The Mortal Kombat series delivers blood and gore. The Dead or Alive series serves up T & A. You can't blame a fighting game franchise for playing to its fans.
To be fair, for those not interested in the cheesecake, DOA 5 offers an almost equal serving of beefcake. For almost every doe-eyed dame with a killer body, there's a male fighter with muscle mass that would make most movie stars jealous. Case in point, the two new additions to the game's roster. Mila, a spunky redhead with a heart of gold, and Rig, a blue-collar lughead with a secret past. They join almost every returning fighter from the previous DOA games, including Kokoro, my personal fav. And with plenty of alternate costumes for each character, something less revealing is always an option. The difference between fan service and pandering is in the eye of the beholder, but beneath the surface layer of eye candy, there some great gameplay mechanics. And while the fun volleyball mechanics may be a flimsy excuse for enjoying the Xtreme series of spin-off games, DOA 5's combat makes it the best return to form for a fighting games series since last year's Mortal Kombat reboot.
The fighting mechanics are based on a counter-heavy system. While it's no problem for a beginner to punch and kick through fights, nothing's more rewarding than catching another fighter's strike and tossing your opponent to the ground, or grabbing your rival at exactly the right moment to launch them into one of the series' trademark Danger Zones. New additions to the gameplay include the Critical Burst, which turns your enemy into a total punching bag with the right combo, the Power Blow, which allows you to charge into your rival and target a highlighted Danger Zone in the background, triggering some of the game's cooler animations, and the Cliffhanger, which allows you to strike an opponent caught on a ledge and unleash a free fall combo as you travel through a stage's multiple tiers.
I was immediately struck by how beautiful the game is, and I'm not just talking about the leading ladies. Fighters gleam with sweat and dirt accumulates on them as they are thrown to the ground during a fight, an alternative to using the "battle damage" of other fighting games to portray fight progression. Even the backgrounds are filled with details like flames leaping from totaled cars in a street scene. The characters themselves have all had massive makeovers, giving them more detailed and realistic appearances. Bayman's new scar speaks volumes, while Christie's gentler face makes her a more disarming killer. Animations for the character's fighting moves are smooth, each portraying a dramatically different fighting style, from Helena's fluid strikes to Bayman's lumbering grapples.
I liked the game's story mode. It's cheesy, but it's about what you'd expect from a fighting game. There were enough nice character moments and plot twists that I couldn't put the controller down for the last several hours, even as the monotony of punching and kicking set in. The real star of the game is the offline versus mode, because nothing beats beating the tar out of a friend sitting next to you on the couch, without static getting in the way of your trash talking.