Review by The Manx

"Interesting but repetitive"

There's tons and tons of massively multiplayer online role playing games (took me forever to realize what the acronym for that meant) out these days, mainly on PC's but consoles are starting to feature them too. .hack: Infection is a strange game, for the reason that it's not actually a massively multiplayer online role playing game, but making a heck of an effort to pretend that it is.

Apparently this is loosely based on an anime of the same name, although I wouldn't know how close the relationship is. It moved too slowly for me and I lost interest after a couple episodes. Maybe it's about the same basic characters, but again I wouldn't know, despite the fact that a lot of them look a like. But maybe that's just the limited character design of this fake massively multiplayer online role playing game showing.

You play a net surfer who has just signed up for ''The World,'' a fictional massively multiplayer online role playing game with a not very creative name. You name your character (''Kite'' is the default, although I couldn't tell you why) then log on to get some lessons from your buddy Orca on how to play the game. This functions as a tutorial, and also demonstrates how something is up with ''The World,'' something that means to destroy the massively multiplayer online role playing game. Kite needs to make friends with other players, explore the worlds of ''The World,'' and get to the bottom of the problem threatening the survival of his new online community.

Personally, this didn't seem like that big a crisis to me. I mean, we're only talking about the fate of an online game. If something happened that ruined ''The World,'' it'd be like my Playstation breaking. I'd be upset for a while, but only a while. Since my entire existence is not tied to mediums of electronic entertainment, eventually I would move on. Basically, I failed to see much urgency with the problem driving Kite's quest (to find a strange girl who gave him the power to rewrite the code of the game, which I assume is why it's called .hack, and who apparently knows the source of the threat corrupting parts of ''The World'') since the worst case scenario if he fails is only that an online game will be wiped out and its members will have to find something else to do with their spare time. Maybe the sequels managed to make a bigger (and more believable) deal out of it, I sure hope so.

So you're Kite, a ''twin blade'' warrior character (you can't modify this). That is, you have a dagger or claw clutched in each hand and that's the way you kill digital monsters. Since this is a simulation of a massively multiplayer online role playing game, you need to get the ''member addresses'' of other players so you can form parties and increase your chances of survival against the numerous monsters infesting the worlds of ''The World.'' This isn't something you need to go out of your way to do, though, as playing out the game's story does it for you. Of course, as the only one with a mind of your own, it's up to you to make sure all your virtual pals get enough experience to help you when you need them, manage their equipment as well as your own, and direct them to fight or cast magic in battle. You can also exchange weapons and treasure with them, though anybody who has anything worth trading for is few and far between in .hack: Infection.

You travel to different wilderness areas to battle monsters and explore dungeons by going to a portal in a town and stringing together several random key words, although most of the time you'll be using specific strings you learn from non player characters or from posts on ''The World'''s message board.

And when I said wilderness and dungeon, I meant it. That's pretty much all every different section of ''The World'' is: a field with monsters waiting for you to walk by, and a dungeon. This seems cool at first, and why shouldn't it? A lot of role playing games are like that. But you go to a lot of these places to advance the story of the game, and after a while they all start to look the same. Plus the key words that identify each area are complete nonsense, and don't help you remember which one is which if you want to go back to a specific one for some reason (usually to level up).

When you're in towns between excursions in the digital wilds on your search for the truth, you can talk to other ''The World''ers, to either get gossip or exchange items, like you can with the people in your party. Almost none of them have anything worth listening to, though, or trading for, as said before. All I can really say in their defense is that they're all a lot nicer than most people in most online communities I've been to.

Between quests you can get and respond to email from the friends your character makes online, and get fake product announcements or information on where to find special items from the message board. This helps increase the feel of being in an online game, but just a little, since it's all scripted.

The graphics are excellent, highlighting the differences between each of the character types the NPCs come in. The scenery is lush and lively, but in the outside-of-town areas quickly starts to look familiar.

Sound is good too, with spoken dialogue for the (important) characters. The dialogue balloons even have cute little ASCII faces like online chat sessions are wont to do when somebody's in a good mood (like Mistral always is).

The control, however, feels a lot like a complex online RPG like Everquest or something, and reminds me exactly why I never got into games that complex. There's tons of items, armor, weapons, magic spells, skills, healing items, and that sort of thing to keep track of. I might get a great item I mean to give to an NPC, but then I get another specialized item and soon forget what I'm supposed to do with them all. It's just overwhelming.

.hack has a lot of potential, but from what I've seen so far is hiding it behind an overly complicated array of items, special skills and repetitive quest environments. ''The World'' will have to do better to hold my interest past the second game.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 05/01/04

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