The Yakuza Series’ most popular gangsters now have to deal with Zombies.
Yakuza: Dead Souls, from Sega for the PS3, is a spin-off from the popular Yakuza open-world series and has the more popular characters from the previous games facing off against a Zombie outbreak in the fictional city of Kamurocho. The characters involved, who are slowly revealed as the games’ twisty story is played out, are the regular hero Kazuma Kiryu, Shun Akiyama from Yakuza 4, the highly entertaining Goro Majima and the long thought dead Ryuji Goda. To be honest, I don’t think the Zombies stand a chance.
As with all of the Yakuza titles, the game is set up as an open-world through which the player can wander and explore in between taking on the main story. One of the main attractions of the previous games was the side quests and distractions that can be found whilst exploring. This time around, many of these distractions can still be found, just not to the same degree as previously. I guess that the appearance of Zombies within certain areas of the city has had an effect on life – even though it may not seem like it.
Strange anomalies in the story give the impression that perhaps this Yakuza title is not to be taken seriously – as if the Zombie apocalypse hadn’t already proved that. The Zombie outbreak is contained by the military through massive barricades that separate the infected from the everyday life outside. And it is everyday life outside, as no one seems in the slightest bit bothered that there are Zombies on their doorsteps. Life goes on as normal, with shops selling their wares and kids sitting on the kerb within spitting distance of the quarantine zone. If it were me, I would have been out of Kamurocho as quickly as possible. The fact that the quarantine zone can be entered and exited so easily by the player is quite mystifying. But perhaps the most obvious anomaly comes in the first few minutes of the outbreak, where a group of Zombies attack a bunch of Yakuza. The Zombies are filled with lead, yet still keep coming and eventually dine on the Japanese gangsters. Within seconds, the player is given a gun and manages to shoot the Zombies dead. Maybe the Yakuza guys just weren’t using the right ammo?
These strange little holes in the fabric of the story are blatantly obvious. Generally I will get immersed into a game enough to not realise issues such as these until afterwards, but in Dead Souls I found myself shouting about these inconsistencies and pointing at the screen. Whilst they may have burst the immersion bubble, thankfully they don’t have a long-term effect on the game. It is daft, but an enjoyable type of daft.
The previous Yakuza games have emphasised brawling over gun-play. However, Dead Souls has turned that particular table and has decided that the best way to take out hordes of the shambling dead is with bullets rather than a well-placed round-house kick, which actually makes sense. The shooting mechanics are not the best we have ever seen, with almost no cover system and a very excitable camera making precise shooting more than a little difficult. But thankfully there is an auto-aim that makes things a lot easier than they could be, albeit taking away some of the skill required.
There is a nice selection of weapons to use within the game, although the benefits of using them are not altogether apparent at times. The button-mashing shooting mechanic works just as well with a hand pistol as with an assault rifle, it just takes a little more time. There is a nice quicktime event that allows the player to inflict massive damage to the walking dead in the right conditions, but to be honest it is over too quickly and not that easy to pull off and I found myself not bothering more often than not.
The variety of Zombies that the player has to fight their way through, and there will be many, is not exactly massive. Beyond the few different types of regular Zombies, there is the regular appearance of special Zombies who seem to have just recently escaped from Left 4 Dead. The fact that these special Zombies appear so often does make them feel less of a threat and more like just another variety of the regular shambling masses. However, the boss battles really are something to write home about, with some truly epic encounters with imaginative creatures that break up the monotony and force the player to actually try different tactics.
Because that is Dead Souls’ main problem – the game really does lack variety. If you are the type of player who has no problem with the constant grind of shooting hordes of living dead, then you will feel at home here. Even with the distractions of the mini-games that can be found in some areas, things never really move beyond the simple task of shooting Zombies. It is not exactly the deepest of games.
That is not to say that there is nothing here to like. The combat may drag on a little, but the story is actually quite good, as long as you ignore the holes, and will see the player working through four chapters, one with each of the heroes. There is also an RPG element with the player being able to level up and weapons being moddable to make them more powerful. It is just that, after a while, you start to dread having to go back into the contaminated areas because you know that reaching your objective will involve having to plow through hundreds more Zombies.
The characters are larger than life and, as long as you enjoy killing Zombies, there is a lot of fun to be had here. But fans of the previous Yakuza titles should not go in expecting any of the usual depth that they enjoy. Yakuza: Dead Souls is an enjoyable romp, but one that will not involve the lengthy gaming sessions that previous games have encouraged.