Bayonetta (2017) PC Review

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With legs that don’t quit to the point where they are actually disproportionate and sporting guns on her heels,Bayonetta struts and flaunts herself with confidence. The game is a brazen, cheeky and lighthearted hack and slash romp that is self aware and relentlessly exciting, radiating confidence effortlessly.

The game falls in the tradition of character action games pioneered by titles like Devil May Cry, being a fast paced brawler that prioritises fast reflex and skillful combo memorization. A halfway decent player can create a speedy and fantastic spectacle that can end in torturous finishing moves that sometimes resemble some strange form of BDSM. One of the core mechanics here is witch time, which rewards skillful dodging and risk taking with a brief hit of slow motion, allowing you to start wailing on enemies with abandon,continuing a combo and juggling so insanely like an expert circus performer or Tekken player. This hack and slash brawling, while being a little more combo focused and button mashing than the older Devil May Cry titles is nevertheless requiring in skill and an absolute blast to play.

In regards to the difficulty, I did my playthrough on normal and let me tell you, it can be quite challenging and occasionally frustrating, especially if you want to get the highest mission ranking. However, it rarely becomes so frustrating as to feel unfair or make you want to throw your controller out the window. The only times I felt the game was a bit unfair were with some enemies that could stun lock you and hit hard, taking large chunks of health away. Another is that witch time appears to not work on some enemies for some reason that is not immediately clear. Another thing I would like to have is a few more immediate health restoration drops on the normal difficulty, especially after a particularly difficult mob or mini boss. That said, some sections where I had barely a sliver of health left motivated me to push harder in each section and sometimes to success. On continues, the game restores you health bar fully and boss battles have checkpoints, making them much more fair.

Speaking of enemies, there is plenty of variety between the standard enemy types that the game throws new ones at you almost constantly and mixing them with the previous ones, providing a pace that never leaves you bored. The enemies are typically some form of angel, that are all white and gold trimmed and bosses are impressively scaled and look like bizzare statuesque frankenstein beings with tentacles and wings and gigantic faces and legs that sport a white and gold trimmed aesthetic. One later boss looks like some weird cross between Volgin, David Bowie and the Phantom of the Opera, rocking robes that look like a catholic clergyman and decked out with peacock feathers. All these boss fights, in addition, are tremendously fun, with the Jeanne fights being particular notable highlights since they often have the best backdrops and are the most intense, reminding me of the Vergil fights from Devil May Cry 3.

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The overall look of the game is stunning, with sharp high resolution textures, sublime animation work and environments that range from bright medieval cities with a slight gothic influence in the architecture to art deco near futuristic cities and the heavenly paradiso, Bayonetta will have you running, jumping and fighting your way through all of these. You will even fight on a plane, a rocket and on the sides of buildings, and by the end, literally kill god. The story isn’t the greatest, but it’s presentation is so enjoyable that it’s worth holding off on that skip cutscene button, at least on the first playthrough.

Did I mention that this game is completely ridiculous? Because it is and it revels in it from the absurd character proportions, unbelievable fight choreography in cutscenes and some weird story about the balance between light and dark and destroying the universe to create a new one. Oh, and demonic summons that are weaved from hair. Bayonetta herself , as I have mentioned, is cheeky and sexy, with a sultry and sarcastic British accent. She is just a fun character, both to play and to watch.

The score of the game too is quite idiosyncratic that goes from fast, poppy jazz renditions of Fly Me to the Moon during normal combat to a big orchestral score that builds and sounds like something that might belt out through the choir in a cathedral. It’s quite a strange sound mix for the genre, but it fits the tone of the game quite well.

In terms of game length, a playthrough on normal took about 10 or so hours, but this is something that is made to be replayed, with new unlockables, such as outfits, more techniques and weapons and increased difficulty levels that are a bit more well thought out than being a mere buff in enemy attack and speed and debuff in player health.

As a port of a game that is about 8 years old as of this writing, the PC version of Bayonetta is definitely the best. It performs flawlessly at high resolutions and my system doesn’t break a sweat at max settings with 8x MSAA. It looks sharp and the cutscenes, which I am not sure if they are prerendered or not, look fantastic although they’re locked at 30fps.  I would also recommend playing with some kind of game pad, considering that this game was not originally designed for keyboard and mouse. But if you’re feeling particularly risky, the keys are fully re bindable. As far as glitches and crashes go, I only experience one glitch on the plane section and one CTD somewhere else, but it was otherwise smooth sailing. The load times are incredibly quick too, making the combo practice feature during loads that were supposed to make them bearable on the console release, at least for me, became redundant.

This PC release is without a doubt the definitive version of this Platinum Games classic. Especially if your only experience with the game is the shoddy PS3 version, you should definitely give the game another shot here. The game itself also remains a joy, with some of the best combat in the genre and a lighthearted and sexy style that is impossible not to love, unless you’re some kind of weird prude. This is an absolute must play and it’s only $20 on steam, so there’s no excuse not to get it.

9.5/10

Inland Empire (2006) review

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Where do I begin with Inland Empire, David Lynch’s last feature film? Well, for one, it is a difficult film to watch in the sense that it is incredibly cryptic; probably Lynch’s most cryptic feature film to date. In saying that, it is also not his best but it is definitely worth a watch.

Let’s start with the basic plot. The set up of this film is that Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is set to star in a leading role in a new Hollywood production, where she plays a woman named Susan, in an affair with a man named Billy, played by Devon (Justin Theroux). Devon is warned by Nikki’s husband not to try and have an affair with Nikki. This is all within the first hour or so in the film and even with Lynch’s characteristically idiosyncratic way of presenting dialogue, this early part of the film is actually quite straightforward.

Where it starts getting weird is when the film within a film is being made: a person appearing but who isn’t actually there, sudden realisation that the line between reality of the film and film within a film are being blurred and a bizzare, dreamlike structure. The film cuts back and forth between different rooms and Nikki’s experiences, which are at times surreal and confusing. Like dreams can be, the relationship and structure from room to room are quite illogical in the eclectic difference; being able to cut to Polish streets, to a typical LA home, to gritty industrial looking apartments that are reminiscent of Eraserhead or the prison in Silent Hill 2. There are red velvet curtains and not-quite-chevron floors that made me for a moment think this film had some connection to Twin Peaks but when I didn’t hear anyone speak backwards, that theory was thrown out the window. There is also a room with anthropomorphic rabbits that seem to be in the world’s strangest sitcom, given the laugh track. Sequences in the film loop back around and into each other, creating a narrative structure that is non linear and very non traditional. As far as the structure is concerned, it reminds me very much of Lynch’s previous film Mulholland Drive as well as the Kurt Vonnegut novel Slaughterhouse Five.

So, without spoiling it too much, here is what I think might have happened in the film: after starting filming and then going through that strange alleyway, Nikki’s experience of reality and film became increasingly blurred, possibly even that there became multiple permutations of the same person that was at times able to remember and experience pieces of the different permutations. Space and time become disrupted, considering the unclear chronology of events that unfold. The identity of Nikki too through this surreal, dreamlike experience becomes fractured and disjointed. At least that is my basic interpretation and mapping of events throughout the film without spoiling too much.

One of the most distinctive features of the film, aside from Lynch’s characteristic use of a low, rumbling ambient soundscape that generates constant unease and full music tracks that punctuate the emotion of a given sequence, is the camera used. For this film, Lynch used a consumer grade digital camera that I believe was 480p and so the film has this unusual aesthetic that is subversive and discomforting, since this is not how we are used to watching feature films but instead home movies or television during the time of this film’s production. Or watching student films. With that, it of course appears dated on this technical level, but if you watch a 1080p version it looks fine most of the time due to the camera being rather steady. This was something I paid especially close attention to considering the original Blair Witch Project does look kind of shit on 1080p screens, even with an HD stream.

The performances as a whole in this film, especially Laura Dern’s are quite excellent, although she’s not quite a good a screamer as Sheryl Lee. Dern convincingly conveys the confusion of Nikki’s experience and the different personalities she seems to embody throughout, showing off a tremendous amount of range as well as subtlety.

Inland Empire clocks in at a three hour run time. It is a film filled with tremendous performances and the dreamlike and nightmarish surrealism Lynch often has deployed throughout his works in imaginative ways. Considering this run time, it can feel a bit slow, but the length is necessary since if it was too much shorter, there would be even less time to process what the hell is going on. It requires patience from the viewer and as I have said, it is Lynch’s most cryptic and difficult feature film to date, an enigma wrapped up in a mystery.  But don’t let that deter you since it is still surrealist excellence that should be appreciated by any Lynch fan, even if, like me, it’s not quite your favourite.

9/10

 

 

Outlast (2013) PC review

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Outlast is a game I am of mixed mind about. On one hand, it can be absolutely terrifying but on the other hand, the actual game part of this supposedly survival horror game is lacking.

Let us start with what I liked most about Outlast.  It has an impeccable presentation, with the grungy and dirty Mount Massive asylum with strewn viscera rendered in sickening detail sprinkled throughout. The texture work is superb with excellent attention to detail that persists throughout every section of the game. The overall visual quality is excellent and the night vision mode when using the camera, combined with the ever present noise filter give the game an appropriately dirty look that truly does look like a found footage urban exploration film. The game is also quite dark in the Doom 3 sense, so use of the night vision mode is frequently necessary.The only gripe I have with the way the game looks is that in the camera mode without night vision, there is quite a bit of what appears to be really serious chromatic abberation which just makes me think the developers are adopting a bad trend in modern video game graphics or the journalist protagonist deliberately bought a terrible camera for some bizarre reason.The performance at maximum settings is also flawless.

The sound work here is also quite strong, but the score lacks variety in mood, chiming in mostly during chase sections with the bombast of a slasher film. There are a few exceptions of quite tense and creepy ambient tracks during exploration, but these have less presence in the game.

The other aspect of the game I liked is that it manages to successfully build a creepy and disturbing atmosphere that is not totally reliant on jump scares or being too relentless with symbolism. And while there are some shocking moments, they aren’t presented in a way that straddles the line between proper horror and over the top death metal album cover art edginess that players of Outlast 2 might see. The denizens of mount massive are well voiced and have designs that are disturbing stapled faces that make them appear like crosses between Frankenstein and Leatherface. The whole feel of the game is as a whole, quite unsettling.

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Now for the stuff I did not like too much. The actual mechanics of the game are rather slim. Whilst there are times where there is genuine panic, rudimentary stealth or some very light platforming, the whole thing is basic. That said, it is a step above a walking simulator, but not quite as in depth as proper  recent survival horror titles, such as Alien: Isolation or Resident Evil 7which as far as I’m concerned are currently the gold standard of first person horror games. How Outlast works is that you are totally defenseless and armed only with a consumer grade handheld camera, which is used pretty much only for seeing in the dark.  So when you encounter an enemy, you are only able to piss your pants and either make a beeline to point B or hide in a locker or under a bed. This lack of combat, combined with the inability to do anything other than run and hide (no weapons, no ability to make distractions, etc.) and rather tight spaces with linear design mean that every enemy encounter will play out in almost exactly the same way. The rudimentary stealth also works best on the rare occasion when there is a bit more space in a given area. At least you have a decent movement speed and can sprint almost indefinitely if you want. You also have to manage your battery resources for the camera, but on normal difficulty, batteries are plentiful enough and battery life is enough. It is not really a resource management mechanic of any significance and feels superfluous as a whole. But because the game sticks so strictly to defenceless horror game protagonist ethos, there is no way for the game to progress. Because the mechanics are so simplistic and have very little variety, there’s not much else to say.

With the story, to be honest I didn’t pay too much attention to it. But from what I gathered it was something about uncovering supernatural scientific experiments gone wrong. It’s all pretty basic stuff and the plot takes a backseat to the core experience since most of the plot comes from notes and documents that you can read throughout.

2013’s Outlast then is a decent horror game whose strengths lie primarily in its incredible presentation and unsettling atmosphere, with some admittedly quite tense moments throughout like navigating the pitch black courtyard at night and having to shimmy tiny platforms along the walls in the dark. However, the basic mechanics are lacking the quality and depth of survival horror. Even in spite of my gripes with the game, it is still something worth experiencing, especially if you can get it for cheap. The lack of depth really prevents it from greatness as it sits a step above walking simulator but not quite survival horror.

6.7/10

Alien: Covenant (2017) Review

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There is a line in this new entry to the Alien franchise and sequel to 2012’s Prometheus relating to the new kind of alien, the Neomorph and other nasty creations, that is something to the effect of them being a kind of hybrid. This statement seems to also be a descrition  of this film as a whole. It feels like a mixture of Alien, Aliens and Prometheus (although closer to the latter two) that mostly works.

The story begins with a short prologue and then we are introduced to the crew of the Covenant, who are responsible for this colony ship going to a planet named Origae-6. However, after a brief delay having to repair the ship, they receive a rogue transmission, pinpoint it and then go to its point of origin as a detour as it appears like it will be a habitable planet. Of course, in true series fashion, everything goes to shit when crew members become infected with the parasite that gives birth to these aliens.

In regards to the characters of the film, David and Walther (Michael Fassbender) are perhaps the most developed and well performed, whereas the rest of the crew which includes the surprising appearance of Danny McBride as a guy known as Tennesee, are rather underdeveloped.  We do know that most of the character pairs are married, but this seems like a rather lazy way at establishing character relationships. Our crew captain is established as a religious type, but the film makes little use of this. Daniels (Katherine Waterson) is our Ripley type of character and the voice of reason in the film, but isn’t quite as charismatic as Sigourney Weaver’s role as Ripley. During one of the sequences in the first act, one of the characters locks another in a medbay room with a convulsing patient and the motivation behind doing so is unclear and is only explicable in the sense of people being very irrational in such terrifying situations, but she could have easily let her out of the room before the alien came out. This is just one example. If there was a little more time devoted to developing the characters and their relationships, the film would have elevated itself to a higher dramatic and tragic register in particular sequences.

That said, there are quite a few sequences, especially those towards the end of the first act that are full of suspense and terror, as well as body horror, such the aforementioned medbay sequence, which is masterfully presented and has it’s own simple, but original moments. Other sections, particularly towards the end of the second act get quite bombastic for what is grounded in horror, but is nevertheless exciting. A sequence in the final act feels like a mesh of the climax of both Alien and Aliens. Additionally, the aliens are often more in full view rather than skulking in the shadows, which is why the film feels stylistically closer to Aliens as opposed to Alien. The pacing of the film is generally quite good, with the expeditionary creeping dread of the first act and the slower, slightly more ponderous second act. The third act, however, felt a wee bit hurried and some parts of it would have benefited from being slightly longer. There is also some closure for the cliffhanger of Prometheus too.

The film looks great too,continuing the general Giger design as well as an area of the film that looks like a science fiction version of an ancient city that looks like a cross between Rome and Persepolis as its aesthetic base. However, the film was shot digitally and doesn’t have the same gritty look as the original and the colour palette is largely the same as Prometheus. The lighting is effective and nice looking, but the look of the interior of the Covenant seems a bit anachronistic since the technology appears to be more advanced than the original Alien film despite taking place before it. I don’t know why this is the case, but I hope it isn’t a retcon that segues into a remake of the original.

The CGI is also often far too obvious and the quality of it is mixed, but never dips to awful territory.  It must be difficult trying to maintain the terror of a monster that has been in the popular consciousness since the original film almost 40 years ago, but Ridley Scott is lucky that much of the legwork is done by it’s inherently unsettling and grotesque design combined with being an intelligent creature that must be outwitted, rather than requiring mere brute force.

In spite of my problems with the film, I still found it very entertaining and there wasn’t a point where I felt bored or uninterested. While it may stumble in regards to character development and a few other things, it does manage to balance the styles of various films in the franchise in a way that is while not masterful, is surprisingly deft. In that sense it is derivative, but there is also enough originality that it doesn’t feel like just a remix or going through the motions. It is not as great as the original and probably the second best thing to come out of the franchise recently (the best being Alien: Isolation. Go play it if you haven’t already). It is a strong sequel to Prometheus and hopefully is a sign of good things to come for the final instalment of this Alien prequel trilogy.

7.5/10

Kids (1996) Review

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Written by Harmony Korine, which you may or may not know from the criminally underrated Spring Breakers, and directed by Larry Clark, Kids is a confronting film about urban youth culture in the United States at the height of an AIDS epidemic. Many are likely to view this film as immoral (indeed, that’s what the general critical reception seems to have been at the time of release) due to it rather explicit depiction of of sexuality and drug use amongst teenagers and children.

But let’s get away from moral concerns, at least for the moment.

Kids does not seem to have any sort of traditional narrative structure, however the plot is loosely about Telly’s (Leo Fitzpatrick) desire to deflower virgins and him and friend Casper go about their day skating, hanging out with other low life waster types, doing drugs and going to parties. Meanwhile, a morose and bleary eyed Jennie (Chloe Sevigny) tries to come to terms with finding out that she is HIV positive.

The film is unarguably fixated on sex, considering the way almost all male and female characters talk about that and almost nothing else, except weed. Huxley once said that an intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex, so intellectuals these kids definitely are not. Certain sections of the film capitalise on it’s exploration of this topic in clever ways. One sequence has Telly and friends discussing sex and revealing their attitudes towards it and intercutting between Jennie and friends also discussing sex. Each group’s attitudes are often directly contradictory and this is one sequence that is quite well executed and manages to feel like something insightful.

The performances in the film are hit and miss, with it being very obvious that this is the first feature film of most of these actors. The narration done by Leo Fitzpatrick, which is used sparingly and to essentially bookend the film, is poorly delivered. Ewan McGregor he is not.

I also found that, while the characters are portrayed in a way that comes across as believable, I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likeable. In fact, most of the male characters, especially Telly and Casper in there actions, motivations and mannerisms come off, at least to me as predatory to women and that cunty grin of Telly’s is something I wanted to smack right off. Even Francis Begbie, Sick Boy and Mark Renton in Trainspotting manage to have some redeeming qualities. The closest thing to a likeable character is Jennie, although I felt, despite sympathising with her, that she lacked depth. This seems to be because of a relative lack of screen time between her and the antics of Telly and co. as well as the lack of any sort of narrative structure. The pacing at times can also seem quite slow even with a 90 or so minute run time.

What I think gives the film much of it’s impact is it’s staunch committment to realism. The camera work is often handheld and the general feel is almost like that of a fly-on-the-wall documentary, which makes it feel more raw, more real, which works with the non traditional narrative structure. It is not always shot like a documentary however and traditional cinematic camera work is still utilised, but it is seamless. The narrative, style and pacing of the film is also constructed in such a way that can be seen as promoting safe sex also does not intend to cast moral judgements on the characters, which is a smart move. Moral judgements on the characters here are fully intended to come from the audience and I thought most of the characters were scummy wigger degenerates.

Still, despite these issues I have just described, I would still recommend Kids. It is an interesting low budget independent film that is for the most part pretty well crafted and intelligent.  If you’re a parent, it’ll definitely be a film that keeps you up at night

7/10

T2: Trainspotting (2017) Review

 

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“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life . . . But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?” – Mark Renton in Trainspotting (1996)

Twenty years after choosing life, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns home to Edinburgh from self imposed exile. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is in prison. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still a fucked up skaghead,seperated from his wife. Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) is, well, Sick Boy. Still scamming, hustling and being a genuine manipulative sociopath. And Diane (Kelly MacDonald), in a brief cameo, seems to be doing quite well for herself.

With the return of director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge returning with the original cast, they have created a brilliant sequel. As an adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Porno (as well as including some other elements from the original Trainspotting novel that were not in the first film), it is quite good in that it’s not 1:1, but keeps the core character relationships and plot beats intact, as well as borrowing many scenes and reworking them so that they fit the film and feel fresh (such as the scene in the bathroom stall or the Begbie=Evil=Fear sequence), even for those of us who have read the novels. The focus on the character relationships of the core characters and them dealing with their pasts of drug addiction, betrayal, petty crime and violence.

They reminiscence about their youth and their regrets (like when Renton is explaining ‘choose life’ to Veronica, a character loosely based on Nikke Fuller-Smith from Porno) and do their best to make it in a world that has changed so much when they have not. We also see Begbie, who remains a looming and terrifying presence, who returns to a son that is unlike him in every way and through it, although very briefly, we see a softer side of Begbie. The trials and tribulations of Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie are compelling stuff that succeeds in making you feel a wide range of emotions. You might even feel like your heart has been warmed at a few point, which is something I never thought I’d say about this series considering the amount of obscenity, crime and depravity the core characters engage in during the films and novels. You might even be driven close to tears, or at least I was, considering the attachments I had towards the characters and the climax of the film will have you, to use a cliche’: on the edge of your seat.

Stylistically, this film is similar to the original yet also wildly different. It is about 30 minutes longer than the original, it has a generally slower pace that matches the themes of the film, Danny Boyle’s style has a strong presence and the lighting is often superb,reminiscent of some of his more recent films, such as Trance. In regards to the comedic elements, there are still quite a few hilarious and well crafted moments, but there’s no gut busting funny gross out sequences, such as the Traditional Sunday Breakfast scene. They add the right amounts of levity, adding to the emotional texture of the film. Flashbacks to the original film are also used to great effect and the music is a mixture of tracks from the original soundtrack and plenty of new ones, which are perfectly utilised to enhance the emotional register of the sequences they’re used. And as a whole add to the overall theme of changing times.

T2: Trainspotting, while not as funny as the original is both a great sequel to a classic and adaptation, whose characters are compelling and the film as a whole is tragic and reflective, and at times hilarious. It leans heavily on the original film, so if you haven’t seen that or it’s been a while, watch it first. Fans of the novels will also get a bit more out of it, not only emotionally, but certain sequences, such as the 1690 sequence, will be enhanced. It is also a genuinely moving film and maintains Danny Boyle’s position as one of Britain’s best modern feature film directors.

9.5/10

Yakuza 0 (2017)PS4 Review

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Getting a copy of this game was a hassle. I intended to buy it the week it came out, but by the time I went to my local stores, it was sold out. I had to wait at least two weeks before I could find a copy, but when I eventually saw it in the shop, my eyes beamed and I bought it instantly,finally able to play the incredible game within.

Yakuza 0, a prequel to the long running Yakuza series, which is highly popular in Japan and East Asia more generally, but rather niche in the West, has finally graced our consoles with a localised version this year. Being a prequel and requiring little familiarity with the prior games in the series, this is the perfect entry point for those that yet to experience it.

The story in this game focuses around the two playable characters, Kazuma Kiryu, who starts off as just a low level yakuza doing debt collecting jobs and Goro Majima, an exile of the yakuza who wants to get back in, but is forced as being a money maker for his boss in the late 1980s. After Kiryu is framed for a murder in the Empty Lot in Kamurocho (a fictionalised version of the Kabuchiko district in Tokyo) and Majima is tasked with assassinating someone by the name of Makoto Makimura, they find themselves embroiled in different groups fighting and infighting over this tiny patch of land and punch,kick and stomp their way through and making their mark in the Tojo Clan.

The main storyline of Yakuza 0 is a gritty and compelling crime drama that is well written and the performances, whilst I cannot understand Japanese, are full of emotion so in my view they are as a whole, quite good.

There is another side to the writing Yakuza 0 and those are the wacky and often genuinely funny side quests. There is one where you have to assist a dominatrix in learning how to berate her clients better or another where you accidentally agree to buy a young kid a porno magazine, which turns it into a mini stealth mission. Or another where you pretend to be a producer or someone’s girlfriend, there is plenty of variety in the narratives of the side quests,which provide a nice counterbalance to the furrowed brows and tense stand offs in the main story.

As far as the actual mechanics of the game goes, there are two pillars: combat and mini games.

The combat here is of a more traditional brawler style, different to the current trend of making variations of Arkham Asylum combat. This means that you’ll usually have to counter manually, block using L1, strike with square and triangle, grab, pick up weapons or guard break with circle and dodge with x. There are also brutal special moves called HEAT moves that range from curb stomping someone’s face, ripping their teeth out with pliers,suplexing people on rails and pouring boiling water on the faces of goons, delinquents, yakuza and anyone else who gets wide with you. Generally trash mobs are quite easy, although later in the game they tend to have bigger health bars, draw weapons more often and get a few more moves under their belt but the biggest challenges tend to come from some exciting boss fights. It’s not at all a difficult system to get used to but it does have two issues worth noting. At times, it can feel a bit like I’m just button mashing as opposed to games with more finesse, like Devil May Cry 3 or Metal Gear Rising, but in spite of this it’s still lots of fun. The other is that the way lock on works is pure shit. You have to hold R1 to lock on, but most of the time, except for certain moves that require it, it’s pretty useless and not helpful when fighting large packs of guys seeing as there’s no reticle placed on your target, so who you’re actually targeting can be very vague and moving around in time can become a hassle.

There are also three fighting styles per character (4 if you do what’s required to unlock the last one). They are Brawler/Thug, Rush/Breaker and Beast/Slugger, being medium, fast and heavy respectively and you can switch between them in the middle of battle. As Kiryu, I mostly used the brawler and rush styles in combat, whereas with Majima, I tended to use his styles more evenly,as Kiryu’s beast style is best only in tight areas with lots of weapon pick ups, which are not always around. Majima’s breaker style is also very effective crowd control as he spins and kicks while woohooing as if he’s Mario. Each style also has it’s own upgrade tree that while they look like sphere grids, they function as regular old ability trees. You upgrade by ‘investing in yourself’ through Yen, which is the single currency used for everything in the game, from buying food and items, upgrading yourself, buying real estate, gambling and so on.

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There are a shitload of side activities in Yakuza 0. You can play Sega arcade classics, such as Space Harrier and Outrun, use the claw machine, go bowling, play pool, darts, mahjong and more. You can play shogi, which is like a Japanese version of chess that I am absolutely terrible at due to how it deviates from chess throwing me off entirely. There are rhythm games, such as karaoke that are lots of fun although I wish it had more songs.The dancing minigame is quite interesting as it takes a unique spin on rhythm games. There is a grid on the on the screen and each button press will appear at a square on the grid and you must traverse the grids to be able to press it in time, whilst traversing as many squares to get there in order to maximise your score. It’s counter intuitive at first, but once you get the hang of it, can be quite fun. You can also use the telephone club to hook up with girls and watch erotic soft-core videos for a bit of titillation and to recharge your heat bar. There are lots of others that I did not mention and you can easily spend a shit load of time on these, especially if you’re a completionist type. On that note, the game took me just under 61 hours to finish at ~45% total completion.

The other two major mini-games, which have their own quest-lines attached to them are the real estate management and cabaret club; both of which are necessary if you want to be able to upgrade all your fighting styles fully.

How the real estate management works is you use your money to buy property in an area to gain a greater share and run out the billionaire that monopolises it. Then, you get managers (which you obtain through the completion of substories usually) and security guards that you assign to an area when starting collection to maximize profit in addition to using advisors to upgrade the rank of each property. Then you wait, collect the profit.Sometimes you will have to do a money battle, which amounts to mindlessly mashing X, take on the area boss in a bet over 10% area share in a mini game and after you have 90% share, you take them on in combat. Rinse and repeat 5 times. It can feel quite tedious, to say the least, considering how you can only invest in upgrading a property once per collection round.

Majima’s mini game questline follows a similar premise of taking over turf to beat rivals, but it is far more engaging than real estate. The cabaret club has you manage hostesses by preparing the business for opening by choosing which girls you are going to have on per session, which area’s fans you are targeting and customizing the clothes, hair, facial features and accessories of your platinum rank hostesses, as well as training them through karaoke or disco dates and customer service training, which is a dialogue that helps you level them up. These dialogues are actually quite engaging as the lip syncing, voices and back stories of the girls all feel believable. Then when you open up, you must keep customers happy by assigning girls to guests trying to make as much profit as possible, and assisting the girls by reading their hand signs to know if they’re ordering a drink or want the menu or whatever. It’s a rather simple mini game but surprisingly addictive and the grind feels much less tedious than the real estate mini game.

Aesthetically, the late 80s rendition of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, with their neon lit streets and plenty of detail,rendered at full 1080p 60fps and despite some low quality texture and low poly models here and there, the game generally looks quite nice. Cutscenes look even better running in real time but 30FPS. The soundtrack is also varied and generally quite enjoyable too. However, there are many elements of the game that demonstrate it’s limitations as being developed with the PS3 in mind, like the difference in lighting models between certain cutscenes and dialogues (you will know when you see it) and how there is loading times between interiors and the overworld. Thankfully, these load times are quite short.

Yakuza 0 is a game that juggles so many elements, especially tonally, and manages to do it very, very well. You will laugh, cheer, feel hype, tense , sad and sometimes a little fuzzy and much more and just have a generally good time punching guys in the face.  If you’re the type of person who refuses to watch a foreign film out of stubborn refusal to read subtitles, then this is not the game for you, but for everyone else, definitely give it a look, for it is sure to please long time fans and newcomers alike.

8.5/10