Dead Or Alive 6 review: a fighting game for the bargain bin

Team Ninja's Dead Or Alive 6 downplays the anatomy and plays up the brutal face-punches, but it's not really worth its price tag

It’s been interesting to watch Dead Or Alive evolve these last few years. When the series debuted in 1996, it became infamous as a raunchy fighting game. Sure, it had a Bruce Lee knockoff, Dennis Rodman as a kickboxer and the guy from Ninja Gaiden, but the selling point was the scantily-clad women. The sex appeal was to Dead Or Alive what the blood and gore are to Mortal Kombat and that led to a trilogy of spinoff games based on the women of the cast playing volleyball in bikinis.

But… there’s only so far you can go with “fan service.” At some point, the folks at Team Ninja decided to add more emphasis on the gameplay for the sake of getting a tournament scene out of it, which meant the studio had to rein in some of the more adult content. Of course, this made some fans unhappy. After all, wasn’t that raunchiness the foundation of the series?

And so, we get Dead Or Alive 6, a game that tries to play itself as a serious fighting game while quietly waving you over to a sketchy alley to sell you the raunchy skins separately from under its overcoat. £70 worth of skins as well as two new characters, to be exact. That’s how much the DLC season pass is, which seems a bit like madness. Anyway…

Dead Or Alive 6’s fighting style is based on treating strikes, throws and holds as a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. You also get some cool ninja tricks and electric powers here and there, but nothing too over-the-top or off-the-wall. The controls are incredibly tight and responsive, making it really easy to pick up, but with a bit of a learning curve before you feel properly good at it.

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Luckily, the game does a great job teaching new players its ins and outs. Not only is its training mode grade-A stuff, but there’s also DOA Quest. This is a mission mode that you’ll need in order to unlock extra costumes. It gives you a match and asks you to complete three tasks, which include performing a specific combo, doing a certain amount of damage, winning under a certain amount of time, hitting a specific move, or whatever. Getting all three tasks done will unlock points to unlock certain costumes as well as more missions. It’s probably the best single-player inclusion you’ll find in the game.

Sadly, the tag team mode from Dead Or Alive 5 is nowhere to be found in this sequel, which instead adds a meter-based fighting system. This allows you to either counter oncoming attacks, let loose with a flashy combo (complete with blood splatter on the screen), or use a single, dramatic and damaging strike that will knock your opponent across the screen and usually give you a slow-mo close-up of the opponent getting punched hard in the face. If they’re wearing head accessories, those go flying too, making it extremely satisfying.

Team Ninja also introduces backstage hazards and transitions, including your opponent being manhandled by a giant tentacle because, even if there is less exposed skin, this game is still pretty damn sexual.

The other stuff is fairly basic for the most part. You get an arcade mode, albeit without a final boss or any endings, making the whole thing feel rather unnecessary. There’s survival mode, time attack and versus.

Then there’s the story mode, which could be described as a well-meaning mess. If you dig the storyline stuff in fighting games, Dead Or Alive is near the bottom of the totem in terms of quality. The series has some fun characters, but it doesn’t quite hit the highs of the Mishima Saga or Earthrealm vs. Outworld. This is a shame because the basic concepts at the core of this series is pretty strong.

The story of this new entry is that Helena Douglas and Zack are putting together a sixth Dead Or Alive fighting tournament through Helena’s organization DOATEC. One of the entrants is airheaded teen girl Honoka, whose ability to copy any attack she sees makes her a person of interest to DOATEC, the Mugen Tenshin ninja clan, and the mad scientist organization MIST. As those three parties plot against each other, returning champion Jann Lee is out to find a worthy rival, hopefully in the form of the mysterious Rig. Then there’s Diego, a new fighter making a name for himself on the streets, although he is reluctant to sell out and enter the tournament.

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You have the main plot, which is shown in a series of cutscenes. If you’re lucky, one of these cutscenes might actually lead to a fight! The more you play, the more you unlock side stories for all the other characters. Those will also unlock chapters for fellow fighters. Almost everyone playable gets something to do, even if it ultimately means being a supporting character to a supporting character.

It feels a bit like an attempt to ape what Tekken 7 was going for, but sadly, Dead Or Alive 6‘s story never quite comes together, it ends abruptly, and the post-credits cliffhanger is pretty uninspiring.

Quick aside, but the funniest thing about the story mode is the pirate ship. In every fighting game with a story mode, one of the obstacles for the writers is that they have to centre every conflict around all the stages available in the game and nothing else. If one of the stages is a rooftop, then various cutscenes are going to take place on that rooftop. Most of the time, that’s pretty natural. In Dead Or Alive 6, though, one of the stages is a dilapidated pirate ship with the aforementioned tentacle monster in the background and it has nothing to do with anything. That means that several story chapters have to come up with the most contrived reasons for characters to even want to be there in the first place. What fun.

The game also has a customisation mode. It’s lacking, though, and doesn’t scratch the surface of competitors like Tekken 7 or SoulCalibur 6. It’s mainly you unlocking full costumes through your DOA Quest winnings as well as getting different haircuts and adding glasses to characters. That’s pretty much it.

Dead Or Alive 6 has a very solid foundation with a decent amount of characters to play around with. It has all the expected modes a fighting game should have, but it mostly comes up short in its offerings. The series’ status as fan service central has been overtaken by SoulCalibur and, strangely enough, Street Fighter, but this is still a game worth playing. It might not be worth its full price tag, and it’s certainly not worth that DLC price, but if you see it on sale in a bargain bin, by all means, get on that and have a few hours of fun. Just don’t expect much more than that.


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Dead Or Alive 6 is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Arcade.