Review by lbabinz
"An excellent addition to the series"
.Hack // Outbreak (Outbreak from now on) is something of a difficult game to review. By difficult I mean I considered just copying and pasting my .Hack // Mutation review seeing as the games are so similar. And by similar, I mean nearly identical. However, for some reason I had more fun with Outbreak. While I found myself struggling to get through the monotony of Mutation, I found myself upset that Outbreak was already finished. What does Outbreak do that Mutations doesn't? I mean let's face it, the game engine is identical. What is so great about Outbreak is that I think the .Hack series has finally hit its stride in a number of important places including plot and extras, but we will get to that.
First off, for people who are new to the whole .Hack phenomena, you can think of it as something of a poor man's Phantasy Star Online in terms of gameplay. Only in .Hack, there is more emphasis on skill usage and party member management. Quite a few battles turn into skill-fests with you frantically firing them off while forcing your AI-deprived party members to do what they are supposed to be doing. Sadly, even with Outbreak, AI is very poor. You will find yourself issuing command after command as your party members ''forget'' just what it is they are supposed to be doing. Combine this with a straight hack and slash atmosphere and you have the recipe for a pretty tame battle system.
Sadly, Outbreak's dungeon system has stayed stagnant and carries on its predecessor’s nuances. Every time you enter a new ''field'', you must fight your way through to a dungeon and then proceed to work your way through to the end where there may or many not be a plot point/boss fight. This all gets very redundant after a few hours and those of you (like me) who have played through since Infection are probably quite sick of the formula. Even .Hack rookies might find themselves getting a bit bored near the end...
That actually brings me to another interesting point. This game was made for those of you who have played through Infection and Mutation. I cannot even begin to imagine the frustration that would ensue coming straight into Outbreak from scratch. You carry over all of your stats/levels/items/money from the previous games and, boy, you will need them. While not overly challenging coming in as a butt-kicking Kite from previous adventures stocked with the rarest of equipment, I could see this game getting real hard, real fast for those without a giant stockade of equipment.
You might be wondering how a game I just spent a couple of paragraphs bashing achieved such a high score? Well, the answer to that is simple, the plot and premise behind the game still rock. And in Outbreak's case, they rock even harder than the previous games. This game was based around the premise that Infection would be an introduction, Mutation would be rising action, Outbreak would be climaxing action, and Quarantine would be the resolution. Thankfully, Outbreak does indeed give us some climatic action. A lot of loose ends begin to come together, significant connections to .Hack // Sign start to come into play and new mysteries that are begging to be resolved begin to surface. Combined with a fantastic localization, Outbreak's plot has really hit its stride.
Strangely though, character interaction has seemingly dissipated a bit. Not between all characters, but between a lot of old familiar faces. A couple of previous characters from Infection and Mutation are not even playable in Outbreak! I have no doubt that it has something to do with a plot point, but it still seems odd. Also, unless you cultivate some good mail relationships with a few characters, you won't be seeing much of them. This game revolves around a few very central characters, and it almost feels like everyone else got left behind. Oh well, that is a minor gripe.
Graphically, Outbreak is unchanged from its fore bearers. For people uninitiated with .Hack, that means that the visuals are only so-so. The cut scenes are very nice looking, but the regular, everyday scenery is somewhat drab. Not terrible, but could certainly use a new coat of paint. On the plus side, I rather like the character designs, but some color swapping rears its ugly head here. Overall, the graphics are certainly not detracting, but could have been better. One plus for fans are the new wallpapers you will get for your desktop at the end of the game. All of a sudden I have 7 or 8 wallpapers that I love equally. Great stuff.
Speaking of wallpapers and extras, Outbreak is finally loaded with them. Bearing very cool connections to .Hack // Sign, bonus dungeons, grunty racing, and everybody's favorite, goblin slaughtering (Gob!), Outbreak has finally given the fans a reason to keep playing after the end battle. I found the Sign references particularly enjoyable with some very nice rewards to reap.
The soundtrack for Outbreak remains excellent. Despite some real duds (adventuring with Piros is TORTURE due to his background music), for the most part Outbreak truly shines in the audio department. Combining some neat techno with some funky fantasy chords pays off big time. I would recommend picking up the soundtrack if it didn't cost so darn much to import. Great stuff anyway.
Overall Outbreak remains a game only suited for those already invested in the series. Starting from Outbreak would make no sense at all. That said, fans of the originals will find a lot to enjoy this time around. Great extras combined with an action packed plot with (finally) a few resolutions and some excellent team-ups mean that the pros will help you to overlook the fact that you are essentially playing the same game.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/01/03
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