More Yakuza, Please!

I've been so wrapped up in Yakuza I completely forgot to come and post any progress thoughts. I finished it last night, but firstly let me get God of War out of the way:

I got fed up with it and moved on.

Right! Now that's sorted, onto Yakuza. Every once in a while a game comes along that's not particularly brilliant in any way, and maybe even has more than a few rough edges, but it does something right enough that it sticks with you, or the sum of its parts far exceeds the individual pieces. That's Yakuza, which has become firmly one of my all-time favourite games.

A bold statement, that, but in the same way that Tomb Raider Anniversary completely took me by surprise, this is a game that I didn't care about until forces conspired to have me playing it at a time when I was really looking for something fresh. It appeals to the brawler/beat 'em up fan in me, as well as the RPG fan. It's an action game you can take entirely at your own pace. You can spend hours just messing about away from the main plot, and it helps that the world - however much a microcosm it is - is so meticulously detailed and lively. The game has that very difficult to achieve sense of place. In most games - even ones with hugely detailed and varied environments - I never feel like I'm part of the gameworld. I feel disconnected from the action. Not so much that I can't become engaged in things, but I'm not 'drawn in'.

Yakuza joins games like Phantasy Star Online, Tomb Raider Anniversary, Mass Effect, Dungeon Master, Final Fantasy VII, and Metal Gear Solid in totally pulling me in. Everything about the environments, the characters, the sound design gives me the feeling that I've spent time in that world. I felt like a hidden documentary camera accompanying Kazuma Kiryu throughout his story.

And it's a pretty good story, too. Nothing groundbreaking, but just a good solid crime thriller with a colourful cast, a few twists, and an immensely cool main character. As I mentioned before it's got a few clunky moments (particularly camera issues during the indoor fights), but this can all be overlooked because it's such a blast to play. I would have liked an original language option, as the lip-synching issues can be a bit iffy at times, but overall the voice work is good if a little spirited.

It also does what GTA continually fails to do, which is to provide me with a meaty action game in a contemporary setting with plenty of depth and extra stuff, and marry it to a cast of characters I can actually care about and like. You even get saddled with a kid for most of the plot and amazingly she's not annoying at all. That in itself is a miracle.

The prospect of the PS3 being put to work on this world is incredibly enticing, and I know the wait after finishing the second one will be agonizing.

Late to the party - Yakuza and God of War

First a quick note on Too Human... I've put about 28 hours into it over the past couple of weeks, and while it was very enjoyable for that time, it's very apparent to me that I won't be spending the kind of time with it that I did with PSO. It's flawed and frustrating in a number of ways, but not enough to prevent it being a worthwhile and fun experience. However, the compulsion to grind for loot that I expected to be there after the buzz of clearing the campaign a couple of times has failed to materialize, and I can't see myself returning to it much in future. I will certainly still be keen on playing the sequels should they ever appear, but for now it remains a decent 30-hour dollop of entertainment.

The curious thing it did though, was to launch me into a craving for third-person action / adventure games. Specifically ones where you thrash your way through tons of enemies. After a fun enough time spent with Viking and Conan I found myself with God of War, a game that has managed to pass me by completely. Oh, I knew of it, knew it's solid critical reputation and commercial success, yet despite my strong fascination with mythology and history I never even bothered to try it until now.

Suffice to say I'm a bit angry at myself for that. I really need to give more things a chance rather than slavishly sticking to a handful of known quantities. If I'd never tried Tomb Raider Anniversary out of boredom I wouldn't be excitedly anticipating Underworld as one of my potential games of the year right now.

Back to GoW though. It's magnificent visually and aurally, and the controls are just the right side of loose, forgiving enough with an auto-lock without being sloppy. Combat can be immense fun, and there's plenty of variety and scale in the environments to keep things fresh. My only criticism of it is that sometimes the combat can become frustrating, especially when fighting multiple enemies that repeatedly knock you over, or that won't allow you to finish off combos as they simply go through their attack animations regardless. It's relentlessly entertaining in every other way, with a few rudimentary puzzles here and there to break up the action. I've already got my hands on the sequel - and now I have a genuine must-buy for the PS3 when the third one surfaces.

Speaking of things finally surfacing... Yakuza 2 just came out in the US, and I think it's out in the UK this week. I had tried the first one not long ago, and while I was enjoying it I didn't get far because the PS3 backwards compatibility wasn't up to scratch on it. The colours were very washed-out for one thing. I gave up on it and forgot about it for a while.

The release of the sequel and the announcement of a third instalment on its way for PS3 compelled me to order a US copy of the first to play on my PS2 (I don't own a PAL PS2). I'm only a couple of hours in but I'm completely in love with it. It does go out of its way to earn the Mature rating, with copious and amusing amounts of swearing, but the story is already gripping and the recreation of the location is very immersive (though of course to me it could be anywhere, I just mean that it feels alive). The main character controls a bit clunkily, and the combat system takes a bit of adjusting to. You really have to keep in minds its shortcomings when fighting. Despite that, it is a lot of fun and I never get tired of being interrupted in the street by some punk cruising for a bruising. At one point I was using a sofa as a weapon, swinging it around with aplomb. By all accounts the game gets sillier as it goes on. I can't wait, and I've already ordered the sequel.