Hands-onShenmue II

The Dreamcast series continues on the Xbox. Read our impressions.

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We checked out an updated version of Shenmue II for the Xbox at Microsoft's X02 event. Unlike the demo shown at E3 2002, this build let us play through a large chunk of the game. The conversion of the game from the Dreamcast version to the Xbox involves a mix of tweaking to improve the game's graphical performance and the addition of enhancements to the Dreamcast version.

The game started us out at a pier with a cutscene that finds protagonist Ryo Hazuki chasing after a boy who had played a part in robbing him. The sequence went from real-time cutscene to QTE event, the time-based sequences first used in the original game that require you to follow onscreen prompts in order to successfully make it through. Once we caught up to the boy, the game switched to a fighting mode that pit Ryo against three thugs who had ambushed him.

The game has obviously seen some upgrades since the Dreamcast version was released in Japan and Europe last year. Graphically, the game has been polished up a bit. The polygon models of the main characters are being enhanced and offer a fuller appearance thanks to the polygon upgrade and richer colors. The audio is seeing a similar upgrade and features English voice for all the characters and Dolby 5.1 support for the game's cutscenes.

In terms of new additions, the Xbox version will include a snapshot feature that lets players take a picure of Ryo at any point in the game. The shot is saved to the hard drive and can be viewed in a gallery. Another new feature complements the snapshot element by allowing players to overlay a number of different filters on the game's graphics to simulate everything from a black-and-white shot to a sepia-toned shot. Players can choose to use the filters only when taking snapshots or during the whole game. There will also be a total of 10 saved game slots, as opposed to the DC version's three.

From what we saw, the conversion seems to be coming along well. The graphics aren't seeing a tremendous leap in quality from the DC version, although they've definitely been improved. There are still some rough spots, such as some unseemly slowdown in some places, but that will hopefully be smoothed out. As for the English voice-over, it will likely be an acquired taste, especially for players who imported the game, but it definitely makes the game more accessible than the subtitles. Shenmue II will ship for the Xbox this fall. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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