|Release: March 13, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
SEGA's Yakuza series has never been much of a mainstream hit. This fusion of Grand Theft Auto and Shenmue has always appealed to the sort of gamer that likes beating the crap out of their enemies one second and singing karaoke the next. Unfortunately, even massage parlor minigames eventually get old, and since we have already seen four numbered Yakuza titles and spin-off or two, SEGA has decided to mix things up a bit with the latest installment: Yakuza Dead Souls. How do they mix things up? With zombies, of course!
The fictional Japanese city of Kamurocho has fallen to a horrible zombie plague, and when the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force fails at containing it, the mighty Yakuza are called in to stop the outbreak with their sheer manliness. Players will control iconic characters from Yakuza's past including Shun Akiyama, Goro Majima, Ryuji Goda, and main character Kazuma Kiryu. All of the characters' models have been updated for this new zombie-themed game. (Heck, Ryuji Goda now has a robot arm that transforms into a chain gun.) It's up to these four heroes to get to the bottom of the zombie outbreak and save the day. Of course, this doesn't come before taking a well-deserved break to sing karaoke and participate in massage themed minigames.
Regardless of the zombie outbreak, Yakuza: Dead Souls plays out pretty much the same way any other Yakuza does. You'll wander around the city looking for fights and participating in diversions until you decide to progress the main story. Even though a third of its residents have become zombified, Kamurocho is still alive and well. Businesses still sell their wares, clubs still bustle with happening nightlife, and there are plenty of NPCs to talk to. However, the streets themselves are more barren than usual. Many buildings have fallen into ruin, and it's unlikely that you will find any signs of life outside of the shambling undead. It almost feels as if the zombie atmosphere was copy/pasted into Yakuza 4 without anyone stopping to think about how it would affect the rest of the setting. Outdoors you'll find a horrid apocalypse, but indoors you'll find ping pong. It's weird.
Then again, perhaps this strange disconnect between minigame goofiness horrible tragedy is purposeful, as just about everything in Dead Souls is exaggerated to an almost cartoony effect. Goda's machine gun arm looks like something out of a sci-fi anime rather than a serious mobster zombie drama. Majima has always been a bit crazy, but in this game his insanity makes him seem almost like a cartoon. It's kind of difficult to take human drama seriously when you are using a shotgun as a baseball bat to knock grenades at your enemies.
Speaking of weapons, the classic Yakuza fist-in-face combat has pretty much disappeared. Since zombies can only be killed with a clean shot to the head, the game shifts its entire focus toward third-person shooting. The only problem is, Yakuza isn't really cut out to be a third-person shooter. There's no real cover system, the controls are incredibly stiff, aiming is a chore, and it's hard to tell when you've actually managed to hit something. The camera doesn't make things easy either, as it loves to spaz out as soon as a horde of zombies ambushes you. You'll rely heavily on the auto-aim, which actually makes gunfights play out a lot like bare-fisted brawls. You just hammer on the fire button over and over again with reckless abandon, hoping that your enemies die before you do. While this may be fun and frantic in a hand-to-hand combat system, it's just frustrating in a third-person shooter.
The enemy design in Dead Souls makes me think the game is actually designed to be a parody rather than a serious zombie game in its own right. You'll encounter cheap knockoffs of the boomers, tanks, and witches from Left 4 Dead, and lickers from Resident Evil. The bosses look like they come straight from Resident Evil's reject pile, complete with outside organs, arbitrary insect parts, and giant mutated bodies. Not only that, but you don't fight these special zombies any differently than you fight normal zombie hordes. Just hammer on the fire button till your finger gets tired, and every so often dodge a special attack. The auto-aim will do the rest.