Friday, 25 March 2011

Game Review - Yakuza 4 (PS3)

Format: (PS3)

The Yakuza franchise has now almost certainly become a staple in Sony’s catalogue of games. Beaming with plenty of action and character, this Japanese style role-play / beat-em-up adventure continues the series and moves it in the right direction, but simply not far enough. Indeed coming hot off the release of Yakuza 3 only a year ago, little has really changed in Kamuro’s red-light district. This is not to say that there’s no fun to be had here, on the contrary, plenty of manic battles and a gripping story told from four different perspectives helps make Yakuza 4 an enjoyable game, but not quite up there with the best that the Playstation 3 can offer.

Yakuza 4 continues the story set up by it’s predecessors and does a good job recapping past events for those that are new or simply don’t remember the finer details of scenarios that have occurred. Shaking things up somewhat, this installment introduces three new playable protagonists that help pull the story along, until you are eventually allowed to play as the series’ hero Kazuma in the dramatic ending. The other characters all have very diverse backgrounds and motives, making each segment of the game relatively different from the last, all the while intertwining the characters and their paths to a great finale that sees a fantastic ending.

While Yakuza 4 certainly has an entertaining set of events for you to deal with, the way they are told can at times, be a let down. The cinematic cut-scenes that are voiced are beautiful and engaging, but a lot of the game is told through voiceless encounters. Last time I checked this was a Playstation 3, this is nothing but lazy as far as I’m concerned. Another somewhat frustrating thing I found was the complexity behind the story, the twists and turns can make it quite difficult to follow at times. For example, the recap segments early on in the game do a good job in explaining prior events, but there’s just so much to take in that you find yourself more confused than before.

Story isn’t the only thing that separates our heroes, each character has their own unique fighting styles, be it more disciplined, to a more brawler style; each character also has their own mini-games and side-quests to consider and complete. Fighting is of course the main element of Yakuza 4 and believe me, there is plenty of it. Enemies constantly barrage you as you are forced to battle your way out of ridiculous situations. Yakuza 4 doesn’t take itself seriously and this is partially why the fighting mechanics are so much fun here, as your characters line up unbelievable combos and ludicrous finishing moves, all of this plays well with the over-the-top tone that Yakuza 4 sets. It is unfortunate however, that Yakuza lacks any real challenge. The majority of the game can be completed with minimal effort and the moments that do require some patience are overcome without any real issues. I guess this allows you to go crazy with all of your combos and finishing moves, but it would be a lot more satisfying if you landed the aforementioned on a foe that actually knew how to block or dodge, as opposed to standing like a target dummy. This becomes even more of a joke when you do find yourself picking up random weapons throughout your battles and start using them to simply devour through groups of enemies with little resistance. Certainly a bit more work could have gone into the difficulty curve behind Yakuza 4.

Being an open-ended adventure, it is almost impossible to not compare Yakuza 4’s engine in some way, to Grand Theft Auto. Like the staple sandbox adventure, Yakuza 4 makes sure there is plenty to do in Kamuro City, even when you’re not following the story. All four different characters have very, ‘intriguing’ mini games and side-quests you can get involved in, be it training hostess girls in clubs, preparing fighters for tournaments or simply patrolling the streets and keeping baddies at bay. On top of this you have of course, the neutral entertainment, bowling, gambling, arcades and even karaoke. This stuff granted, you can completely omit, but its presence serves a very important purpose, helping to breath life into the red-light district. This is of course a place to satisfy all sorts of pleasures and the options to get involved in everything is a welcome addition and actually a surprisingly amusing way to spend your time in Yakuza 4. Ultimately it is these activities accompanied by the bristling life surrounding you that help to make you feel involved in an active world. You meet plenty of interesting people in your travels who are also keen for your help, so there is little shortage of people to help if games and activities aren’t your idea of a good time.

From a technical perspective, Yakuza 4 is hit and miss. The game does feel dated; graphics are indeed impressive during the cut-scenes, but in game things become monotonous and do little to impress. We have games like Final Fantasy and the new Crysis 2 showing off the power of next-generation consoles, so there is certainly a standard that must be kept. The same can be said for the audio. Sound can play a massive role in engulfing players into a world, the buzzing of people’s chatter, the sounds of people running errands and shopping etc, it is all there but to an extent, I just didn’t feel like I was being pulled into the world through the audio. The combat is definitely fluid, smooth and plenty of fun. The lack of a decent difficulty curve and the occasional repetitive nature can pose a problem, but the clever use of different characters helps to keep things fresh.

Yakuza 4 is a team effort on many fronts. It does have some issues and holes that could use filling up, but the combination of a thrilling world, excellent voice cast, great story-driven material and plenty of fun action to get your teeth stuck into, helps make Yakuza 4 a game with something to offer. That something is different for everyone and it’s kudos to Yakuza 4 for being so versatile in allowing players to become involved in the game, in whatever way they want. The game introduces three fantastic new characters into the fourth installment of a series, this is no easy task but they feel and belong in the Yakuza franchise. On top of that, it is everything you’d expect from this series, plenty of fun and lots of stuff to do. Kamuro City is the place to be to fulfill everything you’d want in a sandbox brawler.

Technical presentation – 7.0

Graphics – 7.0

Game-play – 8.0

Replay value – 8.0

Final score – 7.0 / 10

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