Shuffling up to the zombie party the day after the night before can hardly be called fashionably late, but here we finally are. The Yakuza series is renowned for its unique blend of beat em’ up RPG, so it was surprising and (whisper it), slightly disappointing to see them announce a gun-packed zombie game when all I really wanted was a new city to play in with Kiryu and the rest of the face-stomping gang.
Previously, the series only used firearms as brief power-ups before the game got back to doing what it did best: letting you swing street thugs by their ankles face-first into lamp posts. Sadly, there are no options to enjoy such violent delights here. A few melee weapons remain, but for the most part it’s all about the boomsticks.
I couldn’t shake the sad feeling that the game feels like it has come from a studio new to shooters. The developers didn’t quite settle on an aiming scheme and went for several at once. Manual aiming roots you to the floor and forces you to aim with the left stick instead of the usual right. Holding L1 lets you move and shoot, but with a reliance on the auto aim. Or you can forgo aiming and just run and gun, which only works if you’re using the shotgun as it has a ridiculously large spread.
After a few ability upgrades, headshots become suprisingly easy and I started to forgive the clumsy controls as the large numbers of zombies onscreen meant it was hard to miss them anyway. The weapons tick all the usual boxes for pistols, shotguns and assault rifles and although ammo is limited for everything except pistols, I found the game eager to provide with well-placed ammo dumps. Sure, it’s no Vanquish, but it handles better than the cement-shoed and archaic Resident Evil 5.
The zombies themselves come in great numbers but can be taken down easily, which I found to be a good balance. Handy ‘Heat Sniping’ QTEs replace the special moves of previous games. The city is full of these prompts to explode fire hydrants, electrical boxes, fuel barrels or knock down steel struts to crush the zombies below. Boss fights and mutants add variety to the shooting, with traditional glowing weak-spots to target, which was sometimes more difficult than it should have been thanks to the aforementioned aiming issues. However, by the end of the game I couldn’t deny that the bosses were more entertaining than the protracted duals against constantly blocking gangsters in past Yakuza games.
Like Yakuza 4, you control four different characters over the course of the game. Their stories follow in chronological order and paths rarely cross. Despite the separate natures of their stories I found most of the leads interesting. There’s the laid-back loan shark Akiyama, Mad Dog Majima, the insanely cool Kiryu Kazuma and Goda, a returning character from the PS2 games. Aside from a few unique weapons though, they all feel very samey to play as. Fortunately, upgrades and items carry over between them, allowing me to splash the cash with little concern of that character’s chapter ending before I’d gotten the most out of them. The pacing is vastly improved over previous games too; there’s no messing around buying dog food and running an orphanage for ten hours before the regular action this time.
The game generally pushes you forwards relentlessly. Even when on a ‘break’ and doing a bit of exploring, characters constantly nag at you about the next story mission. To be fair the city is amidst a zombie plague and wanting to nip off to the arcades is a bit selfish.
Zones of the city that are infected with the zombie virus are quarantined with huge walls, requiring lengthy treks underground to find a way in for a bit of XP grinding or to unlock new activities. While I’ve spent hours messing around in previous Yakuza games, especially with all the minigames, I just didn’t have the same desire to do so again because the bastard walls make the journey a bore and the Kamurocho district has become too familiar. The same streets, alleys, sewers, clubs and shops just over and over again. I’ve never seen a non-sports series reuse a location so much. Sega need to understand you can’t just sprinkle zombies on Yakuza 4 and say it’s a new game, in reality this could have been DLC.
A long checklist of kill streak items such as killing 50 zombies without getting hit, 200 assault rifle kills and so on, was a compulsive pleasure though and I was constantly diving back into the menu to see what I could tick off next. This was a great way to get me to vary my weapon choices throughout too.
A few technical blemishes make appearances throughout the game. Setting off explosions in crowded scenes brings on a few seconds of slowdown as the game staggers to its feet and you’re never far away from a loading screen. Both of which seem odd as there’s a hefty install at the start. Also, for a series that’s usually so well-translated, I found many pieces of broken English. Nothing to obscure events, but it added a cheap feel to some movie scenes.
Go into this game to play the next instalment in the Yakuza series and you may find it disappointing, but play it as a cheap open-world zombie shooter and you may find a new guilty pleasure for the weekend.