Dead Or Alive 2: HardcoreDead or Alive is a series that has become well known for its fanservice just as much as its fighting mechanics. After its initial release with the original on the Saturn the sequel DoA2 has graced several platforms, including this incarnation on the PS2. Can this fighting engine compete with other big names in the market or will it suffer defeat?
Probably not surprising given its intended appeal, but the game is pretty to look at. You can find a variety of styles put in with an emphasis on fanservice, which thankfully doesn’t feel massively overdone even if you are getting panty-flashes every time Kasumi does one of her kicks. As well as the ladies in colourful revealing outfits we have others like the elegant Helena or Bass who looks like a rough biker.
The animation is great too as characters appear to connect and interact with each other and the environment reasonably well, aside from a strange habit where slamming up against an unbreakable wall seems to show space between environment and fighter from certain angles. Fighters flow fluidly from swift uppercuts to whirling kicks, with some interesting camerawork when executing the more flashier moves just for that extra bit of showmanship.
The various stages all look good too, giving us some interesting locations like the danger pit with the explosives set into the walls. The interconnecting areas means there is an impressive scope to each stage too.
At this point I’d like to discuss the story... or at least I would if I had any clue as to what was going on. Sadly the game itself doesn’t really explain anything. There’s no backstory as to why we’re fighting, no real ending and the only cutscenes that seem to exist only really hint at character relationships. There’s tension between Kasumi and Ayane but nothing to show why. It reduces arcade mode to a simple series of seemingly random fights and makes the character interaction sequences have little impact.
But like anyone plays fighting games for their well scripted tales. Gameplay is where it’s at. Dead or Alive 2 is a 3D side on fighting game where you batter each other until one side has lost all their health or time runs out. Each fight typically consists of a number of rounds and whoever reaches a set amount of these under their belt wins the match. So far so fighting game.
DoA2 opts to keep its basic functions a bit more streamlined. Basic attacking moves consist purely of punch and kick. Tapping them in certain combinations, combined with optional directional inputs can produce a variety of moves like linking from a one-two punch into a roundhouse kick or producing more fanciful attacks like a backflip kick. There’s also a “free” button that can activate a number of actions in conjunction with other buttons, like sidestepping around the arena or throwing the opponent at close range. For the most part the system works reasonably well but does have the slight niggle that it requires a lot of memorising of movelists. Moreso than others fighters because the combo system doesn’t feel as freeform, so rather than cleverly figuring out how to link from punches to a kick and a flip-strike you instead must use precise commands in order or fail.
The bigger problem is in the game’s defensive mechanics. Plain guarding works fine, as you block attacks either high or low, with your stance determining if your guard is successful. What doesn’t work is the counter system, where you can “grab” an opponent out of their attacks and immediately it follows with a powerful attack that wipes out about a 1/3 of someone’s health bar. It’s very hard to pull this off and you can certainly expect the computer to abuse it with impunity. It is certainly not fun playing with such as broken system.
What I do like is the way the stages are more than featureless plains and this does help to set it apart from some other fighters. While the game doesn’t give victories for ring outs, it is possible in some places to smash an opponent off one area of the stage and land in another, or some stages do allow you to slam opponents into the walls for extra damage. Some throws will even change if performed near the edge of a stage. This certainly helps to making fights more interesting and ensures stage selection is more important than what backdrop is the prettiest to look at.
The game certainly does deliver in available game modes, though you shouldn’t expect anything too out of the ordinary. Arcade is the game’s single player storyline content and features a series of matches against the computer based on the chosen character. Time attack tests you to see how quickly you can finish fights, with the bonus that losing a match doesn’t end the run but does still kick the clock ticking. Survival mode manages to be nicely fluid, as when one fighter is defeated the next simply jumps into the arena instead of resetting character positions and seamlessly restores a set amount of HP at the same time. There is also an item collecting mechanic in this mode as random goods get scattered about, but other than contributing to a points tally it seems a bit pointless and awkward when you’re fighting for your life. Survival is marred by the computer’s tendency to use those highly damaging counter moves though. You’ve also got the standard practice mode where you can check command lists and test out all the cool moves, being able to customise the opponent as you see fit in terms of behaviour.
Tag battle deserves its own special mention away from the other modes by virtue of altering the core fighting... well, to a degree anyway. Here you get to pick two fighters and can switch them in battle at the tap of a button (said button being within easy reach). What this means is that you can start pummelling an opponent with one character, then tag switch mid strike and continue a combo with the other. Some special moves also change properties to make use of the partnership where both characters will appear on the field to hit at the same time. This is certainly an interesting twist on the system and it’s really a shame it doesn’t see use outside of its own mode.
Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to really recommend this game. A lot of what is offered is done better by other fighters and some things it does try just fail miserably. Being able to smash opponents out of one arena into another is a nice novelty and the tag battles mode mixes things up a bit but that isn’t going to convince me to invest any further time here when there are better alternatives on the market.