PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 05/27/2003


.hack got an aweful lot of .hype before its release. I for one, was mighty excited to get this game. However, in the end, I was left with somewhat of a bitter taste, as the game was not everything I had hoped for.

Infection begins with Kyte, the game’s main protagonist, being introduced to The World‘s gameplay by his friend, whose player name is Orca. After only moments of play, the two are attacked by an unrealistically powerful monster, who alters Orca’s data, and sends his real-life counterpart into a coma. A mysterious girl in white (on the cover) gives Kyte a special weapon, allowing him to perform two forbidden abilities. Data Drain alters an enemy’s data and Gate Hacking allows access to locked areas, and the potential to override system administrators who get in his way. Ready to kick ass, the player begins a quest to figure out what is going on in The World.

.hack//Infection does a commendable job of simulating an MMORPG. The World‘s community has an active message board, and the game’s desktop interface is excellent. Kyte will get emails from his party members, among other individuals, about serious topics as well as silly anecdotes. Checking this board is an important part of the game, as it will often have information regarding good side quests, or tell where to go in order to advance the story.

Screen Shot
Data Drain looks painful to perform…

But .hack‘s MMORPG simulation doesn’t come without its flaws. The most memorable of the inaccuracies appear in battle. All too often, one of Kyte’s comrades will completely defy logic, whether by doing something ridiculously stupid or by not doing anything at all. Some examples that come to mind are total ignorance of special situations. For example, if an enemy is listed as immune to physical attacks, meaning any regular attack does 0 damage, that won’t stop Black Rose from endlessly swinging her sword at the foe. She’ll even say to you “It looks like it’s immune to physical attacks,” while she’s swinging at it! How retarded is that!? In addition, the mages, called “wavemasters” in The World, will often sit idly while the battle rages on. Fortunately, the player can issue special commands to the other two party members, which can make up for some of the lame A.I. Broad orders such as “Magic!” are available, on top of the ability to designate the exact skill you want a team member to use. Again, though, there’s a problem with this. If you give the “Magic!” command, your characters just use any old spell. There might be a fire-based enemy that would be stricken down by a good water spell, but the clunky A.I. will have a mage use a fire spell instead, which gets the team nowhere. So in almost every important battle, players will have their hands full with controlling Kyte in addition to wading through a slew of menus to ensure that the other crew members don’t do anything stupid.

Continuing through the game’s flaws, we arrive at how the game sometimes radiates an overall incomplete feel. Although mostly small, many things seem to interfere with this game’s potantial quality. One thing that comes to mind is the way the characters never shut up. Maybe I’m picky, but it’s pretty annoying walking around with dudes that are constantly repeating phrases like “Have you found any Aromatic Grass?” and “Kyte, you’re amazing,” and “Aaaagh! Pleez cure MeeeEEee! XO”. Not only is that slightly annoying, but it clogs up the screen. Another thing that wasn’t given enough attention was the trade system. Kyte is able to trade any item in his inventory with other players in The World, including his own party. The problem in this system is that while players have a ton of items to offer, very few are selectable to receive. This is understandable with players that have nothing to do with the plot, but when you can look in Black Rose’s inventory and see a weapon that would be good for Natsume, but the item doesn’t appear on the list of items she’ll trade, some mild frustration occurs, because there is no way of asking her for it.

Sceen Shot
Black Rose won’t be takin’ no jive.

These flaws are all much more tolerable than I make them sound, though, and despite the incompleteness, I did overall enjoy the game. Take my words as warning, but don’t let them completely turn you off from the game.

To .hack‘s credit, the game looks very nice, indeed. It is obvious by looking around the anime-like world that the creators got what they wanted. The character models are gorgeous, and while the dungeons are lacking in detail, one must keep in mind that they are imitating MMORPG dungeons, which are notoriously bland.

The sound, on the other hand, falls right in the heart of mediocrity. The sound effects are few in number and quite simple. The soundtrack features very few good tracks, and I found myself turning on my CD player during dungeonplay. Not necessarily BAD, but far from impressive.

The gameplay is quite unique and engaging. After logging in from the desktop, players enter a server’s “Root Town.” From there, other party members can be summoned and items can be purchased/traded. Each Root Town has a Chaos Gate, which is the center of transportation in The World. From these gates, players can either hop to a different server (of the two that are available), or head for a game field. The type of field that players warp to is determined by a set of three “Keywords.” One selects any three words to make a field that will be generated using the properties of each word. Upon arrival in the field, players can enter a dungeon. Usually, the story moves along by Kyte finding a set of Keywords by email or on the boards that lead him to where he needs to go. For instance, someone may send an email saying “On the Delta server, come to ‘Itchy Lucious Burger.’ I think I know what you’re looking for.” Next time players log into The World, that word combo will be on Kyte’s “Word List.” While the system may not sound stellar on paper, it is very addicting after a short adjustment period.

Sceen Shot
Log In

What hurts the most is that the game ends without feeling like it’s over. I realize there are four volumes, but this game’s ending is SO inconclusive, that it barely feels like chapter 1 is really over. The fact that this “series” is more like one big, $200, four-part game is unsettling, but that can’t really be counted against the game itself. The unsatisfied feeling at the end, however, does indeed take away from the score. The fact that data can be carried over into volume two is a true blessing, because there would otherwise be almost no reason to play Infection.

On the bright side, the game does include volume one of the .hack//Liminality anime series, which takes place in the real world. To clear up any confusion, .hack//Sign comes first, while the games and Liminality happen simultaneously, six months after Sign‘s ending.

When all is said and done, .hack is a pretty good game that had so much more potential. Perhaps later volumes can perfect the formula.

-Heath Hindman

Score Breakdown
Very Good
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Very Good
Story Very Good
Graphics Great
Sound/Music Average
Replay Value Average
The Verdict: 7