GAME NAME: Yakuza: Dead Souls
GENRE(S): Action RPG
RELEASE DATE(S): 16 March 2012
The Yakuza series has made it through four installments, telling the story of Kiryu Kazuma and his interactions with the Tojo clan, their allies and enemies. Along the way he has picked up an orphanage of sorts that he runs but something always manages to yank the Dragon of Dojima back to Kamurocho. In the fifth outing for the Yakuza series the problem that sends him back to the big city is Haruka’s kidnapping. And zombies. Lots of zombies. One of the first people to witness the outbreak – aside from the mobsters who are eaten during the intro – is Akiyama Shun, the lazy money-lender from Yakuza 4.
Players get to take on the role of Akiyama Shun and Kiryu Kazuma in Dead Souls. The other two characters in the lineup, Majima Goro and Goda Ryuji, are not new to the series but neither has been playable up till now. The four combined bring an array of weaponry to the party, from Goda’s minigun arm to handguns, dual handguns and shotguns, which are always good for crowd control. Finally getting to play as the maniacal Goro will probably prove to be the highlight for most players.
There are clear similarities between Yakuza 4 and Yakuza: Dead Souls in that there are four separate characters whose stories players get to explore. The setting has remained constant throughout the series, with the previous two Yakuza titles doing little more than adding a few bits to the main location of Kamurocho while retaining the familiar map. In Yakuza 4 it was the addition of rooftops and underground areas. Dead Souls keeps those but closes off a surface section of the map and fills it and much of the underground with the ambulatory dead.
Since we’re speaking ill of the dead, the enemies in Dead Souls will offer varying degrees of challenge. Some of these have taken their cues from the Left 4 Dead games, like the Cry Baby who summons more and more enemies until you can put a bullet in her skull. Others will only take damage from headshots or are content with knocking players down repeatedly. The more common zombies pose little threat, even in large numbers, but there are some monstrous bosses to contend with further down the line.
The game’s engine has undergone a few changes. Visually it is unchanged but the traditional hand-to-hand, environment-based fighting has been chucked out, with only the ability to pick up and weaponise certain objects sticking around. Gun combat is the main focus this time and this has been tweaked from the poorly implemented firearm usage from past titles. It is a pity that it is still crap. Battling swarms of zombies, particularly some of the speedy buggers found in Dead Souls, calls for a lot more accuracy than the shoddy auto-aim gives to players. Aimed shots are possible but players are rooted in place while aiming, making them a very easy target. Heat actions make a reappearance and these gun-based special attacks still use the Heat Gauge to set off their mob-destroying pyrotechnics.
Putting the zombie menace down isn’t all that players will find to do. There is still a full collection of side quests and side activities for players looking to get their exploration on while not following the main storyline. Indulging in activities like darts, bowling or visiting a hostess club in areas that haven’t been overrun is all ground that has been covered before but it does offer a distraction from the combat slog.
In the end (or Of The End) Yakuza: Dead Souls is still a Yakuza title, even with the fanciful zombie plot device thrown in, but the lacking gun combat and repetitive encounters will start to grate after a while. There are enough other activities available to compensate for this to an extent but players will soon find themselves wishing they could get back to brawling, even if that means taking on zombies bare-handed. There are some definite high points that long-time fans of the series should experience, even if its only to see what Goro manages to get up to.