Yakuza: Dead Souls Review (PS3)

Long renowned for being one of the most ridiculous and over the top franchises in the industry, Yakuza has spawned 4 excellent games between the PS2 and PS3. Its blend of open world RPG gameplay in a unique vision of modern Japan and mad minigames and side missions has made for one of the most engaging series in gaming. Ridiculous enough to stand alongside Saints Row, and thrilling enough to weave a narrative worthy of a TV Drama, Yakuza has everything you could ever want.

Something I didn't know I wanted was Zombies, but that's exactly what Yakuza: Dead Souls delivers. Taking the current format of the series, explore the Japanese city of Kamurocho taking on missions from various npcs with spots of hostess management and shopping in between each, this could be mistaken for any other Yakuza game if it wasn't for the zombies. Replacing the usual brawler style fights with gun based combat, one of the best parts of the series has been lost. Does it make this unworthy of your attention, or is this one of the better zombie spin offs that have become so prevalent in games today.

Comparisons to expansions such as Red Dead Redemption's Undead Nightmare and 's Festival of Blood receiving releases on PSN are obvious, and for the most part, Dead Souls retains the engine, environments and cast of 2011's Yakuza 4. But this is a full disc release, and one going for full price rather than the discounted physical version of Red Dead's zombie remix. As it stands, this features more than enough content to warrant a regular price point, even if textures, character models and environments are pulled directly from the last game. This is a full experience, with 4 playable characters across the story each a series legend in their own right.

The series lead Kiryu takes a back seat for much of the game, though he does eventually get to show his skills in the latter half of Dead Souls. Instead Shun Akiyama and Ryuji Goda do most of the heavy lifting, appearing as they did in Yakuza 4 and 2 respectively. Each character shares contacts, missions and abilities, despite not being together for much of the game, so glossing over the plot holes this produces is essential if you're to believe the overall plot. Levelling is carried over to the next character, you earn various bonuses for defeating enemies in specific ways or keeping a chain going. The RPG elements are seen in almost everything you do, save for the gunplay, the most divisive part of Dead Souls.

The idea of guns in a Yakuza game is extremely off-putting at first. I was very wary going into Dead Souls that the controls would be so awkward it would make the game unplayable. In some respects my fears have come true, and the early missions can cause a strain if you don't adjust to the wonky controls, but overall it can be enjoyable. The shooting is similar to the early Resident Evil games, where you auto aim at nearby enemies when you shoot. You can use L2 to 'aim' the weapon, but this fixes you in place, much like the later REs. This method of shooting is only needed on the more difficult infected creatures, where you must aim at certain weak points to bring them down. Same thing with bosses, which make a regular appearance at the end of most chapters.

You can equip up to 4 weapons, with handguns receiving unlimited ammo and other more powerful guns requiring ammo pick-ups from conveniently abandoned military storage containers. It's easy to pick off zombies, essential given how many can be after you at once. It can feel awkward at times, especially in some of the tight corridors the series loves, but utilising the new explosion based Heat abilities is a blast. The zombie types are your standard fare for a game like this, the screaming one, the exploding one, the massive charging one, but the simplistic nature of them makes up for the wonky controls. Overall the gun combat works well enough, despite it replacing the fantastic hand to hand combat seen in prior games. I thought it would be much worse than it is, so it's a relief that everything works well.

Thankfully, the rest of the experience remains unchanged from the previous games. The first time you emerge from the quarantine zone for the first time, it's amazing to see that life in the rest of Kamurocho is continuing as if nothing is happening. It may be the least disastrous zombie apocalypse I've ever seen in a game, shops are still selling their wares, bars are serving drinks and hostess clubs are still in need of your managerial guidance. If any other series was like this it would break the illusion, but the sheer hilarity and ridiculousness on Yakuza wouldn't be the same without these extra time wasters. Though the mini games are nowhere near as expansive as they are in older games, seeing them here is always a bonus.

Going into Yakuza: Dead Souls I had some reservations, but after playing it, I'm happy to say that this works surprisingly well. There are still some baffling choices on the design front, why make me drive a forklift around when the driving controls are worse than those in combat, but for the most part it's a polished experience. It's nothing on the other games, of which I would suggest 2 and 4 as the best ways to get involved in the series, but as a diversion for those who are looking for their next fix of Kamurocho, this could fill the gap.

Top Game Moment: Performing a co-op Heat move with a partner always has explosive consequences.



By stuntkid (SI Elite) on Mar 28, 2012
Seems like it's an overall decent game. Will have to look into the previous installments
By garry_profilin (SI Veteran Newbie) on Mar 29, 2012
i loved all the Yakusa games, so will have to pick this up at some stage