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Yakuza. Notorious Japanese gangsters, chronicled in everything from film to classic plays. Their severity, heavy. Their dedication, unquestionable. Their presence in gaming? Here and there until one Toshihiro Nagoshi and his team decided that players should be allowed to enact their desires to be their own Japnese crime don. A new series on the PS2 and four iterations later, Yakuza 4 has fans take control of Kazuma once again in the semi-fictional local of Kamuro-cho. Only this time, he's joined by a few friends. Is the latest iteration able to draw gamers into its world all over again?

The foruth in the notorious franchise throws players into another tale of intrgue in the Yakuza underworld, played out among the locales of Kamuro-cho (a recreation of Tokyo's Kabuki-cho). Fans will get to grips with the likes of protagonist with need for only one suit, Kazuma Kiryu, former homeless man turned money lender Shun Akiyama, detective out for vengance Masayoshi Tamura and yakuza hitman and former prison inmate, Taiga Saejima. 

SEGA's provides four times the brawling this time around, allowing players to experience each character's story whilst kicking ten shades of shit out of various gangs, punks and street layabouts. All round fighting is Kazuma's speciality, Akiyama focuses on quick and agile kicks, Tanimura enjoys submissions and aikido-style attacks whislt Saejima prefers to rely on brute strength to dole his beatings out on the various adversaries.

Those familiar with the series will feel at home with the system. Newcomers will receive a tutorial to ease them into each fighting style together with explanations for using weapons, takedowns, throws and the game's speciality, heat actions. Building up the glowing blue guage under a player's health allows the unleashing of a character specific strike, resulting in the enemy of choice seeing head or face smashed against the nearest inanimate object available at the time. Alternatively, characters may perform their own trademark move resulting in some interesting and ever-violent retribution against the ensuing thugs.

Building on the expansion of the play areas offered in Yakuza 3, this game's outing will allow access to areas such as Kamuro-cho's rooftops, Rojiura (backstreeets) and chika (underground). Entertainments have increased with favourites such as golf, billiards and darts returning alongside making your own bar hostess or nabbing a fine malt whisky at one of the various bars.

Character-specific missions can be undertaken such as Kazuma's brawling against rival gangs to fight their leaders, Akiyama's hostess nurturing, Tanimura's chasing down of local muggings or even Saejima's ability to train fighters to shine in the ring. Yakuza 4 makes a sound job of balancing the playtime over the four male's tales in this instalment, their natures varied, their paths due to cross as play progresses.

Music and voices carry on the trend from previous titles in the series, providing a combination of techno, trumpet and rock beats in battle with Japanese-voiced characters in various guises, pleasing those who long for authenticity. More an extension of Yakuza 3 than a true upgrade, the title is graphically sound but with only a year between the two games much has been reused, providing brawling fans with a title steeped in familiar locales, gangs and activities.

Qualms aside, fans of the franchise will have already made their decision. For eveyone else, Yakuza 4 is an interesting dip into what makes the franchise enjoyable with a new spin this time around. Splitting the gameplay between four characters provides a refreshing change, albeit with the same fighting and heat actions available in different guises.

If you want to enjoy another gangster yarn, that will be satisfied. If you want revolutionary gameplay, look elsewhere. And for anyone else, you could do much worse than spend 8-10 hours of your time bringing the beat down on Japan's underworld. An accurate example of the Japanese crime world? Maybe not. Enjoyable while it lasts? At least until the next Yakuza title comes out, we can't say no.

Not quite four times the charm but doing a good job of hanging in there

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