Bone-crunching street fights are replaced by head-popping shoot-outs in the zombie-centric Yakuza: Dead Souls. But was it a smart move to swap fists for firearms?
Zombies are the last port of call for the creatively bankrupt. But that's not to say you can't do something new with them. Yakuza Dead Souls takes Sega's cult crime drama series in a fresh direction, filling the streets of fictional Tokyo suburb Kamurocho with the undead and arming you with the ordnance to take them out.
Yakuza Dead Souls: Plot
As likeable loan shark Shun Akiyama, you wake from a deep slumber to discover that Tokyo has been overrun by the undead. A large part of the city has been cordoned off by the Japanese Self Defence Force, but only a few soldiers remain to keep order in this quarantine zone.
So it's up to Akiyama – and returning characters GoroMajima, Ryuji Goda and regular protagonist KazumaKiryu – to get to the bottom of this mysterious outbreak.
Yakuza: Dead Souls: Features
The chaos that follows plays out in a familiar third-person shooter format. Or it would be familiar but for the curious control scheme that's closer to the original Resident Evil games than its more recent outings.
You can move and shoot with a generous auto-aim that prioritises targets in the rough direction you're aiming, but if you need to pull off a more accurate shot you'll need to plant your feet. It feels awkward at first, but it adds to the sense of chaos.
It uses a similar upgrade system to the other Yakuza games, but here you're powering up your weapons as much as your characters. And it's got the same range of asides – arcade games, bowling, darts, hostess bars - as its predecessors, often with an amusing zombie-themed twist. Ever played table tennis against the undead before? You have now.
Yakuza Dead Souls: Characters
Dead Souls uses a similar structure to Yakuza 4, with a quartet of protagonists getting their chance to shine. Loveable rogue Akiyama gets the opening chapter which functions as a tutorial for the quirky controls, while Yakuza 2's Ryuji Goda makes a surprise return from the dead with a minigun in place of his right arm.
Meanwhile, stoic hero KazumaKiryu is back in his old stomping ground, again forced back against his will to rescue adopted daughter Haruka, but it's the eyepatch-wearing GoroMajima who has the biggest impact.
Wearing a snakeskin jacket and carrying a powerful shotgun, he's not only the most fun to control, but gets all the best lines, a hilarious cross-dressing side-mission and a hysterically daft, out-of-tune karaoke interlude.
Yakuza: Dead Souls Gameplay
The wonky controls take some getting used to, and the camera doesn't always offer the most helpful view of the action, particularly indoors. Yet the auto-aim allows you to easily take down groups of zombies simply by pressing the shoot button enough times.
Other times you'll be able to pull off spectacular environmental kills, like shooting a container of liquid nitrogen, then picking up one of the frozen corpses to fend off the rest with.
Though a couple of the enemy types are lifted wholesale from Valve's excellent Left 4 Dead, the boss battles prove that no one does grotesque mutants quite like the Japanese. That said,one or two represent huge difficulty spikes amid the relative ease of the moment-to-moment action.
One in particular forces you to fight at such close quarters that his attacks are near impossible to avoid. If you've stocked up with energy drinks it's fine, but he soaks up so much ammunition that we were forced to finish him off with a pistol.
Yakuza: Dead Souls Verdict
Some will say that Yakuza: Dead Souls is 'so bad it's good', but we'd rather say it's a good game that's marred slightly by some awkward mechanics.
The clumsiness of its controls shouldn't be dismissed, but neither should you ignore its offbeat sense of humour, exciting boss battles and wide range of extra-curricular activities.In the end, it's a memorably different kind of zombie shooter – and that in itself is quite some achievement.
Yakuza: Dead Souls availability: Available now
Yakuza: Dead Souls price: £39.99
Review by Chris Schilling