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RIP Ralph Baer (1922-2014)
By KevinS
Posted on 12/07/14
RIP Ralph Baer (1922-2014) I really, really hate writing obits. I really do. But I take it as a personal honor to be able to say good things about the men and women I respect, whether in this industry or just in my life, and Ralph Baer is the reason all of this exists in the first...

Yakuza: Dead Souls Review

KevinS By:
GENRE Action Adventure 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol

What do these ratings mean?

Mom! There are zombies in my gangster game!

Gangsters are known for their guns and zombies are known for being perfect targets, so it only makes sense to mix the two together, right? It's not all that weird, except that zombies have nothing at all to do with what I imagine the yakuza deal with, like loans and protection and finger cutting. You can't scare a zombie with hush money or anything, but again, they have plenty of guns. And in a country that has super-strict gun laws, that helps make the fictional district of Kamurocho a viable battleground for outbreaks. Let the bloodbath begin!

The main story is broken up into four chapters, one for each playable character. They each contribute to the story, but they all handle exactly the same, which keeps a level of continuity to each scenario. Each character is out to explain the same craziness that's affecting their collective turf: Why the hell are there zombies everywhere? Four people from four different stages in their careers and from four different sectors of the collective-crime industry (a loan shark, an enforcer, a "don't worry, I'm retired" big man, and current top-dog legend, all from previous Yakuza titles) all find themselves together on the frontline of a battle nobody saw coming. For a game focusing most of its playtime on zombie-blasting gunfire, the story is actually pieced together well and each character stands on their own.

There are mini-games to find in Kamurocho, even when they're contained in quarantined zones; since you can explore the zombie-infested backstreets at will, the areas are never off-limits. After fulfilling certain requirementsusually just taking out a handful of monsters outside some people's front doorsthe areas will open up, and you'll be back doing things like exploring maid cafes, bowling, mahjong, or even going out with the simple purpose of getting pissed drunk off your ass. After all, what game about gangs and mobsters would be complete without macking on pretty girls and gambling and alcoholism? (Seriously, there should be a place for meetings for their addictions.)

The cutscenes are nice and detailed, and most of the faces look amazing. The little details, like the lines across an old man's brow, look as close to life as I've seen in a game, and that's encouraging. But that camera… it goes where it wants sometimes, leading to some awkward moments in the most hectic of firefights. It's as far from flexible as a camera system gets, trying to stay behind you as much as possible, but those close-quarters combat situations are a real chore. Sometimes it's even difficult to figure out where your character is facing, and this leads to unnecessary and blood-pumping damage that should never have occurred.

There are some RPG elements to the picture, like being able to level up and collect Soul Points. Those points are then used to upgrade your character, namely to unlock new physical attacks (which won't kill anybody, but can avoid more damage being taken), carry more items, and "learn" more about modding equipment. The only way to get better guns is to buy a base model and mod the crap out of it, so it's not just a fun option but it's actually necessary. As one character puts it early on, regarding the submachine gun, "it's jittery like a crackhead" before it's fixed up. Still, the selection is big enough that you can pick your preferred method of killin' and power yourself up high enough to rip down the undead at your pleasure.

As far as actually shooting anybody, the controls are about as arcade-y as a shooter gets; hold one button to strafe, one to shoot, and one to aim. It's an easy-to-play run-and-gun, filled to the brim with the mutated. The problem, though is that it's just the same thing over and over again… the fights hardly change. There are various special mutants that show up throughout the story, like Monkey Boys (super-agile skater punks that bounce like zombie superballs) and the Aggros (basically black belts in hoods), but after each of the new baddies is introduced they're immediately thrown en masse into the rest of the experience.

They're littered everywhere, making what was somewhat original about them very quickly boring. It's as if a Boomer in Left 4 Dead was around every single corner of the game. The special mutants, especially the Monkey Boys, become expected and lose any frightening potential. Not that this game is scary at all, and it never comes off like it's meant to be. This is story-driven entirely, like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland (god, I love Zombieland). Still, the progression of enemies could have been better done.

For what it is, though, a non-canon romp through some authentic-looking Japanese streets filled with zombies and ammo is damn fun. The shooting and main story might be bland, but the mini-games offer a nice break to the action... if you want to gamble or hit on maid cafe girls, anyway.  The game is still graphically polished and offers a lot of the same open-world moments the last Yakuza game did, but it's an amusing way of exploring the same territory over again. If you're in need of a zombie fix, you could do better… even if to me it feels more than a little like a crime-themed Shenmue with an undead army.

Copy provided by publisher.
Yakuza: Dead Souls
  • Power-up system is easy and makes sense
  • Looks damn pretty
  • Large, open, realistic world
  • Tons of mini-game distractions
  • Every battle plays out the same
  • Camera is a bastard
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