E3 06: Yakuza Hands-On

We're thrilled that Sega is bringing its ruthless game of Japanese criminal violence over to these shores. Read our first impressions of the English-localized version.

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LOS ANGELES--We've played Yakuza before when it was called Ryu ga Gotoku ("Like a Dragon"), but getting our hands on an English-language version of it proved too difficult to resist while rushing through the crowds at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2006. In the game, players become a hardened Japanese gangster named Kazuma, who sets off on a bitter trail of violence and revenge--quality stuff! Comparisons have been drawn between this game and the cult classic Shenmue titles, since they have some developers in common, and both feature a combination of free-roaming through urban environments along with hard-hitting hand-to-hand combat. But Yakuza does a much better job of getting down the gritty feel than the Shenmue games ever did. The English-language version of the game thankfully appears to be identical to the Japanese original, notwithstanding the text. Incidentally, we couldn't hear any dialogue, but just subtitling the Japanese language track would probably be just right for a game like this.

Sega's E3 demo of Yakuza drops you into the beautiful neon glow of the nighttime streets of modern Japan. The streets are filled with pedestrians, though it's not possible to just start attacking random people as in Grand Theft Auto (it's also not possible to steal vehicles or anything like that). However, a tough guy like Kazuma can get into a fight pretty easily, don't you worry. The game switches to a closer-up combat scenario, transforming into a straight 3D beat-'em-up. Kazuma can execute vicious attack combos, as well as grabs and holds. He can also use just about everything as a weapon. We were pleased to see weapons with English names such as "old dagger," "bicycle," and "beer crate." More-conventional weapons should also be available for you less-creative types.

The combat has a hard-hitting look and a solid feel. Some extremely painful-looking context-sensitive finishing moves highlight the action, such as when Kazuma smashes an opponent's face against a wall, putting him out of his misery. So this isn't exactly a romp for the whole family, but those looking for a criminal action game with an Eastern flair should absolutely keep an eye on Yakuza. It's slated to ship this September. Check back on GameSpot for further coverage.

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