In 2003, publisher Encore and obscure developer 5000ft (not the weirdest of names) collaborated on late-stage production of a third-person open-world beat-’em-up game based on the Marvel Superhero Comics series. Iconic Daredevil based.
Daredevil: The Man Without Fear would have followed the growing trend of licensed games of the early 2000s 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 of which did well, like 2006’s “The Godfather” and 2005’s “The Warriors,” while others didn’t fare as well, like 2002’s “Minority Report: Everybody Runs” and the Cruel Stinker of 2002’s “Superman: The Man of Steel.” Anyhow, the title was ultimately canceled due to issues with a reshuffled staff, disputes over use of the RenderWare engine, and feuds between executives with Sony and Marvel. Outside of the leaked gameplay The Fearless Man hasn’t had a true AAA game since then.
Why am I saying all this? To some extent, lost media is all the rage these days, and most importantly, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios’ 2019 open-world detective game, Judgment, is by far the closest we’ve come to a Daredevil game, too an immersive neo-noir adventure that deserves its existence beyond its spin-off roots.
Judgment is a spin-off of publisher SEGA’s acclaimed Yakuza series, this time following a vigilante detective rather than the archetype of the Yakuza street thug. Despite being incredibly similar to the original series, being set in the same city, even the same yakuza factions, storefronts, and fighting machines, Judgment’s cast and storyline differs from previous games, with a new protagonist, lawyer Takayuki Yagami. to be the focus.
The plot follows disgraced defense attorney Takayuki years after he successfully defended a murder suspect he genuinely believed was innocent, only for the suspect to be released and his girlfriend murdered soon after. Deeply traumatized and publicly blamed for the tragedy, Takayuki quits his law career to run a detective business wasting his days drunk and depressed (in stylish neo-noir fashion). Unfortunately, just when he thought he was out, he’s pulled right back in when he reluctantly takes on a case to investigate a yakuza murder, only to uncover a citywide conspiracy theory that has him and his friends amidst mass government corruption in brings danger.
Throughout the 20-hour gameplay, players will do everything from investigating crime scenes, tracking suspects, and fighting in courtrooms while engaging in literal street battles, gunfights, and high-octane skateboarding chases using the insane shenanigans of the well-known yakuza formula are speckled. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios have a knack for balancing violent and dark crime drama like you’ve never seen before, with each game somehow becoming more bizarre, yet still able to get serious within a minute.
In the case of Judgment, the main character of a morally compromised lawyer who is a hybrid of Daredevil’s crime-fighting antics and Better Call Saul’s charismatic legal misdemeanor, Takayuki is a likable protagonist who carves his own identity away from the understanding criminal Kiru in the yakuza.
The gameplay is the same formula of street encounters and combos, throwing things through windows and cracking open skulls with street pins and dining room chairs. Takayuki has his own elements that allow for more interactive storytelling in addition to the usual stretches of dialogue.
Using the same city map as Yakuza might be a turnoff for some wanting new environments, but the city is heavily loaded with Friendship Encounters (a feature similarly found in Yakuza: Like a Dragon) so you can get involved with befriend local shopkeepers and street maniacs, with side quests and mini-games derived from such. The quests themselves have the weirdness you’d expect, with almost all ending with heartfelt morals straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon.
The only issues that plague Judgment are some small design choices that reflect more modern directions, although the game sometimes prevents you from completing side quests (even forces you to do so on several occasions). This hurts the pace for those who want to stick with the serious tone of the main story and not have to spend 20 minutes acting like a superhero to impress a rich kid or check out your landlord’s horrible homemade meal to get the payment to avoid rent.
Overall, Judgment offers a hefty package of comfort crime dramas and wacky antics for yakuza fans and more, especially those with niche tastes in a lawyer-vigilante thriller.
Verdict is available on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Google Stadia and Windows.