Project Judge is the latest game from the team behind Yakuza – but it’s got more in common with that series than you’d think.

It’s so similar, in fact, that we feel pretty confident in suggesting that Project Judge, also known as Judge Eyes, might well be set in the same universe as and tie in to Yakuza. One of the most significant differences is a narrative one, in fact: in Project Judge, you don’t play as a criminal. Quite the opposite in fact – protagonist Takayuki Yagami is a judge, thus the game’s title – but after a personal tragedy, he turns detective.

The lineage back to Yakuza is clear in many aspects of the game: its look is straight from those games and clearly running on the same ‘Dragon Engine’ tech, and the slick, gorgeous portrayal of Japan’s cities is quite familiar. There’s combat that features similar combo systems, though there’s a fluidity and rhythm to the action that sets it apart from Yakuza.

Yagami has his own unqiue fighting style, but you can still pick up objects in the environment or do things like smash open trash bags before picking up items inside (beer bottles, truncheons, vibrators – all the stuff you’d expect) and using them to smash your foe’s heads in.

In other moments, Judge Eyes takes a step back from the most familiar aspects of Yakuza. In a few segments of the Japanese-only PSN demo (which you can download yourself with a Japanese PSN account) you take a moment to zoom in on aspects of the environment to investigate them in order to find your next lead. In these moments there’s a whiff of 3D, realistic Ace Attorney around events, and that’s actually a welcome change: it isn’t all go.

Project Judge even makes one of the most universally hated sequence ideas in gaming work decently well for it: stealth while tailing somebody. You follow a guy you need to talk to through the bustling streets at night, with glowing cover points accessed by a single button press. It feels good: as he begins to turn to check he’s not being followed, you press circle and dash behind a nearby pillar, or check your phone amidst a gaggle of chatting businessmen. It feels good.

A few weeks ago in my review of Sega classics Shenmue 1 & 2 I remarked that despite fans constantly comparing them Shenmue doesn’t really feel anything like Shenmue thanks to the latter’s plodding pace and scripted nature. In moments Judge Eyes feels like it channels that series more, like in a QTE-heavy chase sequence to corner a criminal and what seems like a greater willingness to slow down and breathe than Yakuza. In this sense, Project Judge may well become the middle ground between the two.

Watch some footage (and hear my impressions) from the Japanese-only demo above. Project Judge launches for PS4 in Japan as ‘Judge Eyes’ this December – it’ll come West in 2019.

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