What makes Shenmue 2's open world so special?

There’s so much of it, it feels impenetrable. Shenmue 2’s Hong Kong isn’t the biggest of open worlds, and unlike the Yokosuka suburb that preceded it, it can hardly claim to be the densest. Yet AM2’s Hong Kong is thick with character and purpose: an overwhelming city where you sink into a gentle rut amidst its wider rhythms, where human life flows through its streets, ebbing in from the harbour before it splashes down sidewalks and sends slow, chattering oxbows around cluttered alleyways.

It’s a common banality to mark Hong Kong as a city of contrasts; where the stiff-lipped colonies clash with traditional Chinese culture, where east meets west and tradition meets modernity. That’s all hokum, though, and Shenmue 2’s not one to deal in such platitudes. It gets down to a greater truth about not only this city, but all great metropolis: the unknowable sprawl, where the urban space is painted as eternally indifferent.

Shenmue 2 came to the Dreamcast less than a year after the original – in Europe, at least – yet it offers a steep shift in scale and tone. Having slowly tracked your father’s killer Lan Di through Yokosuka and beyond Japan, as Ryo Hazuki you find yourself on the shores of Hong Kong, taking up the quest in typically ponderous fashion. Like Shenmue before it, this isn’t a game about revenge, or even one fuelled by bloodlust. Its essence is something more pedestrian, more profoundly ordinary.