Yakuza: Dead Souls
Japan, it seems, is forever getting attacked. First there was Godzilla, then there was Mothra, and now we have zombies. Oh but not only zombies, ladies and gentleman, in these tough times Japan is expected to deal with it’s organised crime families as well as a zombie horde! With this in mind SEGA has spawned PlayStation 3 exclusive undead-blaster, Yakuza: Dead Souls. The plot and feel of the game moves away from the norm for the Yakuza franchise while bringing back some familiar faces from previous games. The most notable change is the shift in mood from the usual gritty crime drama towards a horror / J-comedy style and which might have die-hard fans scratching their heads. The backgrounds of some well created characters are brushed under the carpet and players new to the franchise probably won’t even realise the characters have any previous histories to speak of, so brief are the introductions.
The plot conjures up some memorable moments, but is all too often put on the back burner in exchange for zombie killing mayhem, which is fair enough, but the character interactions you are given can be a little bland and are always somewhat surreal. The city of Kamurocho is split into two sections – the quarantine zone and the safe zone. The quarantine zone is where all the action happens: zombie-slaying, damsel-rescuing and all around hero-being (Ok, not my best, but you get the idea). The safe zone is the chirpy part of the city that carries on regardless and allows the player to roam the streets and access training areas, weapon stores and mini games. Interestingly, the quarantine zone expands as the story progresses, changing the landscape of the warzone and keeping players on their toes. It’s a nice idea and drives home that the game is set during a spreading epidemic – something often ignored within the zombie genre.
Yakuza is free-roaming in-so-much that you can go anywhere that isn’t currently under quarantine, but its city map feels cramped and a little bland and the combat areas are very linear. Little pieces of conversation flash into view as you pass people in the street, often giving clues about lucrative side-quests the character can take on as a break from the main game and it helps to give the city a more ‘lived-in’ feel and is certainly a fun way of accessing the subplot. On the whole though, the city isn’t overly convincing – think ‘No More Heroes less charismatic younger brother talking about his stamp collection’ and you’re getting close – nothing wrong with it, but rather dull. As if the hordes of undead weren’t trying hard enough to kill you, Yakuza’s camera gives it a good go too, always swinging to focus on where there character’s facing, making fighting retreats a near impossibility. It somehow manages to get worse in close quarters, where you’re greeted by a jolly symbol of a camera with a cross through, joyfully reminding you that once you’ve finished being eaten (because the camera spun and left you with no idea where the enemies were) that you can’t move it back because the scenery is in the way.
The only way to correct it is to run away in a blind panic until it wildly shoots back into its preferred home behind the character. Nice. There is an option in the menu that stabilises some of these camera issues, but not enough to make for a pleasant experience. The control system in Yakuza certainly doesn’t do it any favours either. Pressing L2 allows you to strafe, apparently ‘allowing you to keep your target in your sights while you move’ (yeah, right) and while L1 moves you into first-person aiming where you have to stand still. It might sound petty but it’s horribly easy to get these mixed up in the heat of combat and end up looking at the ceiling, all the while Mr. Zombie takes a big ol’ bite of his Player Burger. Mmmm, tasty. Sega also made the strange choice of having the player aim using the left analogue stick – something I don’t remember doing since the days of single-stick controllers – and let me remind you the reason we left it behind – it’s awful. This one can’t be changed either, so all your gamers’ instincts will be battling this one to the end.
The action itself is a lot of fun to wade through though. Zombies come thick and fast with various other beasties introduced as you move through the game. Some of the monsters are ‘inspired by’ notable enemies in other zombie games *cough, Resi Evil Licker, cough* but there are enough home grown baddies to keep things interesting. A personal favourite are the ‘Cry Babies’, once-smoking hotties who had men falling about in their thrall, now able to summon wave after wave of gribblies until you kill them. See kids – fit women are evil. Fact. There’s a certain amount of repetition involved, mind you. Despite the fun of levelling up your favourite rifles and shotguns, ammo is often scarce, leaving the player no choice but to resort to the trusty pistol and its infinite ammo. The lowered damage leaves you hammering fire over and over again, watching a crowd of zombies thinning before a hellish boss shows up and you can almost hear your fingers begging for mercy.
The horrible controls and tetchy camera do there best in spoiling what is all around an enjoyable arcade-shooter. Yakuza’s side quests keep the game interesting in between the endless button mashing and the weapon improvement system leaves the player with a definite sense of progression which are definite positive points. Unfortunately, lack-lustre characters, a decided lack of horror and pretty woeful load times take all the tension out of the game and leave you always expecting more. If this review was written in ‘teachers red pen’, it would likely simply read: “C+ Good try SEGA. Don’t try too much, too fast.”