Shenmue 3 full review
Can you believe we're less than a month away from the release of another Shenmue? 2015's main stage E3 announcement when Yu Suzuki, Shenmue's writer/director/producer, trotted out on stage during Sony's keynote speech to announce a crowdfunding campaign to bring a game back.
Shenmue 3's target was just $2m (£1.3m), table scraps compared to the original, which snagged a Guinness World Record for the most expensive game of all time, with a production budget of $70m, nothing now but a ridiculous budget for a game that released in 2000.
At the time, I described the announcement as weaponised nostalgia, aiming to take advantage of Shenmue fans by monetising their warm and fuzzy feelings about a Shenmue sequel, offering a sub-par game in exchange.
Starting a preview with the details of how a game came to be made might seem ridiculous - it sure makes me feel weird - but it's crucial to add here, because if the short time I got to go hands-on with Ys Net's Shenmue 3 is anything to go on, weaponised nostalgia is a generous way to describe it.
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A lot has changed in video games since 2000, and the era of the Dreamcast that Shenmue originally launched into has been confined to the past by 19 years of technological improvements and a lot of changes in the way that people consume their games now. However, no one seems to have let Ys Net know, and it feels like a game out of time.
Which is distinctly Shenmue. It's just that before it felt like a look at what video games could become - a sprawling open-world full of activities, plot threads and capsule machines.
For better or worse, Ryo Hazuki is back with his snazzy jacket and ponderous manner, eager to find the man who killed his Dad and haul him off to face justice. It's a continuation of the original Shenmue's sprawling story, and Hazuki travels with Shenhua Ling, the pair of them delivering stilted dialogue with cold, dead eyes.
It's often unintentionally comedic, and with the action moving from bustling city streets to rural China, there's an odd charm to wondering a world that isn't often seen in video games. However, despite the return of the Gacha capsule machines, and a small area where you can race turtles with a button-bashing mechanic or throw dice, the rural village of Bailu doesn't have much going on except kids learning martial arts and some blurry landscapes to admire.
Whatever you do, you can see where the corners have been cut off, the result of trying to jam so many ideas into a project that just doesn't have the resources to support everything that's going on. It makes everything feel a bit like a B-movie.
A snazzy jacket and cold dead eyes
Occasionally, combat arrives to drop you into a PS2-era brawl, where the scrappy brawling is complimented with the addition of some heinous on-page furniture that makes it look more like a budget game than the third-coming of one of the most iconic video game franchises of all time.
It's poorly explained and while the animations and feel for the combat aren't bad, the UI is agonising and much like a real fight, I struggled to get a sense of exactly what I was doing.
Shenmue 3, ultimately, is not a very good video game. We haven't reviewed it yet, although I'm told this duty will fall to me, and I'm excited to really try and get a sense of it. It is however pretty clear at this point that no amount of polish, no second act twist or otherwise, is going to stop the game from being, at best, aggressively mediocre.
The Yakuza franchise stepped into the void left by Shenmue after the series was originally cancelled and now fulfils most of what I want from this style of game: a compelling story that lets me immerse myself in a world I wouldn't get to experience any other way.
Curb your enthusiasm
I don't hate Shenmue 3, despite my constant complaints. I'm still curious to explore rural China, and as a long-time Shenmue mark, I'm excited to finally get some justice on Lan Di after he punched my in-game Dad to death back in 2000.
That being said, I'm not sure, at this stage, if I can tell you to be enthusiastic about the game with any real gusto. If the best thing you can say about your long-awaited sequel is that it is destined, at best, to become a rubbish version of its successor franchise, what is the point?