Review by lbabinz

"Great concept meets addictive execution."

.hack//Infection’s (referred to as Dot Hack from here on in) premise had me from the start. Playing as a gamer who is playing a massively multi-player online RPG? Count me in. Add in a creepy conspiracy laden high tech storyline that really only begins to get going and we have a very nice package indeed. It goes without saying that I was very excited to give Dot Hack a go and see if it lived up to its exciting premise. Well, I am finished it now (well at least the story is finished for now, the game itself never really ends) and I can honestly say that while I had a blast playing it, it still let me down in some regards.

Graphically, Dot Hack is not really up to snuff. That is not to say that it is an ugly game however, it just doesn’t really stand up to a lot of the more beautiful games on the PS2 lately. The character models look ok and the looks ranging from playable character to NPCs are all unique and interesting. This is one of the first games I have seen in a long time in which the NPCs actually look just as exciting as some of the playable characters. The in game cut scenes look very nice too. At times it gets hard to distinguish between CG and in-game engine, and that speaks for itself. Where Dot Hack fails graphically is in the field and dungeon layouts. The fields sport some interesting effects such as heat waves, but overall come across looking bland and unoriginal. Had more time been spent on this element (especially since 80% of the game takes place in the field or in a dungeon), it would have helped the overall look of the game substantially.

Phonically Dot Hack is mostly beautiful. Exciting techno music mixes with haunting, eerie music to create a very nice sampling of well fitting tracks. If we were counting the music included with the bonus anime DVD that comes with the game I would be calling this soundtrack one of my all time favorites. The music included in the anime DVD is worth the purchase of this game along, which is very exciting in my opinion. Unfortunately, I was not a big fan of the voice acting contained in Dot Hack. Pretty much every cut scene is voice acted and while the voices sound good for the part (with the exception of a certain Heavy Axe character), they just seem overacted and quite frankly somewhat out of context. Perhaps I am just spoiled for voice acting lately after witnessing the excellent voices contained in Kingdom Hearts, but I really thought this aspect brought the package down a touch.

The aspect of Dot Hack that originally had me reeling but eventually addicted me like a tobacco flavored chocolate bar was the gameplay. The battle system at first starts off as a weak hack, hack, slash deal but eventually evolves into a skill heavy tactical engine. That is not to say that it ever gets really in depth, it’s just that it surpasses what at first seems kind of boring and repetitive. Your character's skills vary depending on the weapon and armor you are currently equipped with and you can issue commands to your comrades to get them to do whatever you feel like. The result is kind of like Phantasy Star Online where you lock on to the enemies with skills or hack away at them from close range all while controlling your allies. In execution it works fairly decent, leading to fast and furious battles.

On top of the somewhat mediocre battle system Dot Hack incorporates something of a random dungeon generator, except that the dungeons are not really random. Basically, you enter a series of keywords into a gate (like a loading zone), which then generates a field setting based on the key word's parameters. Fields vary by elements and by the level of the enemies contained within. This is shown before you warp and helps you to decide whether you can handle the field and who to bring along with you. Once in the field you run into random groupings of enemies called portals, battle them and then hunt for treasure. You can then move into the dungeon (each field has one) and fight your way to the bottom where a high level item is waiting for you. All in all it has the feel of a random dungeon crawler, but has enough variety to it that it doesn't seem to get boring. I actually like this sort of dungeon crawler and hope more developers consider this tactic of doing random dungeons.

As stated above, I really got into the great storyline contained within Dot Hack. It turns rather creepy and really keeps you hanging as you progress through the levels. I am truly excited to see where they continue from the end of this game. The anime DVD contained within the package is just icing on the cake. While the anime is not one of the best I have ever seen, it certainly is not the worst. It provides a very nice back-story to the whole Dot Hack plot and contains some of the best music I have ever heard in an anime. I am now truly looking forward to the next chapter in Dot Hack and the next set of anime DVD's to come.

Dot Hack also contains a few more great features that may make you interested in it. First off, it never does really end. You can continue playing after the ending credits roll and you will be able to fully transfer over all of your data to the next chapter. What this means is that the masochists out there will be vying for the finest in equipment, levels, etc. to transfer over to the next chapter. There are also a few side-quests and secrets to uncover along the way and a very nice trading system provides a welcome alternative to buying/finding all of your equipment (I didn't purchase a single piece of equipment from the shops).

Despite a well-written story, various side-quests, and a continuing quest I still managed to do most everything there was to do in Dot Hack in about 20 hours. That means leveling up everyone as high as is possible (while still remaining sane), doing every side-quest, and collecting some uber-powerful equipment for everyone. What that means is that this game may not be for everyone due to its rather short length in comparison to some other modern day RPGs (Suikoden III anyone?). If however you are interested in a finely crafted concept connected to an interesting action RPG with a little dungeon crawling sprinkled on top that won't take up your every waking moment for the next year, Dot Hack may be just for you. I personally can't wait for the sequel.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/18/03, Updated 02/18/03

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