New Shenmue III Trailer Showcases Gorgeous Scenery, Grotesque Animation
Two years ago, Shenmue creator Yu Suzuki took to Sony’s stage at E3 and announced a third game in the Shenmue series. The Shenmue series had always been intended to run for four games but had prematurely died after Sega killed Dreamcast development. When Suzuki announced that the game would launch on Kickstarter, Shenmue fans immediately drove it into the stratosphere, setting a record for the fastest KS to break two million dollars (eight hours, 43 minutes). We haven’t seen much of the title since then, but a new teaser trailer has surfaced online. It’s… well, it’s really something.
At first, things look pretty good. The main theme (carried over from Shenmue and Shenmue II) is gorgeous, the environments are visually interesting, and the first shot of the girl, Shenhua Ling, looks pretty good. Then the camera turns to Ryo, the main protagonist of all three games, and we’re treated to this dead-eyed, face-locked marionette:
This is, literally, the only face Ryo makes throughout the entire trailer. Apart from managing to blink once he shows no facial expressions. Even when engaged in combat with a man who resembles an Asian version of the Joker crossed with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in his prime, Ryo can’t muster so much as a sneer.
Did I ever tell you how I got these scars?
Some of the background and scenery shots truly are impressive. They may not look exactly like real life, but Shenmue III’s terrain and locations are an excellent example of how a game can use stylized depictions to make a world more interesting.
The environments and scenery are genuinely gorgeous.
But the animation… whoo boy. Characters move like wooden puppets, if we’re being generous. This is less a dip into the uncanny valley and more an in-depth exploration of the Uncanny Mariana Trench.
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Shenmue fans have already poured out in legions to defend the indefensible, claiming that this is acceptable because either 1). The game isn’t a AAA title, 2). Shenmue players want terrible animation because that’s how the games looked back then, or 3). It’s an honor to pay for a terribly animated game that wouldn’t pass muster as a flash-based title circa 2010. None of these are particularly compelling explanations. First, we don’t know how much money investors and Sony poured into Shenmue III; the original Kickstarter campaign was a cynical ploy by Sony to drum up cash for a game they refused to bankroll entirely but still plowed cash into. Yu Suzuki later admitted that the game would seek outside funding in addition to the Kickstarter, with Sony also assisting with production rather than focusing solely on marketing Second, the game uses Unreal Engine 4, one of the most robustly supported engines around. There are entire middleware libraries devoted to handling character animation, and no reason not to deploy them.
I have no doubt that there are people who would play Shenmue: ASCI Edition if it meant getting another game. I don’t have a problem with that; people have a right to play any game they want, any way they please. But for many people, Shenmue III will be the first look they ever get at the game series, either because they never owned a Dreamcast, or because they were too young to be gaming when the series launched nearly 20 years ago. Pushing the nostalgia factor may appeal to some, but few modern gamers are going to find a series attractive when the lead character’s ability to blink like a mammal is in some doubt. A trailer like this could harm the game’s ability to find an audience outside its die-hard fan base, and the best way to ensure a Shenmue IV is to make certain Shenmue III is as good as possible. Right now, the animations are terrible to the point of yanking you out of the world the video is trying to create.