Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Standing Out

Fighting games are probably the easiest genre for a casual onlooker to accuse of looking all the same as one another.

At least with other games, things like setting or even simple interface tweaks can make two games look radically different (even if, ironically, they play very similarly), but with a fighting game? There's generally only so much you can do with two characters, a generally side-on camera, and a couple of health bars. So today I'm going to take a bit of time to try and sell you on Dead or Alive 5, and why I think it stands out from its cousins.

A big part of what is cool about DoA5 is the visual aspect. I'm a firm believer in the gameplay over graphics mantra. But, I'm also shallow, so I like pretty things and explosions. Double but, despite the fact DoA5 more than delivers in this aspect, I don't even want to really talk about the graphics.

You see, what excites me about DoA5's visuals is the flow of the fighting, and the drama that they've tried to embed into the battles. Most fighting games have a certain natural rhythm to them that develops out of the mechanics. Although the specifics depend on the exact mechanics, it can generally be summarised into one player taking the offensive and trying to put pressure on the 2nd player. The 2nd player is either hit (in which case there's a flurry of hits until they fall to the ground and the fight 'resets') or they successfully defend themselves by dodging or blocking and then have an opportunity to counter-attack. This is a vast oversimplification, but roll with it for now.

The DoA series immediately tries to throw a wrench in the works by giving every single character the ability to 'hold' an attack. Holding means catching your opponent's fist or foot as it flies towards you and reversing the attack on them. While other games include such 'parrying' mechanics, it's rare for it to be made such a central part of the game. As such, DoA5 always has a much greater back-and-forth flow to its fighting, and additionally the ability to assess your opponent and get inside their head can violently turn a losing fight into a winning one.

Another wonderful visual aspect is the increased influence of stages. In most games, a stage is nothing more than a background to fight on, and that's the way the competitive community likes it. Some 3d games do allow for stages to affect the possibility of winning a round by knocking your opponent out of the ring; Soul Calibur notably does this, with its stages being different sizes, shapes, or having walls on some sides.

DoA5 throws that entire notion out of the window. Literally, in many cases. First of all, walls are seriously important. If you can back your opponent up into a wall and smash them against it, that counts for a large chunk of extra damage. That alone means that the different sized and shaped arenas begin to have a serious effect (and yes, some other games have done similar things, or allowed for extra damage by 'bouncing' your opponent off a wall, but it never felt as dramatically game-shifting to me [if you're not at a pro level]). On top of that, many stages have special 'danger zones' which generally blow up, electrify, or otherwise injure characters that are knocked into them. Edges are no longer a way of winning a round by ring out, but instead shift the action to a different level. Ice or water on the ground can affect your characters' footing, changing what would normally be a simple hit into a stumbling critical hit that leaves them vulnerable for longer. Hell, the stages aren't even always flat, and being on a slope suddenly makes some sequences of moves no longer connect in the same way, closing off some avenues of attack while simultaneously opening others.

Fighting games can be impenetrable to a spectator, with the beauty and the ballet only really being decipherable once you intimately understand the system behind what's going on. DoA5 is the first game I've played where the simple spectacle is enjoyable, and it only becomes moreso once you grasp what's really going on.

And with all that...I should probably show you what I'm talking about.

Note that this video is a trailer, and so a) is deliberately edited to include all of the cool stuff in quick succession and b) isn't exactly how the game turned out. In particular, here the camera zooms in closer on critical hits than it does in the final game, but nonetheless all the angles and the general style are genuine in-game stuff.

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