A More Mature Melee
After a long day of slugging my way through Los Angeles traffic and the crowded LA convention center last Wednesday, I found myself wrapping up a busy day of appointments in Koei Tecmo’s small conference room to go hands-on with Dead or Alive 6. With more than a little fire in my belly (along with a few tasty breakfast burritos from my favorite LA hole in the wall, Alladin’s Coffee Shop) I clutched my controller and prepared to go a few rounds Koei Tecmo’s PR Manager Jon Robinson to find out what the latest entry in the top-heavy tournament fighter franchise was all about.
Given that the game was only announced four days prior to my visit, it’s no surprise that the portion I got to experience was pretty lean. The demo allowed me to choose between a roster of four fighters as we slugged it out in two arenas – a dilapidated alley and a grand coliseum enclosed in an electrified barrier. Despite the limited scope of the build, Dead or Alive 6 showed a great deal of promise thanks to its sleek and refined gameplay system, striking visuals, and the addition of a pair of new gameplay mechanics which change the way each melee unfolds.
If you’ve ever played a Dead or Alive title before, you’ll feel right at home this time around. Punches, kicks, parries, and well-timed reversals are still the name of the game here, and they feel better than ever. Whether I was executing flashy, bone-breaking counters with the leather-clad Kasumi or volleys of punishing head kicks with the long-legged boxer Zack, each strike felt incredibly weighty and satisfying. No doubt about it, this is the Dead or Alive you know and love.
That’s not to say it’s all old hat. Dead or Alive 6 introduces a new way to punish the competition with the Fatal Rush. By simply tapping the special button, you can unleash a single, powerful attack. These blows can be chained up to four times, allowing you to send your adversary flying across the screen with a flurry of devastating strikes. It’s a handy tool that’s good for closing the distance between two fighters and can result in some pretty epic flourishes when two opposing combatants collide with their own rushes. While the Fatal Rush is a powerful tool, it’s far from a win button. You need to be relatively close to your opponent to use it. And if it’s sidestepped, you’re leaving yourself open for a world of hurt. That said, Rush responsibly.
The Fatal Rush isn’t the only new component to spice up the action, though. Dead or Alive 6 finally sees the series get with the times by incorporating a bonafide super gauge. Dubbed the Break Gauge, it’s a meter that fills as you successively land and block attacks. Once full, you can use it to execute a Break Hold or a Break Blow. Break Holds are defensive maneuvers that allow you to counter low, mid, and high attacks while dishing out a bit of damage. Break Blows, on the other hand, are stunning supers that light up the screen with pure, unadulterated polygonal punishment.
While my time with the game was short, I can’t stress enough how well all of these elements seemed to come together. The Fatal Rushes, Break Holds and Break Blows all compliment each other perfectly to make Dead or Alive 6’s combat feel incredibly robust and exciting while offering plenty of strategic opportunities for seasoned players.
Less Jiggle, More Jab
Even in this early stage in the game’s development, it’s clear that Dead or Alive 6 is a more mature brawler this time around. The fleshy fanservice that catapulted the series to notoriety has been considerably dialed back. Both of the game’s playable female fighters, the Pigua Quan martial artist and opera singer Helena Douglas and the cunning kunoichi Kasumi, showed more grit than skin as they traded blows with the towering Muay Thai boxer Zack and the Bruce Lee-inspired Jann Lee. The end result is a game that, while still beautiful, won’t send you shambling in shame to change the TV’s input when company unexpectedly drops in.
Even without the added skin, Dead or Alive 6 is one gorgeous game. Right from the outset, the detailed character models look nothing short of phenomenal. Each character is animated better than ever before. And little touches, like the texture of Helena’s silken dress to the way the sweat begins to pour from Jann Lee’s pores as the fight intensifies, add a compelling level of believability to the visuals. I’ve always kind of felt that the Dead or Alive series’ characters have had this weird, doll-like appearance. But Dead or Alive 6 puts this to rest, delivering some of the most jaw-dropping visual direction I’ve seen in a fighter in many years.
Overall, the spectacle of it all was certainly breathtaking. However, one thing that did stand out to me is the stages I experienced in the demo seemed to lack any of the exciting transitions that we’ve seen in previous entries in the series. Though I think it’s safe to assume they’ll be making an appearance in the future, especially when you consider we won’t be seeing the final release until next year.
A Welcome Change In Direction
Though we’re still about a year away from the game’s 2019 release, Dead or Alive 6 is shaping up to be one wild ride. The decision to tone down the cheap thrills in favor of a more robust fighting system may bring with it a bit of controversy when it comes to longtime fans. However, it’s plain to see this more mature direction is paying dividends as Team Ninja continues to refine and bolster the series’ mechanics this go round. If this early taste of the action is any indication, Dead or Alive 6 is going to be the fighter to keep an eye on when it lands on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam next year.