It's clear to publishers that zombies, no matter how trite or cliche the concept, can always draw a crowd (Call of Duty: Black Ops' recent downloadable content is a good example). Sega and producer Toshihiro Nagoshi seem to have followed this train of thought because the man behind the Yakuza series has put Kazuma Kiryu and his friends in an alternate timeline inspired by George Romero's undead movies and Valve's shooter Left 4 Dead.
We experienced the first few hours of Yakuza: Of the End where we got to control Yakuza 4's Akiyama and, for the first time in the series, Yakuza's eye-patch wearing psychopath Goro Majima. The former wields two handguns whereas the latter starts off with a shotgun. Akiyama's scenario was the easiest of the bunch because the first half of his section was more or less a tutorial that teaches you the ins and outs of the combat system. When choosing between Akiyama and Goro's penchant for a gun that blasts anything up close into meaty chunks, we had to favor the crazy person's scenario a little more. Plus, he fights a burly rock-covered zombie gorilla (more on that later).
The controls are atypical from your regular shooter. You use the square button to shoot; the R1 is the auto-aim function, which lets you move around slowly while pelting anything within your line of sight. To shoot specific parts accurately, you'll have to hold down the R2 button to initiate close aim mode. Reloading is done by pressing the L1. If the undead gets too close, then press the circle button to perform a melee attack or the X button to dodge your way out of harm's reach. The triangle activates heat actions whenever you see a green exclamation mark pop up either on an environment prop or on an enemy attacking you. Unlike past entries, the heat bar regenerates slowly over time, which means that you will never be left caught with your pants down whenever a heat action presents itself during intense combat.
While we faced the standard zombies that came in droves, we had to contend with other types of undead. The dekamacho zombie is large and can do ground pounds while also hitting really hard. Fortunately, its red head was its obvious weakness so all it took was a little strafing while using close aim to keep pelting it until it keeled over. We also came across the speedster and DJ-headphones-wearing zombie types. We took down the former by dodging whenever it lunged at us and counterattacked with bullets; we could also deal more damage by initiating a heat action as soon as it jumped at us. The latter was a little trickier; it dodged our shots so precisely that we had to wait until it pulled off a melee chain combo before we could seize an opening. Players should also watch out for bloated zombies; once they explode, the green gas they emit will make nearby zombies more powerful and feral. These encounters may be frequent, but at least they add a little diversity to your slaughter.
When it comes to baddies larger than life, Yakuza: Of the End does not disappoint so far. Akiyama had to face off against the cousin of Resident Evil's licker, which attacked us with its elastic arms. The creature could climb onto walls, though our constant use of the R1 ensured that the beast would still get shot. Halfway through, the beast hid in the ceiling and proceeded to poke at us with its arm. When it finally stopped and exposed its head through one of the ceiling holes, we had to use close aim to shoot it down.
Meanwhile, Goro had to butt heads against the aforementioned zombie gorilla that resembled Fantastic Four's The Thing. Because it was covered in granite, we had to use the nearby broken-down tank to shoot a mortar at it so that part of its skin could come off. From there, we pelted it with shotgun blasts until it shed its entire body, leaving it completely naked with its red heart exposed and ripe for shooting. The gorilla made the situation tough by charging at us, throwing rocks in our direction and also performing the usual ground pounds and belly flop. Try as we might, we couldn't stay in the tank long because the big ape could just grab and throw us onto the pavement. Both of these boss battles have heat action opportunities: Akiyama can knock down a beast with a heat action provided that the beast leaps toward him, whereas Goro can shoot down a car the gorilla carries to make it explode in its face.
Because enemies come in groups this time around, the difficulty in the game can range from manageable to outright insane. We didn't struggle too much when the game was on normal, but there were many times we were almost out of health due to either getting blindsided carelessly by a dekamacho giant or having a large group of them approach us from behind and knocking us down until our health reached zero. Part of the problem is due to the controls and camera. We had to get used to the fact that the R1 and R2 only come into effect when your character is facing in a particular direction and do not automatically lock on to the nearest threat.
The camera also got a little crazy when we were pressing on the R1 while in a cramped room with five or six zombies trying to gnaw us. Thankfully, we could just face an enemy and shoot without fussing too much with aiming half the time, especially when the camera panned and looked down on our character and his situation. Sadomasochists can check out the Ex-Hard and Of The End difficulty after completing the game once if they really want the zombies to pack more of a punch than before.
The game features AI partners to tag along with your main character. Frankly, they're seen more as meat fodder for zombies and the occasional heat action partner. We had to actually help out our partner as he or she couldn't escape from a zombie's grip at all. Even if we could assign basic commands to it, the AI seemed to struggle. We hope the game offers better partners down the line because right now, we'd much rather head into zombie town alone.
Even with the quarantine in effect, players can still explore the other half of Kamurocho that's still bustling with humans and activities that made the series famous. Players can participate in karaoke, play arcade games like Boxcelios 2, and take their chances with casino games either for more money or just to take a break from all the zombie evisceration. Kamiyama, the man who modified weapons in his van, makes a comeback to help buff your weapons while selling you amenities during your undead-infested trip. Gary Buster Holmes, another familiar face in the Yakuza franchise, has his own boot camp where players can partake in time trials shooting up target practice boards as fast as possible for extra rewards. Gamers can also date hostesses in nightclubs and even recruit them as gun-toting partners.
If Sega plans to release the game for the US audience, it will need to tailor the controls so that they're more in line with the control scheme of other Western action shooters. Frankly, the game's battle system takes some time getting used to and the game engine is really showing its age since Yakuza Kenzan! On a positive note, fans will be interested in seeing Kamurocho in a different light; one that's filled with all manners of the undead, as well as riddled with underground dungeons and vehicles lying around for your use. Yet at the same time, the game still retains its sandbox elements, thanks to the activities mentioned above.
The import copy of the game is out now, but Sega has yet to announce an English version of the game.