Review: Judgment (PlayStation 4)

Reviewed by Ben Sellwood, posted Aug 2, 2019, last updated Aug 3, 2019
Having never played a Yakuza game before, this looked like an exciting title that might actually grant me a whole back catalogue of Yakuza games to play afterwards; if it turns out to be much cop!
Aug 2, 2019
  • Release Date (NA): June 21, 2019
  • Release Date (EU): June 25, 2019
  • Release Date (JP): June 21, 2019
  • Publisher: SEGA of America
  • Developer: SEGA Games
  • Genres: Action
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
A mystery thriller set in a bustling city, where you get to be a private detective and play arcades? Count me in!
Ben Sellwood

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You would be forgiven for thinking those faces were real in the banner image above as Judgment is an ultra-realistic, gritty detective crime action game set in the hustle and bustle of Yakuza-infested city Kamurocho, Tokyo. The main protagonist Takayuki Yagami, or Tak as he is known to his friends, is a guilt riddled private-eye for hire thanks to his previous defense attorney position being torn away from him after setting free a defendant, who then immediately went on to murder somebody. It's a pretty cliche turn of events to base this tale on, but Judgment is lavish with its backstories, character development, and intricate mystery thriller elements that sets you up for an incredible detective roller coaster. This who-dun-it begins with a simple choice of Japanese or English dialogue and four difficulty settings ranging from simple to hard. I started out with 'Normal' difficulty which is one away from being the hardest, but overall I didn't find it too taxing or tough going. Judgment starts you off with a series of ease-in sleuth tutorial missions to get you accustomed to the ways of the private eye. Tailing people, photographing evidence, gathering information, and casing various joints for any other clues and beating people to the ground, there is a hearty blend of story-driven L.A Noire cinematic monologues juxtaposed with a more urban gameplay akin to that of more recent titles like Sleeping Dogs. It's fun, it's explorative, and it's initially very thrilling to partake in, especially with some notably good English voice acting blended in.

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You drop in and immediately hit the streets after learning a Yakuza member has apparently murdered a rival gang member in cold blood, but something just doesn't add up; something is afoot and the more you search for answers, the more you peel away the layers of Kamurocho and discover the eclectic mix of its inhabitants. On first impressions Judgment is extremely reminiscent of the 20-year-old Dreamcast hit Shenmue, with boatloads of possibly coincidental references to "the incident" and "on that day", which actually works as a great throwback to a beloved title. That being said, with around 25 hours of narrative-driven gameplay, you would think that this title would do more to define itself. Judgment certainly tries to by blending in first-person clue scanning sections that reminded me of a dumbed-down and far less technologically-futuristic version of the detective mode in Batman Arkham Knight. You use your mobile phone to scan around for clues and gather intelligence or determine angles from which various events could have taken place and figure out who may have witnessed them. Don't forget to snap pictures of the cute little street kitties for bonus points too!

Simple subtle nuances such as facial a-symmetry, no one integral person wearing the same combination of clothes and crowds of people with incredibly defined individuality make this game effortlessly absorbing. What truly grants total believability to it all of this is that everything colludes seamlessly into making an immediately visually and aurally acceptable living, breathing, modern city, that clearly has a gritty underbelly you can't wait to uncover. Adventuring around the districts allows you to familiarize yourself with the landmarks and layouts, giving you ample opportunity to check out the stores, pawnshops, and points of interest, where you can engage and interact with almost everything. The environment is incredibly well-observed with buildings looking perfectly gnarled with rust, dirt, or chipped paintwork, upwards of 30 NPC's on-screen on the high streets, and the sheer abundance of lanterns, signage, and smoke. Add to this an occasional lens flare and camera tricks such as depth effects and you have an incredibly pleasing experience, albeit at the cost of decently rendered shadows under objects and characters. The variation of NPC fashion on display within this place is also worthy of note, with a range of textures, materials, and design choices making the city come to life. Go buy some trinkets, hone or invest in your abilities, go decorate your apartment, feed yourself, or buy new clothes, or even a pack of smokes if you want, these actions may lead to you overhearing or observing something you may later recall when working a case.

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Questioning suspects and witnesses involves a super simple multiple-choice mechanic which, to be honest, I sometimes struggled to find entirely relevant; it was more a hit or miss affair in getting three out of three clues and gaining a score bonus. This sobers you up and slows the gameplay down to almost a grinding halt, which is in stark contrast to the somewhat fast-paced and action-packed bright lights of the city you have at your feet. Throughout the city, you encounter gangs who invariably need a good beat down and it's up to you to summon your inner tiger or crane via various movesets and fighting techniques. The animation and flow of these fight sequences are excellently executed and there is a modest selection of unlockable and upgradable moves for you to chain together when you inevitably meet confrontation. More often than not however, you find yourself resorting to the same trusty old one-two combinations and situational environmental finishers that will see you well through the majority of the game. Barring the "Mortal Wounds" mechanic that ramps up boss battles into actual life-threatening scenarios, should you get shot or stabbed, there isn't too much that differentiates this game from a plethora of other titles that feature beat-em-up style hand-to-hand combat on the streets.

Obvious similarities can be drawn between the Yakuza Series and this game, given its studio roots, though rather disappointingly Judgment offers only repetitive main mission tasks in place of fully fleshed out varieties of entertaining main story tasks. However, with 50 side missions, hundreds of in-game items and a huge skill tree to populate, Judgment does its utmost best to draw you in and retain your attention—to make you want to play further and dive deeper into its dark alleys and bustling streets to see what is available to unlock next. One huge highlight of this, and the Yakuza series as a whole, is the attention to detail with things like drone racing and arcade spots: and Judgment doesn't disappoint at all in this department. Fighting Vipers, Virtua Fighter 5, Puyo Puyo Sun, and more are all perfect represented and easily available in the various Club Sega venues, and without a doubt, it is the finest selection of in-game emulators I have witnessed. Each title is incredibly well represented by way of their own physical arcade cabinet, complete with dusty CRT screens, full instructions and coin-op perfect presentation. I couldn't believe my eyes when I got to play Fighting Vipers, and then later-on found more amusement spots that had Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown (version B). The games play superbly and beating elements in each arcade offers more in-game rewards and credits for Tak to use in-game. Once you have frequented these arcade cabinets they become unlocked to play freely in the main menu, and what's better is that you can play versus!

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Judgment is a great game with a lot of endearing characteristics, but overall it's like having a thrilling movie-like experience at your fingertips and only being able to flimsily interact with it and never really dig deep into anything exciting to do. Judgment is more a highly entertaining visual game, with some quick-time events thrown in to make it feel interactive, but it never involves anything seriously taxing or anything that really immerses you when you get in the thick of it. It's not to say it's a boring game, far from it, but it lacks a certain nudge in a more thrilling interactive direction to take it to the next level of intricacy and involvement. Judgment is a superb way to spend your time if you enjoy this genre, and it's definitely worth picking up if you're stuck for something interesting to play over the summer holidays.

Verdict
Pros
+ Really captivating narrative.
+ Excellent arcade experiences.
Cons
- Lack-luster game-play.
- Repetitive random encounters.
8 Presentation
Excellent presentation, from the graphics to the story and cinematic experience. I cannot fault the execution and polish that Sega have put into this game.
6 Gameplay
Repetitive and shallow gameplay lets this title down somewhat which is truly disheartening given the immense storytelling experience. It doesn't quite balance out.
7 Lasting Appeal
Masses to see and do around Kamurocho with around 25 hours of story missions to unfurl, plenty of arcade games to crush, and 50 side missions ranging from intense to obscure, there is a lot to come back to this game to experience once you have had enough of the main missions.
7.5
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Fantastic story paired with relatively simplistic game-play makes judgment a great starting point to beginners of the genre, but the lack of depth in the action elements makes me confident now that Yakuza series (there are 11 games including spinoffs on PS4) would be a far more entertaining and involving game series to partake in on my PlayStation 4.


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