Kamurocho has seen better days. This pleasure district was once a place where yakuza could relax and enjoy the simple pleasure of clobbering each other in the streets. Alas, those days are over. A zombie outbreak has shifted the focus of life in Kamurocho from brawling with the living to killing the undead. Unfortunately, the heroes and villains of earlier Yakuza games who take center stage in Yakuza: Dead Souls don't bring the same level of panache to gunning down zombies that they do to punching street toughs. It's initially entertaining to see Kamurocho turned upside down by this new crisis and watch these familiar characters facing an unfamiliar threat, but battling these zombies is a tiresome and frustrating process, and the series' signature charm is in short supply.
Don't let the fact that the box art displays four gun-toting heroes fool you; this is not a Left 4 Dead-style multiplayer zombie shooter. Dead Souls is a single-player, third-person game with a story that leaps from one familiar Yakuza character to another to another. You start out playing as Shun Akiyama, the fascinating moneylender who made his debut in Yakuza 4. But as pleasant as it is to see this likable character again, the narrative gives you too little time to appreciate his confident swagger.
It doesn't take long for all hell to break loose and Kamurocho to find itself swarming with zombies, and once that happens, the story becomes a cursory backdrop against which the slaughter of the undead takes place. It has its moments; the unbalanced way in which playable character Goro Majima actually relishes the outbreak for the sporting pleasure of killing zombies is unforgettable, and it all builds up to an outrageous finale in which series lead Kazuma Kiryu confronts a massive monstrosity and shares important life lessons. But these instances are few and far between, and on the whole, the story doesn't deliver the intensity and insanity that have helped make prior Yakuza games so memorable.
This might be OK if the new brand of combat Dead Souls introduces picked up the slack, but it doesn't. As the four heroes of Dead Souls, you must fight your way through the streets of Kamurocho, and although the Yakuza games have always been about brawling, here, it's almost entirely about gunplay. You run around in third person, blasting zombies out of your way to clear your path from point A to point B or eliminating all the zombies in an area to fulfill an objective. You can do this with pistols, submachine guns, rifles, and Gatling guns; when you're playing as Ryuji Goda, your robotic right arm can transform into one of these massive weapons.
Most zombies are easily put down, but they have strength in numbers, and you frequently find yourself being knocked down by their attacks. Every time this happens, you need to mash X for a moment to get back up on your feet, and getting stuck in a loop of standing up only to promptly be knocked down again is enough to make you throw up your arms in frustration and consider letting the zombies win. To make matters worse, being mobbed by zombies often carries with it the unpleasant side effect of a stuttering frame rate.
Even when it's not being so irritating, the combat is too basic to be enjoyable. When you're fortunate enough to have ammo for a gun that shoots continuously, simply holding down the fire button as you run up to zombies gets the job done with minimal effort on your part. You can stand still and switch to first-person view to target enemies' heads for more efficient kills, but it's rarely worth your time to do so. Despite spots scattered around Kamurocho where you can stock up on ammo and other supplies, at times you may find yourself needing to rely on your pistols to put zombies down. These pistols have infinite ammo, but each bullet needs to be fired individually, so combat becomes a tedious matter of pressing the fire button again and again.