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video game review video game review video game review video game review Video Game Review: Shenmue Publisher: Sega
Category: Adventure
Platform: Dreamcast
ESRB Rating: Teen    Release Date: November 2000

Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 4

Review by Tom Allen
3½ Stars out of 4

Shenmue is the Titanic of the video game industry in terms of production costs. This landmark title took five years to complete, and no other game captures reality quite like Shenmue.

With more than 50 buildings and 300 speaking characters populating the Japanese town of Yokosuka, Shenmue will have you wandering around town for hours on end. You will be searching for clues and eye witness accounts relating to the murder of your father by a sort of Chinese mafia.

If you don't use a walkthrough (try, you will find the game to be extremely frustrating. The town is so huge that finding a chinese restaurant or a barber shop feels like a major quest. Your conversations with citizens are an integral part of the game. Many people refer you to someone else, and then you have to track that person down at his house or place of business.

The town is alive with the sights and sounds of a bustling hamlet. Everyone is doing their own thing, operating on individual schedules. No one seems to be home during the day, and at night, you're too afraid to wake people up, so you really have to catch people on the streets or at work if you want to get the job done.

If you don't return home before seven o'clock, your mother might be upset. If you stay out too late, the game will automatically send you home to sleep. Sometimes the night life is required, as the sailors don't come to the local bar until after nine o'clock.

Since you are running around town for most of the game, it's a shame that the controls are so poor. Turning is difficult, whether walking or running, and pretty soon, your fingers hurt from trying to keep Ryo in line. Luckily, the overall controls are simple enough in design so as not to make the problem worse. In other words, you don't have to be too precise with your movements, except when fighting.

Fighting fans will be glad to know that the fighting controls operate without any problems. Fans of other genres will be pleased as well, as the game incorporates elements from almost every established game genre. The quick-time action sequences and fights are very similar to those seen in Sword of the Berserk (Eidos).

The visual aspect of Shenmue is perhaps its greatest asset. The character animation and texture mapping is so exquisite that each character really feels like a human being. The lip-synching alone is a stunning achievement.

The town is actually a recreation of the same real-life town as it appeared in 1986. The developers checked weather data, photographs, and interviewed citizens in order to capture the town just right. Such dedication for a fictional story is almost insane, but it certainly does not go unappreciated.

I just wish that Shenmue had stronger direction in terms of game play. While running around town, Ryo should talk to himself and let the player know when a certain location is getting close. If the camera tried to steer you in the right direction, in a subtle way, that would be equally helpful.

If you want to enjoy Shenmue, get a walkthrough. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother. With a step by step guide, the experience unravels slowly, but you should find yourself fairly intrigued. After a while, you feel completely immersed in an organic, virtual world.

Shenmue is a good game that will continue with several releases on the Dreamcast, like an on- going soap opera, but with no crouching tiger or hidden dragon.

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