It has been said before; the zombie enemy is getting old.
Every franchise, it seems, finds some conceit to introduce the walking dead to its fiction. Yakuza is no different, and with the release of Dead Souls fans of the series can take to the zombie outbreak in familiar settings with familiar characters.
Series star Kazuma Kiryu, Yakuza 4's Shun Akiyama, crazy-eye-patch-guy Goro Majima and the machine gun-armed Ryuji Goda all feature in what feels like a fantasy outing for fans of the series.
If played as a Yakuza fan, and not a Zombie sandbox fan, there is some fun to be had here. With gang warfare subplots and more than enough serious gangster faces to keep the Yakuza brand in check, the often over-the-top and silly zombie side of the game can be a great counter to the daily criminal grind. Some of the situations are flat-out hilarious, suggesting the developers wanted to use this zombie opportunity to have a bit of fun.
Those looking for dark corridors and ammunition concerns aren't going to find it here; this is not a survival horror. Instead, Dead Souls follows four ass-kicking specialists and their intertwining journeys to deal with Kamurocho’s quarantined red-light district, and it's all done with a very satisfying Japanese action movie feel.
Where Yakuza: Dead Souls really takes a departure from the series (other than, you know, zombies) is the extremely gun-centric gameplay. There's the requisite kicking and punching, but it's all to little effect other than to help clear the way. This iteration of Yakuza requires players to brandish all manner of weapons in a madcap attempt to mow down the countless hordes.
Each of the four main characters have a different gun style, and with preferred and specialised weapons from sniper rifles to Gatling guns, variation helps keep the zombie shooting fresh.
Players are also free to buy guns where possible, and each weapon has upgrades available to increase damage, ammo limit and other beneficial attributes. When a gun won’t do the job, players can take to a tank or a forklift to help out, and when really desperate a series standard – using items littered around the environment – can clear the way. Wade into the pack wielding a bicycle or replace the baseballs in a pitching machine with grenades and have a blast.
While Dead Souls tries its best to mix things up, killing wave after wave of zombie can become a chore even with the varied weapon choices on offer. A lot of the blame for this could be levelled at the aiming system; armed combat uses a third-person view and it's difficult to face the right direction to fire at zombies. Holding down the left shoulder button in order to face one way and strafe while firing is enough to put most groups down, and while it is possible to bring up an aiming crosshair it is only really useful to rack up headshots for high score bragging rights. Simply facing the correct way and mashing the fire button gets the job done in spite of Dead Souls' clunky controls and camera work.
The only time it becomes necessary to take a break from this button-mash killing is during boss fights, which generally feature huge monsters that require proper aiming and skill to dispatch. A welcome break from the zombie hordes, bosses generally follow the standard formula of moving in preset patterns whilst exposing glowing weak spots. Sadly, they're too few and far between.
Other than the shambling hordes of zombies, Dead Souls offers a bit of the old Yakuza side-questing with plenty of opportunities to take a breather from the horde, although these moments are less prominent this time around. Go shopping, flirt with club girls, try it on at the casino or have a crack at some karaoke – sure, Kamurocho is falling apart but what better time is there to belt out a love song?
These side quests range from simple go-fetch assignments to escort quests, so there is ample content. With the core story giving around 15 hours of solid gameplay, these side quests and attractions could easily double that.
Yakuza: Dead Souls is a strange fruit sitting between the Yakuza that fans love and the zombie horde gameplay so overused in recent game development. While it doesn’t really do either perfectly, there is enough here to keep players entertained. Fans of the series will enjoy seeing their characters in this new role but newcomers could easily be put off by the clunky control system and watered down gun-play, while zombie fans will enjoy the varied killing methods, but will be disappointed in the lack of challenge the aiming system allows.
But it's best to not over think this game. Simply enjoy goofing off in a zombified Kamurocho and be prepared for trigger-finger cramp; Yakuza: Dead Souls is a more than adequate time sink, but nothing particularly new or exciting.