A deep gameplay and gorgeous graphics make Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore one of the prettiest fighting games to ever grace the PlayStation 2.
Dead or Alive 2 debuted in arcades in 1999 and it retained three of the additions that made the original Dead or Alive one of the best looking games of its time. Firstly, the inclusion of “multiple levels” where you could send an opponent off an edge and he could receive further damage, as he fell into a new area. Secondly, danger zones were added. These are strategic points located in walls which are electrified, causing even more damage when a character was slammed there. Finally, there was a characteristic which was really popular among the male audience, the presence of a “breast physics engine”, which defied the very laws of gravity. This caused women’s breasts to bounce every time the female character was attacked, she defended or she was hit.
Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore has 3D movement and a countering system to keep gameplay fresh and most of all very deep. The full 3D is accurate enough and helps a lot, but it’s not as complex as the one in Soulcalibur. Various modes were added to the main menu: sparring (or training), versus, tag battle, and survival. The story mode is quite simple and lets you follow the story of a particular character in one-round fights. Unfortunately, this mode doesn’t necessarily add anything new and most of their plots are awkwardly ridiculous. The tag-team mode, on the other hand, is pretty interesting, as it lets you play cooperatively with a friend and the tag occurs seamlessly and instantaneously, making it much easier to follow combos. Up to four players can participate and characters can be alternated when fighting, except when one of them is receiving damage. The waiting character recovers health and this is a strategic factor when playing against tough opponents. Some characters work better together, so finding your right partner is an important feature that adds instant replay value to the game. Moreover, DOA’s multiplayer is fun and can be even more thrilling when played with three more people in tag-team battle mode.
The gameplay is fairly involved and it rewards players who strike, guard, throw and especially to those who use the countering system instead of just button-mashing. In fact, the counter system was a necessary addition, as in previous games most players abused the “holding buttons” system (called “Free”) as it was too easy. Veterans of the series will try to counter more often, and matches in which the two players try to counter at the same time will definitely occur, not only making fights much more interesting but also very fast-paced. The system increases the difficulty and most of the time you’ll have to guess where the next attack will come from to successfully deflect it. Timing is the most important factor as it can be quite difficult to perform it very precisely, but if it works you can do much more extra damage.
The graphics are incredible and the game runs smoothly at 60 frames per second and this characteristic is also welcomed in this version. Even when there are multiple characters on screen (up to four) the frames maintain pretty stable. Additionally, the transitions in animations are great and the character and stages designs are more noticeable. Everything in the arenas move accordingly and no major inconsistencies were found. In addition, the multilevel environments look terrific and realistic. This multitiered places make a difference in difficult fights and you’ll think twice before getting near a ledge or a window. The facial models and expressions are good enough, full of details and really polished even after so many years of the game’s release. Numerous costumes were added in this version particularly to the girls and you have everything from kimonos to kitty outfits, though some of them have to be unlocked in the story mode. The soundtrack can be really irritating, as some rock music that doesn’t fit in at all was included. But regarding the sound, something that’s really terrible is the new English voiceover, as it’s ridiculously funny. Fortunately, Japanese voices and subtitles can be set in the option menu.
Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore is a decent fighting game, it delivers a fun experience whether you play alone or with some friends. The matches are great thanks to the amazing, realistic and cinematic graphics. The voices can be laughable but these demonstrate that the game doesn’t take sound really seriously. It should be noted, though, that some choices haven’t aged so well, especially by today’s standards. But overall, Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore represents a terrific experience. Its predecessor was compared to both Virtua Fighter and Soulcalibur but the new features included in this version make Hardcore a game that has personality on its own.