I’ll comfortably admit right off the bat that the Xtreme Beach Volleyball spin-offs of the Dead or Alive series have always been a guilty pleasure of mine.
Aside from the misogynistic controversy that always accompanies them, the games in isolation have a certain charm which can only be found in these sorts of quirky and niche titles. I’m not here to defend or criticise the game for its implications or themes; let’s place aside any kind of controversy and discuss whether Dead or Alive: Xtreme 3 is an experience worth your time and investment.
Dead or Alive: Xtreme 3 is a game that takes the girls of the Dead or Alive fighting game franchise, and puts them on Zack Island, where they compete in volleyball matches, whilst enjoying a relaxing stay at the island and fostering relationships between each other. I’ll summarise quickly and early for those of you wanting a quick answer: yes, your beloved Xtreme 3 is still very much the same game as before – with a noticeable reduction in content, however. The whole debate behind the nature of its content in the wake of various controversial gaming community topics and movements has had little influence on the developers to change the game’s design or style, despite mentions of censoring for a Western release indicating that they might approach the third title differently from a domestic point of view as well. What surprised me however was that disappointingly, the game has adopted a “one step forward, one step back approach”. For every improvement I found, I was able to discern something that was lacking in quality, reduced in scope, or sometimes completely missing.
Devoid of much gaming content anyway, the last two entries weren’t known for being packed to the brim with options of activities for the traditional gamer to engage in. The Xtreme series has been more of a spectator sport than it has been an active engagement for the most part, but this also largely depends on your reasons for purchasing it. Having said that, there’s enough on offer to remind ourselves that this is first and foremost a video game, and not simply eye-candy (though it can be enjoyed in that manner if chosen, especially this time around with “Owner Mode”). Xtreme 3 offers enjoyable mini-games that serve their purpose moderately well, but fail to deliver anything that truly engages, yet again reminding us that whilst gameplay is here to be had, it comes in conjunction with the passive-viewing nature of the game.
Speaking of the mini-games, there are some missing from this entry. Whereas the first Xtreme dealt with only a few mini-games, Xtreme 2 brought Jet-Ski races and other fun mini-games into the fold. Xtreme 3 removes a few of these, and offers no real replacement besides a rock-climbing mini-game. I found myself playing familiar mini-games with very little changes made to the presentation or content, which makes little sense since the mini-games already existed in a functional format, and should be simple to port over into the new engine. The developers boast their new skin shader-based engine which contains lessons learned from Dead or Alive 5: Last Round, that is able to accurately represent the girls of the island with realistic skin and physics for things such as hair and breasts. This extension seems to go even further, as skin that comes into contact with surfaces during mini-games and relaxation scenes can be compressed and stretched depending on the movement carried out. It’s impressive to see skin behave naturally, and this attention to detail is held throughout the presentation of the girls on the island during their activities.
The game is full of small details, such as not applying suntan lotion and sunscreen will cause the girls’ skin to turn red, and look slightly burnt as a result. A change of clothing will leave white outlines of the previous outfit’s tan, so wearing a more revealing swimsuit will leave marks where the previous outfit was worn in the sun. Hair moves naturally and details such as eye movements as well as general movement all imply a convincing level of presence and realism to the girls. A few movements are obviously exaggerated to insinuate the charming aspects of the girls’ bodies, but for the most part, the effects are more convincing and more restrained than previous entries. The bed in the girls’ apartments also dynamically reacts under the weight of their bodies, which is part of a long list of careful details that add to the visual presentation of the game. As I stated in the introduction however, for every step forward the game takes, there’s usually a step taken back. In terms of visuals, whilst skin, animation, and physicality have risen in quality, other important aspects of the game such as water ripples and dynamic sand have been reduced. In the case of water, the waves and particle effects seem to be heavily suppressed compared to Xtreme 2, and the dynamic sand that would change shape and leave trails from the girls’ movement has now been completely removed, and in its place is flat, lifeless, static sand. The dynamic sand has been a technical feature since the first Xtreme title on the original Xbox, so it doesn’t stand to reason why it wouldn’t be included in a PS4 title.
Since we’re on the topic of rendering quality, the locations of the game have now been restricted to being represented by 2D images in some places, whereas they were shown in a full 3D cinematic view before. Locations such as “Zack of all Trades” and the Sports Shop used to be fully created 3D models. Now however, they are lifeless background images that lack any animation or dynamic presentation, and seem to be images taken from Xtreme 2 which feels slightly cheeky of the developers. For all the effort made in creating a next-gen engine, very little is done to show it off. Items are also no longer displayed as rotating 3D previews either, and are simply thumbnail images on the side. In every area of the game, things have been scaled back, and you can’t really create an argument of lacking the time, budget, or assets, since the assets have already existed in the past. Sure, there would still be some criticism given for re-using old assets instead of developing new ones, but at least we would be in the same place as we were before, and not taking a step back.
Dead or Alive Xtreme 3‘s mini-games serve as a nice distraction inbetween what is the main gameplay attraction of the game that provides the most monetary reward; volleyball. The volleyball is an incredibly simple game to pick up with simple controls, but has enough depth that players looking for something a little more engaging than pressing the same two buttons will find techniques they can pull off that the more casual player will most likely miss altogether. Serving a ball can be as easy or as hard as the player wants to make it. An upper-swing will always be the safest bet for hitting the ball over the next every time, but a more aggressive toss of the ball into the air will yield the greatest speed and force, potentially knocking the receiving opponent on the other side off her balance. There’s also blocking next to the net, where you can deny your opponent the ball’s entry into your half, rebounding it back into their half and hopefully falling to the floor.
The difference between a casual player and experienced player will ultimately all come down to timing and positioning. Skilled players will quickly realise that the entire dependency of successful wins and bonus monetary rewards at the end of a match will all hinge on whether they can perform well-timed strikes on the ball. It’s unclear whether the game’s difficulty adapts to you dynamically depending on whether you are doing well or badly, or if the difficulty simply increases as you reach the ending half of your 14-day vacation. The game does start off with easy difficulty opponents, but difficulty continues to increase as time progresses.
Changeable outfits have always been a staple feature of any Dead or Alive title and it’s unfortunate to say that the selection on offer here is once again like other aspects of the game; underwhelming. Previous entries have had many more costumes, and it’s most likely due to how DLC has become a more prominent focus in these sorts of games. This is enforced by the presence of an online currency which can be topped up via the PSN store, allowing you to purchase items regardless of how much regular in-game currency you have. One can only assume that the restriction of things on offer is a sign that DLC purchases will abused, similar to the fashion they have been exploited in both quantity and pricing as Dead or Alive 5. In terms of the items’ affordances, they can be gifted to the girls, or they can be worn/used by yourself.
The newest addition to the Dead or Alive: Xtreme franchise is the differentiation between “Girl Mode” and “Owner Mode”. Actions in girl mode are participatory. When interacting with locations and other girls, you are either taking part in the activity as the girl yourself, or performing actions as your chosen girl. Owner mode enables you to focus on the passive viewing nature of the game I previously alluded to, where the idea is to watch your girl engage in various activities, and take pictures with the in-game camera. The idea being you find a nice outfit for your lovely lady, and take some flattering snapshots of her in the middle of a mini-game, volleyball, or relaxing activity. Ensuring everyone’s happiness on the island in Owner Mode also contributes towards your Owner Level, which enables you to earn more rewards, and gives you cash bonuses when certain criteria are met. You can play the game mostly in this mode if you wish, but it’s advised you actually play some volleyball and mini-games to experience what the game has to offer, as this is where the thickness of content lies.
So with the removal of certain mini-games, the reduction of outfits and items, as well as the omission of features such as multiplayer, what we’re left with is a husk of a game in comparison to the previous titles within the series. Although skin shaders, effects, and physics are impressive, the lack of previous technical features like dynamic sand, as well as simple touches like 3D thumbnails is a bit of a head-scratcher. It doesn’t really make sense when you see how narrow the scope of the game is in its finished state; these features could have easily been implemented in a modest time-frame. Xtreme 2 remains the defining and most complete version of the game, and although the addition of two new featured girls is nice, there’s not enough content in other areas of the game. It’s disappointing because there were high hopes for a new-gen title from fans, and for the most part the game has failed to deliver on them.
Dead or Alive: Xtreme 3 is definitely playable, but for the price of a brand new PS4 title, it’s one addition to your library that can wait until a sale takes effect. Xtreme 3 is fan-service in its least subtle form, and whilst there’s nothing wrong with that, the cutting of content that existed in the earlier games in the series is inexcusable. Even the soundtrack is lacklustre in comparison, and is much more limited. It all seems like laziness on the developer’s part, knowing full well that fans will likely buy it regardless of the quantity or quality of content on offer. Unless there’s additional free DLC content planned, I’d argue the game has been released unfinished/severely lacking from a gameplay standpoint. In its current state, Dead or Alive: Xtreme 3 is a nice game to relax and unwind with, but beyond that it’s a very disappointing and lazy entry into the Xtreme series.