Look around and you won't find too many reviews for Shenmue III. This game has been brewing in the mind of the venerable Yu Suzuki in some form or another for the last 18 years, and yet its Metacritic page remains sparsely populated for a product that launched almost two weeks ago. The term "long-awaited" could have been invented just for Shenmue III -- so where is everybody?
Metacritic has a few clues that may offer an answer. Death Stranding, which launched the week before, has 99 reviews for its PlayStation 4 version. Need for Speed: Heat, which was also released on November 8, has 53 critics contributing to its score. Look at November 15, just four days before Shenmue III hit the market, and the landscape is busier still; Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has 51 reviews, while the Switch exclusive Pokémon Sword and Shield reached 49.
By contrast, Shenmue III's Metacritic average was sourced from just 20 critics. Despite the best part of two entire decades elapsing since Shenmue II, the games press evidently couldn't find time with so much else competing for their attention. It is still too early to tell, but publisher Deep Silver may come to regret picking a release window so crowded with AAA blockbusters.
"A hyper-real Animal Crossing more than a GTA, really, with a rhythm that's soothingly sedate"
Then again, maybe not. While reviews can be invaluable in creating word-of-mouth buzz, Shenmue III's average score of 70 encapsulates a general mood in which even the recommendations are laden with caveats. Take Eurogamer's review, one of the most positive currently available, but one that describes Shenmue III as "archaic and arcane," and "completely ignorant of modern trends in open world gaming, or indeed trends of the last 20 years."
This is a common sentiment across all of Shenmue III's reviews, both positive and negative. Ys Net hasn't rebooted or reimagined its franchise; rather, it has made a game as if (for the most part) the intervening years never happened at all. For some critics, this is taken as some kind of failure. For others, it is a veteran developer delivering exactly what his audience wants to see.