‘Judgment’ makes for a lawyer-vigilante thriller

By Aidan Finn, Staff Writer

In 2003, publisher Encore and unknown developer 5000ft (not the most out-there of names) were in late production of a third-person, open-world beat ’em up game based on the Marvel superhero comic icon Daredevil.

“Daredevil: The Man Without Fear” would have followed the growing trend of early 2000s licensed games for PlayStation 2 and Xbox, with open-world crime solving and creative combat utilizing the character’s heightened senses.

The era was dominated by similar tentpoles, some succeeding, like 2006’s “The Godfather” and 2005’s “The Warriors,” while others did not fare so well, like the 2002’s “Minority Report: Everybody Runs” and the atrocious 2002 stinker “Superman: The Man of Steel.” Either way, the title was ultimately canceled due to issues with a reshuffled staff, disputes over using the RenderWare engine and executive feuds with Sony and Marvel. Outside of leaked gameplay, the man without fear has yet to have a true AAA game of his own since.

Why do I say all this? Partly that lost media is all the rage these days, and mostly cause “Judgment,” the 2019 open-world detective game by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios, is by far the closest we have gotten to a Daredevil game, on top of it being a gripping neo-noir adventure that earns its existence beyond its spin-off roots.

“Judgment” is a spin-off of the acclaimed Yakuza series from publisher SEGA, which follows a vigilante detective lead this time rather than the Yakuza street gangster archetype of prior. While incredibly similar to the original series, with it being set in the same city, even the same Yakuza factions, storefronts and combat engine, the cast and plot of “Judgment” steer clear from prior games with a new lead, attorney Takayuki Yagami, taking center stage.

The plot follows disgraced defense attorney Takayuki years after he successfully defended a murder suspect he truly believed to be innocent, only for the suspect to be released and murder his girlfriend soon after. Deeply traumatized and publicly blamed for the tragedy, Takayuki retires his law career to run a detective business where he wastes his days drunk and depressed (in stylish neo-noir fashion). Alas, just when he thought he was out, he is dragged right back in when he begrudgingly takes a case to investigate a Yakuza murder, only to unravel a city-wide conspiracy theory that puts him and his friends in danger amid mass government corruption.

Across the 20-hour playtime, players will do everything from investigating crime scenes, tailing suspects and battling in courtrooms, while having literal street battles, shootouts and high-octane skateboard chases sprinkled with the wacky shenanigans of the familiar Yakuza formula. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios have a knack for balancing violent and dark crime dramas unlike anything seen before, with every game somehow getting more bizarre, yet still being able to get serious at a minute’s notice.

In “Judgment’s” case, the main character of a morally compromised lawyer, being a mix of Daredevil’s crime-fighting antics and “Better Call Saul’s” charismatic legal malpractice, Takayuki is a likable protagonist who carves his own identity away from the understanding criminal of Kiru in Yakuza.

The gameplay is the same formula of street encounters and combos, throwing things through windows and cracking skulls open with street cones and dining chairs. Takayuki has his own elements allowing for more interactive storytelling on top of the usual dialogue stretches.

Using the same city map as Yakuza may be a turnoff for some wanting new environments, but the city is greatly fleshed out with friendship encounters (a feature similarly found in “Yakuza: Like a Dragon”), allowing you to befriend local store owners and street weirdos, with side quests and mini-games spinning off of such. The quests themselves have the craziness one would expect, with nearly all ending with a heartful moral straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon.

The only issues that plague “Judgment” are some small design decisions reflecting more modern directions, with the game stopping you at times to do side quests (even forcing you at multiple occasions). This harms the pacing for those wanting to stick with the serious tone of the main story, not having to spend 20 minutes acting like a superhero to impress a rich kid or review your landlord’s terrible homemade food to avoid paying rent.

Overall, “Judgment” provides a hefty package, full of comfort-food crime drama and wacky antics for Yakuza fans and more, especially those with a niche taste for a lawyer-vigilante thriller.

Judgment is available on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Google Stadia and Windows.

 

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