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Yakuza Dead Souls review: A spin-off, but not a departure

When there's no more ideas in hell...

Yakuza has always been a scattershot series, overwhelming with details and delights, bringing them to boil, and hoping the best rise to the top. Authenticity and density. That's been the ethos in four main games, and it's the same here. Besides zombies, of course. So, what does happen when zombies get involved?

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It's a question many fictional universes ask when they want to stir the pot (or when they run out of ideas), and Dead Souls gives a typically Yakuzian stab at answering it. It's a spin-off, sure, but not a total departure.

You play shady loan shark Shun Akiyama, besuited and scowling, but actually quite a decent bloke. Along with construction company owner 'Mad Dog' Goro Majima, mean former yakuza Kazuma Kiryu, and the legendary Ryuji Goda, you'll save the once heaving, now brain-hungry hub of Kamurocho. But not before comedy moments and touching raports - like the beautifully observed relationship between Akiyama and his overlarge returning secretary Hana.

Perhaps surprisingly, the whole 'dead thing' is the worst part of Dead Souls. Its implementation is more than an afterthought, but the idea itself is a shamble in the wrong direction. Streets are wrecked and vacated, the vibrant charm of the world literally chewed up and spat out by hordes of brain-eaters. Linear sewers and concrete facilitates are the worst of it. You can't play minigames. You can't buy a burger. You can't explore at leisure. Isn't this where the series' very appeal lies to wide-eyed Westerners?

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DEAD ZONE

There are, thankfully, bustling quarantine zones where people are slightly more alive, and tangles of streets offer attractions at every turn. It's the Yakuza you love: hundreds of NPC's loudly sharing snippets of conversations, billboards for movies, soft drinks and tanning salons spanning the skyline, restaurants, theatres, bars and shops. The open world is a mere playground compared to the Sahara-sized sandboxes of games like Just Cause, but Dead Souls makes up for it with a packed hub and a bunch of interiors.

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