online, though the day I got it, November 9th, no one seemed particularly interested in playing it. If you've never played Dead or Alive 1, it's an interesting experience, but not so much that you'd be buying the entire package for it. The modes are not as fleshed out as in DOA2U, basically arcade, versus, training and live modes are the only ways to fly here. As far as the gameplay, it plays a whooole lot like "Tecmo sees Virtua Fighter 2 and really wants one of those too".

No, if you buy this, you're coming for DOA2 Ultimate, and that's where the majority of the beef to the package lies. DOA vets will be happy with the additions to DOA2. The graphics are on par with DOA3 (in fact, I'm 99% sure the same models are used), stages from DOA3 are here, including some new, very expansive and beautiful models, and Hitomi, Bayman and Tengu are unlockable characters here. In addition, each character sports tons of costumes, from Ayane and Kasumi who have nearly 20 each, to updated costumes for characters like Ryu Hayabusa (Star of the XBox hit Ninja Gaiden), whose NG costume is the default. The game is easily the most beautiful fighter on the market, from massively detailed characters to open-ended stages that have multiple paths to throw your opponent through.

The modes here are equally expansive. Story modes are pretty straightforward affairs for each character, but tag battles and survival mix it up a bit. Tag battle is sort of the middle between Tekken's Tag Tournament and SoulCalibur's Team Battles: there is some interaction between characters, who can be switched on-the-fly, but there is not a huge variety of team moves. The modes are rounded out with a solid training mode (where you can go through a test of each character's entire moveset - a nice touch), and a Watch mode, where you can watch two characters fight one another, with control over the camera.

If you're unfamiliar with DOA2/3, it's one of the best hand-to-hand 3D fighters (right up there with Tekken and Virtua Fighter). Its button layout is rather simple, punch and kick buttons, and a free button that acts as a counter if the timing is performed right. Combinations of these, and button presses in each direction yield a surprisingly intuitive fighter that is easy to jump into, but has a fair amount of depth once you're ready to sit down and try and learn it all. Series trademarks, beautiful women and environments combine to create likely the best looking games on their respective systems (Dreamcast and XBox especially).

Of course, the most anticipated feature here is the online play. The XBox finally gets its first full-3D online fighter (with the somewhat worthless exception of Mortal Kombat: Deception). Having played a few online fighters (Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO for instance), it's honestly a much different experience. The strict one-on-one nature tends to make the process of finding a fight a bit like ships colliding in the night. You can spend a lot of time sitting around and waiting for someone who can match your criteria to come along. DOA Ultimate, in perhaps it's biggest innovation, changes all of that. Now, the game plays like an arcade, with a lobby that up to 8 potential players gather in. While the two active players duke it out, you actually get to watch their fight on your screen, and can talk smack or listen to smack being talked over your XBox Live headset. Just like putting your quarter on the machine, as soon as the challenger or champion loses, you move up a slot, and once you play, you stay until you're defeated. It's an ingenious system that I would expect many other fighters (Especially 3D ones... Dare I hope for Online SoulCalibur 3?) to adopt.

So how does it all fit together? The offline modes are as solid as DOA3 ever was. If you don't have XBox Live, I wouldn't recommend a purchase, though. You can get all the features from DOAU from DOA3 (and unless you absolutely must have/play DOA 1, I don't think you do), without having to unlock Hitomi (who is one of my favorite fighters) and Bayman. The online play is solid, but there is generally lag coming through. Mostly it manifests in a bit of slowed down combat, which is less annoying than when it jumps from one point to another (which is quite rare). Rarer still, though, were games where I experienced no lag, and this is over the same connection through which Halo 2 runs flawlessly. On and offline play are helped by a complete lack of load times and solid gameplay that I'd recommend anyone to try. The only annoying bit is that in order to unlock each of the characters' costumes, you've got to beat the story mode for that character. Going through Story Mode 20 times just to unlock Kasumi's costume takes the luster off of the mode, though one could argue that it's intended to up the replay value of the game. In any case, scoring the compilation, I give DOA Ultimate

Hey, the only reason I balked on it was my lack of playing time. I couldn't really give you a detailed review. But I will say that the time I played it was very fun. I picked Good 'Ole Ryu Hayabusa and went to town. A very solid fighting game.
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