PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 12/29/2003


So here we are in part three of four in the offline, “online” adventure–those games about solving the mysterious problems within a game–.hack. In this review, if I sound like a raging .hack fanboy, it’s because I am one.

So part one was good introduction to “The World”, but felt somewhat incomplete; part two made much better use of the .hack gameplay formula, but added too many throw-away characters who had unexciting quests attached to them. Enter part three. We have established the pattern of .hack games doing something great, but having some sort of drawback; so what’s Outbreak going to improve, and then what will it screw up?

For one thing, .hack//Outbreak wastes no time getting to the point. Almost the entire first hour of the game will consist of Kite bouncing around the different servers in “The World” to personally meet with key players in the story. He’ll also be answering many an email in regards to how to crack down on this freaking virus that has been causing problems for quite a while now.

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Serious business going down in the story

From this we see early on that the plot will be this game’s point of emphasis, which is exactly what ends up happening. Part two picked up the story’s pace, since part one was used mainly to introduce the real player to the gameplay and situation, then part three comes in and moves things even faster. Overall, this volume of the saga packs the most storyline, making each new dungeon surprisingly more fun than they were in the last two games. Mutation had quite a good variety of new types of quests to take, most of which were nice, but some were essentially added just to boost the game’s side-quest bragging rights and/or get a little use out of the mostly irrelevant characters Kite meets in volume two. It becomes evident in part three that Cyber Connect2 learned that adding characters does not equal adding quality, so players will be pleased to see that only two new faces join the huge lineup of party members this time around. And of those two new recruits, one is a fairly important person in the story and the other is completely optional, but the quests you can take with her are awesome, with CG events and the like.

The game gets its title not just from the virus doing new, dangerous things in the game, but the “Outbreak” it referrs to speaks of the infection spreading into the real world. On the player’s desktop, you can read a world news feature that covers some of the mysterious events going on in the real world that this online game’s dirty little secret is responsible for. The fighting events of this story involve a lot of intersting, exciting scenarios that I just can’t divulge in a review for fear of blowing it for someone out there, but those of you who have played the game will know what I’m talking about when I mention “operation breakwater” and other such “let’s kick its ass” situations. These made the game just more fun to sit down with and the gameplay has overall improved once again, though I admit there were a small number of ridiculous “fetch” missions that I remember (but far less than Mutation, so improvment is visible).

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“Hi. We’re missionaries from the Delta server, out sharing a great message today…”

There is no way on earth that this game should be played by those who have not been through the first two games. The story has advanced so far that the player will have no clue what anything means, and no, the 15-second intro at the beginning won’t help much. Furthermore, the gameplay has taken on a new level of difficulty. While the first pair of .hack titles each had a number of tough fights that could be counted on one hand, Outbreak‘s new Sigma server has stronger enemies using improved AI. That’s a dangerous combination for all players, but especially newbies. As a veteran, I can tell you that it is obvious by the battles that Cyber Connect2 assumes that the player already knows what’s up.

Unfortunately for players, the AI of their own crew hasn’t improved as much. Granted, I didn’t see my mage casting fire spells at fire enemies anymore, but the improvments to party member AI are basically non-existent when compared to the newfound strength of the monsters. Your party still won’t heal themselves unless you tell them to, no matter what–let’s say that two of the three people in the party (including Kite) are knocked out and member #3 has only half of his/her HP; that third character will probably just swing the equipped weapon over and over again and not lift a finger to help you or the other member of the team. No real MMORPG player sits and does this unless he is a newbie who has not learned to keep his head in the game and/or doesn’t know the controls, and we know that is not the case with the characters in .hack. But notwithstanding the fact that you must manually enter every almost healing command, the battles are still good and entertaining…about as much as they ever have been in the series.

As expected, the technical aspects are pretty much unchanged. The graphics still have that cool look and feel of a truly anime-inspired game and much of the music from the first two titles returns. However, while some of the music remains annoying, a few of the tracks I previously didn’t care for began to grow on me a little and I gained some respect for the music. Also, the music that plays during the CG sequences has always been great, and I’d been overlooking that in previous scores.

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Struggling to…maintain…eye contact…

And hey, for once, the ending doesn’t suck. It shows significant conclusion and leads into the next game very well, whereas the last couple games couldn’t quite grasp that first concept.

I was much happier with this game than I expected to be. I was expecting silly quests, dull battles, a new brigade of stupid characters, a non-existent ending, and a lack of quality overall. You’ll be met with only a small amount of some of those things, and no such diappointments in other said departments. Pretty much everything worked out in this game, and Quarantine will be something to see.

-Heath Hindman

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Great
Story Great
Graphics Great
Sound/Music Very Good
Replay Value Average
The Verdict: 8