Yakuza Kiwami retells the story of how the series began in all the beautiful pixels that the PS4 can deliver. Yes, Yakuza Kiwami is a remake, so all gameplay issues remain from its original PlayStation 2 outing. I say issues… I mean this in that gaming has moved on a long way since 2005. It’s surprising just how much has changed over the years and by retreading old ground with remakes, you can see just how much developers have changed and fine tuned, thereby changing what we come to expect from games.

Set in 1995, you play as Kazuma Kiryu who is busted at the scene of a murder. Time then spins back 24 hours to witness the events leading up to the crime. Inevitably, Kiryu is taking the fall for the murder and spends 10 years in prison. Upon his release, the city of Kamurocho has changed greatly, his childhood friend is missing and a mysterious young girl has come under his protection. The scene is set for a thrilling story that takes place underneath the wonderful backdrop of the Yakuza.

The story is without a doubt the best thing going for Kiwami – it’s full of intrigue and has many changing plot lines – although it is also interspersed with some rather dull fetch quests that serve as a way to push the story along and add additional mileage to the game time clock. Once you’ve wrestled with the clumsy movement and navigation, you will spend most of your time on the streets of Kamurocho engaging in random thug fights and the many side stories that are waiting to be uncovered – most of which have a morale at the end of their tale.

While the city is an open world, scenarios keep you penned in and herd you towards an objective, either by blocking Kiryu’s path with invisible walls or by simply having Kiryu make an odd remark about how he shouldn’t go that way. The city is wonderfully rendered with neon lights reflecting from incredibly realistic puddles and the many characters have some impressive facial models that render skin pores and facial blemishes that show off an almost eerie quality.

The core fight mechanic centres on using one of four fight styles, which may be upgraded via an XP wheel of skills. Fighting can feel wonderfully brutal at times but is victim to a whole host of issues that lets the title down – combos can flail with Kiryu throwing a flurry of punches into thin air, thugs and bosses turn the tide of battle too easily and there is a whole plethora of graphical issues with connecting punches and kicks.

The Boss fights are also an utter chore. They aren’t just tough, but laboursome. If you miss an opportunity to negate a boss’ healing by matching your fighting stance with their weakness then they can drag on even longer. The game will even patronise you by suggesting a temporary switch to easy when you fail to beat a boss after numerous attempts. One saving grace in the combat is the chance to fight Majima, who pops up to fight you, often when you least expect it, opting to ambush Kiryu at the most inconvenient of times. At times his attempts at lying in wait by blending in are utterly hilarious.

Yakuza Kiwami has a compelling story, that should undoubtedly keep you hooked for its 30+ hour play time, although you could easily spend hours more exploring the world and completing the many side tasks and basking in the casino night life, although to be honest, I had a hard time keeping up with the different families and how everyone was ‘related’.

Boss fights are easily the worst part of this game. The combat shows its age with clumsy footing, highlighting a system that has aged terribly when compared to modern releases. Random bouts of unblockable moves spring from nowhere with little warning, turning the tides of battle against Kiryu and rewarding me with a bout of anger – I can categorically state that I hate these fights – which puts a dampener on an otherwise fine gaming experience.

Yakuza Kiwami is a cool, hard, Japanese gangster story and while the Japanese language is lovely to listen to, there is a lot to read – so beware if you have an aversion to subtitles. If you missed out on seeing how Yakuza began, then this game is a fine way to witness the birth of a series. Anyone with an ounce of interest or desire to step foot into the world of Yakuza should make Kiwami their first port of call.

Thanks to Deep Silver for supporting TiX