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VIDEO GAME REVIEW

Dead or Alive 2

On Any Player’s Most Wanted List

By Jumaane Jeffries

Tecmo, for Sega Dreamcast

1 to 4 players

The game Dead or Alive 2 is the Sega Dreamcast’s latest in its series of breathtakingly revamped third-party fighting sequels. With fast action, lush graphics, even more lush characters, and seven vastly varying modes to choose from (including Tag Team Battle and Survival), it is an apparent contender to the throne awarded to the greatest console game ever in the United States. Does it live up to the hype? The answer depends on what kind of gamer -- and fighter, and voyeur -- you are. While it doesn’t quite win the American title, this game is a lot more than just kicks and jiggles.

The setting itself isn’t unique; this is a game about a collection of fighters who convene in the Dead or Alive Tournament, driven by their own personal motivation. However, its presentation is nothing less than astounding. When playing Story Mode, you are treated to what is perhaps the best short film ever as part a video game ... all in Japanese no less. Almost everything -- down to the detail on Tina’s fur coat (yes, please pay attention to her fur coat) -- is among the best ever. Furthermore, the transition from cinematic sequence to actual game is almost seamless, except for a slight difference in lighting.

Not much is lost in that transition either. DOA2 has what even the current title holder of fighting games, SoulCalibur, doesn’t have, and that is fully interactive, immersible backgrounds. Instead of making the backgrounds merely distant settings of a limited arena, you’re right there, pounding someone into a brick wall or an electric fence, or feeling the, er, “sting” of a five-story fall off a mountain of ice.

The detail on each character has a slight edge over SoulCalibur and Virtua Fighter 3TB, but it focuses on some aspects while avoiding others. For example, emphasis on finger motions is excellent, while some characters’ hair is surprisingly stiff -- cartoonish even -- and seems not to react to the wind or any movements. On the other hand, you are able to see the grooves on the bottoms of Bass’s sneakers. Collision detection is well done, as demonstrated by how the really, really, really long slit section of Leifang’s red dress rests on the ground in the appropriate manner as she crouches.

As for the game itself, DOA2 is more reminiscent of Virtua Fighter than Tekken, with an appropriately fast, furious pace. However, I found it perhaps a bit too fast, which detracted from the game’s fluidity. The consequence is that, 65 percent of the time, your basic strategy becomes that of wait-and-see. You frequently defend, and have to wait for your opponent to become vulnerable after having launched a furious combination, to start your own, or throw. Countering, which is especially necessary against the computer, while intricate, has a large margin for error. This causes success rates that are way too high, stopping combinations that definitely would be completed otherwise.

Dead or Alive 2 probably best integrates its full three-dimensional environment with the Sega Dreamcast controller layout, allowing full range of motion. I would have disagreed with the original button controls, but the adjustable button settings somewhat rectify the situation. (I find it better to switch between 3-D and 2-D motion by pressing a traditional button instead of a trigger.) Wisely, the analog stick (or L+digital) is used to move in all directions while facing the opponent. However, this optimization makes pressing <Back> to block, instead of a free button, rather non-intuitive. While not a detriment to Tekken 3 or most 2-D fighters, this aspect is a reversal of conventions from the more traditional 3-D Virtua Fighter and the newer SoulCalibur.

Overall, the game does fairly well aesthetically, maintaining the balance between character qualities, such as power versus speed or reach versus agility. With that aside, I’d like to introduce the “superficial satis-factor” criterion, which describes how impressive, or rather, “wicked cool!” something is. In fighting games, these are mostly anime-esque effects. Characters plummeting into new fighting arenas, a pumping soundtrack (for a modern game), and exploding K.O.’s are examples of where it succeeds. However, even though DOA2 has a sufficient array of moves, there are only a few moves so far, primarily by Ryu Hayabusa, that are phenomenal. And even then, you’d come to expect that if you’ve ever played the original Ninja Gaiden. But it is possible to attain a new level of excitement through seeing the flaming energy or the spirits of hell behind each deadly blow.

I’m not saying that this game isn’t full of emotion and attitude. Once you get beyond the awkward control adjustments -- you almost definitely should read the manual -- the game’s offensive/defensive characteristics will demonstrate its appeal. Its several play modes will keep as many as four at a time pleasantly occupied by the explosive melee. Some may be put off by how “freely” the ladies are portrayed. Otherwise, this game is a must-have if you’re in need of a very decent hand-to-hand fighter game with the best graphics this side of the Pacific.