Shenmue – Review

When Shenmue came out on December 29, 1999, you bet I was ready to play it. Who didn’t see the trailer as a kid and say “I want to experience a F.R.E.E. game?!”. If you don’t know the history of all this. The Director of the game, Yu Suzuki, created a brand new genre that he called “Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment”. It basically meant that you were supposed to be playing a game so realistic that you’d basically think it’s a movie, and it has quicktime events.

When you get down to what Shenmue is, it’s the seed in which not only a Shenmue sequel grow from, but a series of Yakuza games did as well. I haven’t played through Shenmue in a number of years, but I remembered so much of it. The launch of Shenmue meant a lot to me when it came out, from both a personal level and that of a gamer. It fostered a love for Japan and it’s culture as well as the types of games being developed there. They were attempting to push the medium of video games into scripted stories with “fully interactive” worlds to explore. It was on a completely different level from anything else being released, or that’s how it felt at the time.

Replaying this game on my PlayStation 5 and on a 4k OLED TV really brings everything into a sharp focus. You realize that there were severe limitations to the Dreamcast hardware at the time. Even though this is considered to be the most expensive game ever made at the time of release, it’s almost comical at the level of detail on display compared to any modern title released today. That doesn’t hinder my enjoyment of it, it’s just examining what it is in the social context of today.

The game really feels like the first arc in a modern game or story. Time moves in the game as it does in the real world, just at a slightly faster pace. I was able to complete the story in about two weeks of game time. If you stretch out the game and take too long to complete it you’ll be given a bad ending on April 15th. I finished the game with about four months to spare, so you have plenty of time to get every little collectible if you happen to have all the time in the world.

The story is just bare bones to be completely honest. You set out on a journey to find your fathers murderer, Lan Di. This is done by talking to people in town, investigating and trying to get more and more clues to where Lan Di is. Ryo will hit a roadblock here and there, eventually landing a job moving crates at the docks and finding passage on a ship. This is where the game ultimately ends and the next game picks up, simple as that really. Apparently, in Japan, they even took all the cutscenes in this game and made them into a movie that they played at certain theaters after the game came out. What a simpler time.

I’m not really knocking the game any for it’s brevity, I have so much love and fondness for this game that nothing can really spoil it for me. The simple fact that Ryo goes around asking people where sailors hang out is worth the price of admission. What surprised me in this playthrough was just the shear amount of downtime you have.

The story in this game cannot be rushed. You will be told to come back at 7PM to meet a character and have nothing to do for the whole afternoon. This is why you’re allowed to explore, shop, buy capsule toys, and visit the arcade. You’re meant to be enamored by the depth of the world to keep you occupied. I, however, have played this game before and have played the arcade games many times in the past. I only wanted to get enough capsule toys for the associated trophies. So I just ended up leaving the game sitting idle as I did other stuff non gaming related. When the time came I’d pick up the controller, make a save, and trigger the next cutscene.

Let’s now talk about work. Ryo will eventually head down to the docks and start working a forklift to make some extra cash and learn about the Mad Angels. You have to spend a few days going to work, starting with a race around the docks where you can earn little capsule toys for winning. You then get instructions on where to pick up boxes and where you need to drop them off. So you just drive around on your forklift until you get a lunch break where you can buy some more toys, work again and clock out at 5pm. Going back to this game and playing it now, this part of the game really felt like a bit of a slog. Compare that to playing this back when it launched on the Dreamcast, this part of the game was an opportunity for my brother and I to slow down the story and earn some money while buying all the toys, music tapes, and items in the store. The reality of it all, you come to find out, is that you don’t need any of that crap (besides 50 unique toys for the trophies).

When looking back at this game, the interesting aspect is the fighting mechanics. Shenmue was originally meant to be an offshoot of Virtua Fighter, but it doesn’t feel like it translated that well. I absolutely hated the combat in the game this time around. The controls in combat just felt so slow and unresponsive. You have no way to effectively counter or control your opponent. Instead you just try to do some sort of move and hope it lands. Sometimes you’ll win your fight the first round, sometimes you die and have to replay it, it all feels like luck whether you win or lose. You get to the point where you just want to try and cheese all the enemies by spamming some moves you think will land. I tried training in some of my downtime, but it just ends up feeling pointless after a while. You go into a parking lot and just do the same moves over and over, hitting the air. What’s the point? If you’re coming from some of the Yakuza or Judgment games and are expecting a fun arcady style beat ’em up, this is not that.

Final Score – 7.0 (biased opinion)

I have a soft spot for this game so it’s hard for me to recommend it to others that are coming in new. I’m not sure if I could honestly make that call. Part of what makes this game so special is knowing all the history behind it and knowing the state of video games when it was released. You see the seed of the Yakuza franchise here. You understand that people who worked on this game went on to create the Yakuza games. I would have loved if this title was remastered by the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio like they did the first two Yakuza games. Until that time, this version allows a wider group of people to experience this classic and historical game, whether you have the same connection to it as I do is a different matter. I do find it hard to dismiss the historical context of this game and what it was attempting to accomplish at the time. My score would have been higher if I reviewed it when it originally came out, and I still feel like this score is a tad high for what it is, but it would hurt me too much to bump it down even further.

Gears 5 – Review

Having finished this game over a month ago and only now getting to writing about it can only mean one thing. Satisfactory. If you don’t understand that then you’re missing out on the most addictive game since shuffleboard.

Gears 5 is another one of the games that I’m playing for free with my Game Pass for PC, I’ll try and play all the exclusives before it expires in a few months. I’ll cut right to the chase though, I’ve played all the Gears of War games and this is definitely the best it’s ever been.

Some great environments in this game.

The increase in storytelling and the way it’s been integrated into the gameplay is really good. They definitely took a page out of the Uncharted playbook on this one and it pays off. Your party will constantly be chatting and adding context to the environments that you’re in. This also has the benefit of making you pay attention to the story, which is something that tends to get lost a bit in these types of games. Add that to the increase and variety in environments, it all adds up to make the world of Gears that much bigger and more interesting. The previous games started to feel a bit stale and the world was just drab and boring looking. Gears 5 has you going through different settlements and even wide open spaces in the snow and sand, to underground labs that are reminiscent of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Cool looking lab

While the last Gears game made me just want to run through the environments to get to the next fight as quickly as possible, which became a serious drag, this one enforces exploration. It does this by scattering little upgrade collectibles around the levels that can be used to upgrade your robot companion, Jack. If you find a certain number of them, you can upgrade an ability of his, which scratches that collectibles itch. The upgrades are nice to have, but I really didn’t use them that much so your mileage may vary.

I enjoyed the combat in this game. The biggest improvement to the formula was to not have so many encounters one after the other like the previous games. In Gears 5 you’ll have long stretches where you don’t fight anyone and it’s actually nice. Once you get to the later acts you get this dumb wind sled thing which will allow you to explore the massive open areas and look for objectives. I say that it’s dumb because this is the worst designed vehicles I’ve used in a really long time. The damn thing is just so fucking slow. I don’t get what’s going on, I literally think something is wrong with my game. What’s funny is that the animation and music all pick up when it catches the wind, you think this is it and you’re going to start hauling ass across the map, but you don’t. I don’t understand if they did this for a technical reason or if they actually thought this was a good speed. It needs to be at least 300% faster. It’s a Gears game, things are supposed to be more extreme. You do end up getting into some wind storms and you start picking up a head of steam, but that’s the only time the damn machine feels good to maneuver.

What a piece of shit…

The open areas weren’t too bad. I enjoyed having little side areas to explore. They mostly provided a new upgrade for Jack, perhaps a bit of story, and some combat encounters. Again, the only issue was getting to the points using the slow ass sled.

The game looked really good running on my PC. I had all the graphics set as high as they could go, running on my 3440x1440p screen. I have a RTX 2070 Super and AMD Ryzen 9 3900X just for reference.

Benchmarking

One issue that I did have with the way graphics were handled in this game is the indoor/outdoor settings. The large open enviornments use a different lighting model than the indoor environments. This is, I’m sure, due to the level of complexity and the high cost of rendering the lighting to the same level in the larger environemnts. It just really sucks to be “inside” were everything is nicely lit and shadows are really refined, to then get to the little transition point where you drop into the open world. The scene cuts briefely as the settings are changed and it just looks like a different game. This game is on PC, just give me the option to change the lighting model to better match the indoor lighting, even if it takes a massive hit to performance, I just want to see what it looks like and if my machine can handle it.

***Spoilers***

Back to the story for a second, I wasn’t expecting such a decision at the end of the game. It makes me really wonder how they’re going to do the next game and what choices they’re going to make. It really fit into the choice based system they’ve had implemented into the series all the way back in the first game. It was a nice nod to all the types of choices you’ve had to make as a player by picking which route you’re going to take. Bold moves indeed.

I feel like The Coalition has finally become a top-tier developer for XBox with this release. I do think that they are the one promising studio in Microsofts first party lineup, I don’t count 343 sadly because they’re treatment of the Halo franchise has been filled with potholes up to this point, I guess we’ll see if they can finally pull their heads out with the new Halo game at the end of the year.

Just a quick little review and wrap up on this game. I’ve been distracted in this Coronavirus apacolypse world, mostly from playing way too much Satisfactory, to really sit down and get my thoughts out on this game. I found it highly enjoyable and worthwhile experience. It’s a little insane that it was released on GamePass right away, but that’s not my decision so I’ll take it. I enjoyed the story, combat, and even the world of Gears, which feels a little odd to say. Pick it up, play it for free, or do you, but know that this is the best Gears game and I can’t wait to play the sequel.

Final Score – 9.3