It doesn’t matter whether you’re caving in their rotten brains with a baseball bat, ripping apart their stomachs with a dozen bullets from a machine gun, or slicing off their limbs with a machete: killing zombies is fun. And with the continued belief that gamers just can’t get enough of it, it’s no real surprise to see another familiar franchise succumb to the ever-popular trend of cracking zombie skulls.
Consequently, Yakuza: Dead Souls is almost exclusively about whacking the walking dead. Though series veterans will probably feel quite at home with the re-jigged Yakuza game engine and the familiar neon-lit city of Kamurocho, Dead Souls is a totally new Yakuza experience that trades in tales of feudal gangs in favour of an all-out, action-packed survival romp against the zombie masses.
Told via highly produced cut-scenes, and fleshed out with text-based interactions between living NPCs dotted around the now-fallen Japanese city, the story of a zombie invasion could have been quite generic. As it turns out, it’s actually very cleverly been pieced together and is surprisingly in-depth, and relayed with the typical Yakuza humour we’ve come to expect from its colourful cast of characters.
Yakzua: Dead Souls does look really nice too, particularly the character models and slick animation, although, symbolically, some of SEGA’s typical shine has been sucked out of the city by its rotting inhabitants who now shuffle around in search of human flesh. Incredibly, not even the army and has been able to stop the zombie invasion from spreading, which means there are only four men left capable of saving the town: “Mad Dog” Goro Majima, Shun Akiyama, Ryuji Goda, and former yakuza, Kazuma Kiryu.
As players progress through the game, they get to step into the shoes of all four characters and each one has his own favourite weapon. While Majima favours the shotgun, Akiyama duel wields pistols, Goda has a gatling gun for an arm and Kiryu prefers a rifle. Indeed, the martial arts fighting of previous Yakuza games has been totally cut-out and replaced with a more potent weapon set, while the freedom given in past games to explore has been totally dumbed-down with a far more linear set-up. Consequently, SEGA’s latest Yakuza effort is more arcade-styled action shooter than the action-based, RPG-flavoured adventure of previous games in the crime drama series.
Shotguns, assault rifles and pistols make way for heavier weaponry as players progress, including flamethrowers and chainsaws. However, despite the apparent abundance of variety, gameplay largely involves just pointing your firearm in the right direction, keeping finger on the trigger and letting auto-aim do its work against the zombie hordes.
That doesn’t make it any less fun, but it does mean Dead Souls lacks that strategic challenge players might get from more refined shooters. Here, it’s more about keeping on the move and making sure zombies don’t get too close, as well as simply running and gunning to mow down zombies and chaining together kills. The fact that players are given unlimited bullets with their first firearm is an indication that the emphasis here is firmly on arcade-like thrills and racking up kills at an incredible rate.
Zombie A.I. is fairly clever though and rarely do players have a chance to rest. There are more than a fair few “heart in your mouth” moments as the walking dead amble slowly toward players and then suddenly start running like lunatics leaving them back-peddling and frantically unloading their clip. They drop from the ceilings, emerge out of vents and generally prove to be a nuisance around every corner; though there is the option to avoid some of them totally in the more open spaces.
Dead Souls bursts out of that generic run-and-gun pattern on a few occasions and provides some real highlights thanks to the heat metre and special moves. Through killing zombies the metre fills up and allows players to trigger a variety of cool executions. Tap on ‘triangle’ when the metre is full and players lock into a short QTE sequence that might see them target some scaffolding to send it crashing down on a hungry horde, blow up a car’s fuel tank with a well-placed sniper shot, or electrocute a dozen zombies as they walk past a generator. These moments give Dead Souls a cinematic feel and a much-needed injection of variety beyond the repetitive bouts of zombie slaying.
Similarly, boss battles prove to be a welcome distraction from the hundreds of generic zombie-types that players encounter. Cry Babies, for instance, act as a spawn point for zombies and let out a blood curdling scream that knocks players back if they get to close, while the giant Meatheads may be slow on the move but deliver a powerful punch. There are some impressively designed creations among the bosses and part of the challenge involves dispatching these major threats while the zombie minions continue to attack.
Overall though, there isn’t too much strategy involved other than pointing in the right direction, re-loading at the right times and keeping on the move. Poor camera angles can make some sections frustrating too as players inevitably will find themselves battling with the right analogue stick to bring the viewpoint back to a place where they can see all of the attacking hordes. There’s no way of switching targets either, it just automatically locks-on, so it really is all about just pointing, shooting and moving.
Away from the arcade-like nature of Dead Souls’ gameplay is an EXP system that furnishes players with rewards. By killing enemies and collecting EXP, players level up, earn soul points and new abilities can be equipped, including a rapid reload and a break-away kick that gives players more of a fighting chance when surrounded by a horde. There’s also the ability to mod weapons and armour by collecting parts around the town and various sub-stories, shop liberation events and spec-ops directives to carry out away from the main quest-line.
Inevitably, these distractions involve getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’ killing zombies as per usual, but there’s some interesting interactions away from the main campaign that should appeal to fans of the other Yakuza games. And old-school Yakzua players may also relish the option to partake in some familiar mini-games, including darts, karoke and the SEGA arcade. It’s nowhere near as in-depth as past Yakuza titles, but it does serve to remind players that, despite this new direction, Dead Souls still retains some of its roots.
Nevertheless, none of these extras distract from the fact that Dead Souls boils down to not much more than shooting down hundreds of generic zombie-types, no matter what new abilities you gain. Though it’s certainly not going to win any awards for re-inventing the genre, or pick up much praises for the implementation of an in-depth combat system, it does have an emphasis on pick-up-play fun and, in that respect, it delivers.
Despite the repetition, killing zombies in such huge numbers is entertaining and the special moves and bosses provide some thrills along the way. Overall, Yakuza: Dead Souls is a pleasant/unpleasant distraction from the pace of the previous Yakuza games, yet something still tells us that these zombies won’t be making a return to the crime drama franchise any time soon. And we’re not too sad about that.