I want you to hit me as hard as you can...
I'd spend time discussing the single-player mode, only there's nothing particularly noteworthy about it. The Story Mode is more or less the same: follow your selected character through their individual storylines, defeat computer-controlled opponents and defeat a specific end boss. Many of the featured characters will face off against Kasumi's clone; Alpha-152, which I have to say is the most frustrating, cheapest boss I've ever faced in a fighting game. Bison, Rugal B, Shredder... none of them will illicit nearly as many expletives as she so proudly does each round. Now I am fully aware of Itagaki's passion to push players' abilities to the fullest, but there should be a bit more balance at play here. Playing as some of the characters took me over a half hour, if not longer, before I was able to savor the sweet taste of victory. Giving a character the ability to an attack that violently takes away sixty-five percent of your health bar is just downright insane... and for what, a couple of hidden outfits and characters?
The survival and tag team modes are back in effect, basically the same objectives as before, so let's move on. If you plan on getting the maximum value out of this game, then you need to play online. Read that again and let it sink in for a moment because the truth will set you free. To date, there are over 67,000 players (and counting) in the world who regularly hop on to get their fight on, so there's no reason to bemoan about a shortage of players. Naturally, some will fare better than others and Team Ninja has come up with an innovative grading system designed to ensure fairness and eliminate potential cheaters (read: those who especially like to disconnect to avoid a loss.) Everyone starts out as a C-ranked player and will move up/down according to their continued performance. The best descriptive reference I can offer is to imagine the grading system from Capcom vs. SNK meshed with a bit of Crimson Skies... SS designates a godly player and F suggests they're a wimp and probably should take up a new hobby or give up DOA altogether.
I must break you
To advance in rank, players must win a succession of online matches and can scale up more quickly by taking on opponents who have a higher grade. The system is cool, but it's a double-edge sword. If you're a higher ranked player, you'll have to continually defeat players of lower grade, lest you'll drop in rank quicker than a Bass bodyslam. I am a B rank right now, but I occasionally get slapped around by players who players who mash or are simply just better than me. Often I have to remind myself to keep things in perspective: this isn't serious business -- it's just a game after all.
As I said earlier, this is the easiest way for lower ranked players to improve their personal grade. Unless you know what you're doing, focusing on anyone who's a D, E or F-rank is unwise; not to mention that you're bound to get laughed for specifically preying upon them, only to lose in the end. And even if you do manage to school them consecutively, there's a safeguard in place to prevent players from abusing the system – meaning you can't sit there and beat down the same player on a daily basis. After awhile, any wins you make will be considered unofficial matches, which is the polite way of saying: move on.
At times, I found the skill level wasn't always synonymous with their actual grade. Speaking from personal experience, I went against a few players that were lower ranked and found them to be just as challenging, if not equal, to those that were ranked higher. While it's a great gauge for measuring your personal performance against others, it's best to disregard it, especially when playing with friends. Once you're able to put aside personal egos and just embrace the real purpose for playing is the moment that Dead or Alive 4 starts to become more of a fun, online social event that will be enjoyed by all. (Heh, I am still working on that part...)