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Posted on Nov 24th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (GrayGhost81)
Posted under yakuza, ps3, review

As a longtime fan of the Yakuza series, I was as excited as I was perplexed by the announcement and release in 2011 and 2012 of Yakuza: Dead Souls. Much like Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, the game is a zombie laden, non-canonical side adventure using characters and locations from the main series of games. Dead Souls takes place after the events of Yakuza 4. It is interesting to note that the release of the game was delayed after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 in Japan, as the game depicts real-life Japanese cities in a state of ruin.

For fans used to the series, Dead Souls offers some variations to the normal gameplay and structure of a mainline Yakuza series. Most prevalent of these changes would be the focus on gun play, whereas previous titles in the series have focused on brawler-type combat. Using the guns can take some getting used to. There have been many complaints about the controls in this game, and now that I have played the game I can see why, but they can definitely be gotten used to. Movement and camera controls are mapped to the left and right sticks, respectively. So far, so good. Where things get a little strange is in the actual aiming and firing mechanics. You will hold L1 for normal aiming, a la Resident Evil 4, but for precise aiming, you will hold down L2 and move an aiming reticle with the left stick. Why they didn't do this with right stick, I do not understand. What ends up happening is you will be moving the character forward with the left stick and when you pull L2 to line up a quick headshot you will aim straight up in the air. To avoid this, I developed a bit of a "stop and pop" technique in which I would feather L2 to get some quick aim assistance from the game, popping off headshot after headshot. By doing this, the controls went from frustrating to rather satisfying, not because of their design but in spite of it.

Headshot aim assist is one of the many skills you can upgrade as you level up your characters, and the progression system will be familiar to anyone who has played a Yakuza game before. Killing zombies and completing side tasks earns XP, and when your character levels up you will receive skill points which can be used to purchase the aforementioned skill upgrades. As you progress through the story, you will fill the shoes of four different familiar characters from the Yakuza universe. All skill points, upgrades, and XP carry over from campaign to campaign.

Gameplay sample courtesy of OptimusGamer1981

Though the game has some open world elements, it is mostly linear. During my playthrough, which lasted just over a dozen hours, I only dabbled in some of the open world activities and mostly found myself focused on forwarding the main story. Throughout the game you will encounter special variant zombies, much like in the Left 4 Dead series, as well as a few major boss battles. Though the boss battles are very well done, the "special" zombies tend to wear out their welcome pretty quickly, if only because they break the rhythm of the headshots, which brings me to the sound design.

If I can get back to the headshots for a second, I loved the way the headshots sound different from any other gunshot in the game. There is a kind of snapping sound that rings out when you score a headshot, so when using the technique I mentioned above, the result is a trance-like popcorn popping kind of groove, and where some reviewers lamented the repetition of killing thousands of common zombies throughout the game, the tactile and aural feedback of scoring headshots never got old for me.

This game occupies a very strange space in the video game ether. It is an obscure entry in an obscure series. Though a familiarity with the series is not required, it will help immensely. Add to that the strange choices made in the controls and the game becomes hard to recommend in general. On the other hand, I found the rapid-fire headshots to be so satisfying that I can see myself firing this game up again in the future. It is a strange game, but it has penetrated my mind and heart forever.

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I've had this on my PS3 short list for a while, and haven't bought it only because the holidays and my PS3 is a little unreliable.  Despite this, I knew nothing about the game (outside of the zombie part) until reading your article, and I must say I am still interested.  Personally I think it would have been more fun to have the game set two or three hundred years in the past, when weapon constraints would have made the game more melee based (and thus closer to the original Yakuza combat).  Oh well.  I think I'll be getting this in the spring.  Thanks dude.
@bombatomba: Thanks for the kind words. It's definitely good as a tongue in cheek kind of palette cleanser game for when you're in between bigger and better things.

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