Last week we brought you hands-on impressions of Tecmo’s upcoming Xbox 360 launch title, Dead or Alive 4. We gave you a brief overview of the changes that have been made to the general fighting game mechanics and the online mode. While that information may satisfy casual fighting game fans, it was clear that the hardcore community was still craving for more information. Lucky for them, we spent several hours with Dead or Alive 4, and we’ve got even more detailed information than what we offered up last week. Now let’s get knee deep into Itagaki’s next masterpiece.
In-Depth: Gameplay Changes:
Dead or Alive Ultimate was a blast from the past. Tecmo took a game that was nearly a decade old, spruced up the graphics, made some minor changes to the gameplay, and added online play. The game was definitely a hit among Xbox owners, and remains one of the top 25 Xbox Live games in the world, but the fact remains that it was still a step back from Dead or Alive 3. Many fans of the series complained that the characters lacked their DOA3 move set. Now with Dead or Alive 4 on the horizon, the series picks up right where it left off at the Xbox launch, with a significant improvement to the fighting engine.
First and foremost, Tecmo has made the one change fighting game fans have been waiting for. The countering system in Dead or Alive 4 has been adjusted to remove the extra long window for counters. In past DOA titles, the timing on a successful counter was extremely loose. To get technical, a counter was active for 22 frames. For those not in the know, that basically means it was possible to counter well before your opponent attacked, and still catch their attack. In Dead or Alive 4 the counter window has been shortened a great deal. While we don’t have exact frame data, we estimate the counter window is now around 10 frames. That gives players less than half the time to perform a successful counter when compared to past DOA titles.
The amount of time a counter is active is not the only change to the counter system though. DOA Ultimate featured the extreme counter damage of DOA2. However, the amount of damage a counter dished out was lessened in DOA3, and that change has made it into DOA4 as well. This means that not only will players need better timing to perform a successful counter, but when they do get a counter, it will take a reasonable amount of damage instead of a third of your opponent’s life bar.
These changes should successfully make the countering system less accessible to players who chose to rely on the easily spammable counters of past DOA titles, while still allowing skilled players to take advantage of the system. That alone should add a bit of depth to DOA4, but Tecmo didn’t stop there. Taking a nod from Tekken, DOA players will no longer be safe while lying on the ground. In past DOA titles, when your opponent was on the ground, you could only tap them, or jump on them (some characters could also use a ground throw). None of these options dished out much damage, so being on the ground was never something to worry about.
In Dead or Alive 4, if you’re on the ground, not only will the old taps and jump attacks work, but any attack that hits low, or looks like it would hit a grounded opponent (like Kasumi’s cartwheel flip kick), will now connect with opponents on the ground. This one change will greatly affect how people are used to playing DOA, but that’s not the only change to the ground game.
In other DOA games, you could avoid most ground attacks by rolling to the side or rolling back (referred to as a tech roll). Using this technique, players were safe as they rose from the ground. This is no longer the case as certain attacks from each character will catch an opponent who is tech rolling off the ground (referred to as a tech catch). Ayane’s new vertical triple kick featured in one of our gameplay videos is one example of this. If an Ayane player performs this attack while their opponent is rolling off the ground, their opponent will not be able to rise and block the attack.
Adding to the ground game changes, certain attacks will now slam players down to the ground, causing them to bounce back up. The bounce is relatively small, but it’s enough to follow it up with another attack, and possibly a complete juggle. After getting ground bounced, players will have two options available to them. They can tech roll, potentially leaving themselves open to a tech catch, or they can remain on the ground, causing a new stand up animation (a very slow rise), leaving themselves open to a follow up attack.
As you can clearly see, the changes to the ground game in Dead or Alive 4 will open up an entirely new mind game between players. But we have yet to touch upon what may be the biggest change for DOA players come DOA4. Japanese and European players were treated to a preview of this with the upgraded version of DOA3 they received (the US version was rushed out to make the Xbox launch and lacked the changes). When many of the attacks in Dead or Alive 4 are blocked, the attacker will still be at an advantage. This is referred to as frame advantage. In comparison, Dead or Alive Ultimate leaves the attacker at a disadvantage when any attack is blocked (with a few minor exceptions).
By shifting the advantage from the defender to the attacker, DOA4 will offer a completely new gameplay experience for DOA fans. After blocking an attack that leaves your opponent at an advantage, if you try to beat your opponent to the punch with a counter attack, you’ll be taking the hit instead of dishing it out. Players will have to learn which attacks offer this new advantage so they know when it’s safe to attack and when they’ll have to remain on the defensive. This is a new layer of depth for Dead or Alive, but it’s something Tekken and Virtua Fighter fans have enjoyed for years.
Rounding out the fighting engine changes that we observed at the Tokyo Game Show was a slightly revamped stun system. In the past, if you attempted to throw a stunned player, the throw would miss and the stunned player would be unaffected. In DOA4, if you attempt to throw a stunned opponent, the throw will still miss, but the stunned player will no longer be stunned. An age old DOA strategy was to anticipate a stunned opponent’s counter, and throw them for increased damage. With this new change, if you anticipate wrong with your throw and your opponent does not counter out of a stun, they’ll be free to counter attack. Yet another shade of depth added to the gameplay of DOA4.