Yakuza 4 Hands-On

Crime pays well, plays wells, and is simply bloody fun.

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Only months ago, Western audiences were able to wet their whistle of Yakuza 3, though with a few key features and minigames removed. This time, however, Sega and its CS1 Team subsidiary are promising that Yakuza 4 will retain all of the great features that made its Japanese release a hit. While none of these minigames were in our hands-on demo, we were able to get a taste of the excellent action side of this latest Yakuza installment.

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Yakuza 4 has very fluent action: you use the square and triangle buttons to attack, the circle button to grapple, and the shoulder buttons to take defensive stances. The game also has easy onscreen prompts that informed us of special moves. During one combo, a triangle appeared in the upper right corner and allowed us to let loose a deadly finishing move. There is also a heat system and meter. As we pummeled foes, the meter would fill up, and our character would glow red with rage. This boost in heat gave us increased power and the use of even more moves.

Yakuza 4 allowed us to engage in brawls with four different playable characters. The first fighter was Shun, a former homeless man who has gotten his life together but still retains some of the bum gruff. Shun’s attacks primarily consisted of kicks, but he was still able to make use of grappling and items. Surrounded by a horde of goons out in a rainy street, we quickly dispatched them with a series of lightning-fast feet.

The second character we tried was Masayoshi, a crooked cop. His battle took place atop a building roof. We got one of the enemies into a headlock and proceeded to toss him off the side of the building with a tap of the triangle button. Another thug sporting a bat tried to sneak up on us from the right, but we dispatched him and stole his weapon. We scored a homerun over a large enemy’s face, but the bat shattered in the process. Luckily Masayoshi carries a spear--where he keeps it is anyone’s guess--and skewered the remaining threats.

The third fighter was the massive Taiga, an imposing Yakuza enforcer. Due to his large frame, he’s able to grapple and throw even the heaviest enemies. Further, we were able to grab large oil drums that were too massive for either Shun or Masayoshi. We used our deadly barrels to sweep through the opposition and finish with a gruesome can crusher straight to a grunt’s face.

The final matchup let us take control of Kazuma, previous protagonist of the past Yakuza games. Kazuma is very well balanced between power and speed. We made sure to make use of all the items littering the streets around us. We started by flailing a caution cone at the enemy yakuza, grabbed a waste bin and pummeled them further, and finally finished it by throwing a bicycle. The bike shattered and left only two lone wheels. We grabbed one, just as the last thug went for the other, and engaged in a tense duel of wheels. After a brutal finisher, the camera zoomed into our victim’s face. The fallen foe bore a striking resemblance to Satoru Iwata, though far more bloody and swollen. We hope this was just a coincidence.

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We’re looking forward to more criminal-based action adventure when Yakuza 4 comes to the West in spring 2011 as a PlayStation 3 exclusive.

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