Shenmue 3 review: the original Dreamcast game was great - but this reprise lacks character

Some things are best left in the past. Unfortunately, Shenmue is one of those things.

Shenmue 3 was released on PS4 and Windows last month more than 20 years after the original and following a rollercoaster crowdfunding campaign.

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Like the previous Shenmue games which lit up the video game world on Sega’s Dreamcast many moons ago, you control key protagonist and martial artist Ryo Hazuki.

Ryo continues the well-trodden search for his father’s killer in 1980s China.

You explore an open world in Guilin, China, searching for clues, examining objects and talking to characters for information.

The 3D fighting system feels like a straight lift from Sega’s Virtua Fighter series - and unfortunately for Shenmue fans this is not the only element of the game that is stuck way in the past.

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Ryo can hone his skills to increase their power and the combat also involves a host of quick time events where pressing the correct button or button sequence in time is key to defeating enemies.

You earn money through a series of minigames from fishing and chopping wood to selling foraged herbs and even forklift truck driving.

What is great about Shenmue is the fuzzy warm nostalgic glow it radiates from the screen. That charm will impress any gamer of the 80s and 90s.

Unfortunately the building blocks of Shenmue 3 also feel like they are from the 90s.

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Some of us have invested a big chunk of our gaming lives in Shenmue. After all the epic story started 20 years ago, and for its time the original was simply head and shoulders above anything else the gaming world had seen.

I found Shenmue 3 entertaining when I wasn’t following the main story. That’s because there are plenty of activities to get involved in which offer that unmistakable Shenmue fun.

The world you inhabit is vibrant and feels very real, something other open-world games would do well to try and replicate.

But I am finding it hard to present many more positives to justify revisiting the franchise 20 years on.

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As the main man, Ryo simply lacks depth and while the setting and graphics are charming, he is anything but.

The dull lead character is matched by a real grind of a storyline which just treads too much old ground for my liking.

I almost felt like there should be two settings for Shenmue 3, newbie mode and veteran mode where you cut all the tiresome build-up and get straight to the chase.

Combat is maddeningly bad to the point of being off-putting.

The plodding nature of the story, poor combat and lack of innovation just leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

Unfortunately Shenmue 3 is a game that time forgot.

Rating: 6.5/10

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