At Digital Foundry we’ve talked about ‘impossible ports’ before – games like Doom 2016 and The Witcher 3 on Switch that seem to deny technological limitations and still bring the essence of the original experiences to a new audience. Shenmue 3 is something very different, but equally as unlikely. It’s an impossible sequel, a game that shouldn’t really exist owing to a whole host of reasons, but somehow here it is. It’s a miracle that I’m now playing a modern sequel to a game that came out 18 years ago, a game that was – by all financial criteria – a major flop. Its sheer being is something to be treasured, but fundamentally, is it actually a good game and a worthy sequel? I’d say that the results are mixed. This is Shenmue viewed through a modern lens, which is absolutely fine. However, it’s also a sequel produced very much as an indie production with limitations that impact the scope of the project, and by extension, how refined the game actually is.
A lot has changed since the original Shenmue was released. Its announcement and subsequent arrival on Dreamcast were quite an event – the culmination of everything Sega-AM2 had learned throughout its storied history. It was one of the most expensive games ever produced at time of its release – a truly lavish production built on a proprietary engine designed for cutting-edge console technology.
Almost two decades later, the world in which Shenmue 3 has released is a very different place indeed. With a presumably smaller budget and fewer resources, Ys Net has selected to utilise third party technology in the form of Unreal Engine 4 to produce the game for multiple, established platforms – a night and day shift from Shenmue’s origins. From triple-A blockbuster with a ginormous budge to indie development, Shenmue has changed, Suzuki has changed – and today’s games industry is a very, very different place.