Microsoft had the Xbox version of Shenmue II playable in its booth on the show floor of E3, so we were eager to spend some time with the long-awaited continuation of the ambitious martial arts adventure series that started its life on Sega's Dreamcast. It was originally slated to hit the DC last year, but that version of the game was canceled (much to the dismay of the DC faithful) when Microsoft announced that the game would be an Xbox exclusive. Since the announcement, very little has been said about the game, and it has never been shown publicly up until now. Having already spent quite a bit of time with the Japanese DC version of the game, we were especially curious to see how the Xbox version of the game has been coming along.
The build on the show floor, which was 80 percent complete according to the signs on the kiosk, was broken up into parts that showed off the various aspects of the gameplay. While still incomplete, the game already featured full speech in English, much like the original Shenmue for the Dreamcast. The basic similarity between the DC and Xbox controllers means that anyone who's played the original game will have no problem getting into Shenmue II. For those new to the series, picking up the control scheme isn't that much of a challenge. The game offers a fairly user-friendly experience and is easy to pick up.
Graphically Shenmue II is a bit of a patchwork quilt at the moment. The positive aspects of the graphics are the increase in polygon count for everything in the game, the stable frame rate, the high color bit depth, and use of many Xbox-specific graphical touches such as pixel shading and the like. The game looks very rich and colorful, and the main character, Ryo, looks better than before. The environments are especially beautiful due to the noticeable increase in detail in the architecture and in the lighting.
The shaky aspects of the game's appearance are the stiff animation and the generally dated-looking character models. While Ryo looks good, he doesn't seem particularly lifelike. Other characters fare worse--they aren't as articulated as Ryo, aren't very well animated, and generally tend to look out of place in the environments. While some of this was excusable in the Dreamcast version of Shenmue II because of the limitations of the hardware, the look of the game falls a bit short of what you might expect from the Xbox.
Fortunately Shenmue II isn't due for a while, which means the developers should have plenty of time to make some adjustments. Shenmue II is currently slated to ship later this year. Look for more on the game in the coming months.