Dot.Hack: Part 3 Outbreak – PS2 – Review

I have to say that while I
am a huge FPS fan at heart, I also enjoy a change of pace by diving into a good
RPG from time to time. For anyone who is a big RPG fan, there are obviously tons
of them to choose from, and you can play anything from a fantasy setting warrior
or wizard up to a futuristic, gun-toting madman these days. Well, what if there
was an RPG game about people playing RPG games online? For anyone who thinks
this may sound a tad silly, you obviously haven’t heard of the .hack series yet.


For anyone who may not know
what .hack is, let me begin this review by explaining the whole concept and
story to the game. .hack revolves around an MMORPG called “The World”, which is
the big craze in Japan. A new player named Kite (the person you control) has
just logged into The World since his buddy Orca has talked about how great it
is. Soon, Orca falls into a coma and word begins to spread that there is a virus
running loose that not only is corrupting game servers, but also causing players
to fall into a coma while playing. The story builds up over the first two
installments to increase the mystery of who is behind the virus, and the
corporation that created the World just seems to keep growing stronger. In
Outbreak, the corruption has spread even worse, and it’s up to you to move Kite
closer to solving the mystery of who is behind the issues in The World, and
ultimately team up with his friends to stop it from happening.


Just like the first two
installments, Outbreak really does a good job in simulating an online RPG
environment even though you are offline the entire time. You will randomly meet
up with other players in the server towns and sometimes when you warp to the
dungeons, and you can access message boards and e-mail in the game as well from
friends, enemies, and other players overall that will many times lead you to
clues or secret items that can be obtained.


Outbreak doesn’t really add
anything new to the overall gameplay or style of the game, so players will
continue to move through different servers and warping to dungeon levels to
fight monsters, collect treasure, and keep trying to get answers to the viral
outbreak. In the same fashion as the first two, dungeons can be accessed through
“keywords” that can either be obtained through message boards, e-mails, or even
a combination of your own creation (if you want to just do some dungeon hacking
on a side note from the story), which keeps it fun if you feel that you need to
level up on your own a little more or if you just want to hop in and get a
little slashing action in.


Kite still has access to his
Data Drain and Gate Hacking abilities in Outbreak. Data Drain is a power that
allows him to rewrite monster data that causes even the most powerful creature
to be reduced to things as simple as a hopping radish. Data Drain also can allow
him to obtain Viral Cores (used for his other ability, Gate Hacking, which
allows him to access off – limits servers), rare items, and even allow him to
defeat “immortal” monsters that have been infected. The downside to this
unfortunately is that if Kite uses his Data Drain too much, the infection can
wind up getting out of control and cause the entire game to malfunction and shut
down. There is a meter to show you how bad it’s getting, and by defeating
monsters on your own you will bring it down if it happens to go up too much.


One thing I did notice about
.hack 3 is the fact that the AI seems to operate a little more independently
than it did in the first two games. In Infection and Mutation, party members
acted on their own during combat, but doing simple things like healing tended to
cause you to pause the action so you could tell one of them to heal or heal them
yourself, but in Outbreak I noticed that they would perform some of these
actions on their own. In addition, monsters seemed to be a little smarter this
time around also, since they seemed to be a little stupid in the first two and
would just wander towards your party flailing away. I got hit from behind quite
a few times in Outbreak, which was not expected at first since it never really
seemed to happen in the first two titles. The game overall is a lot more
challenging than the first two.


Another addition that has
been made is with the side game of “Gruntys”. Gruntys are pig / hamster looking
creatures that you could feed and grow, and you could call them in during battle
to help out if needed. In Outbreak, Gruntys can now be called in to act in place
of Fairy Orbs, which are used to find items and areas in dungeons that could
contain monsters, items, etc. 


Graphically, The World has
made changes as well since above ground areas and many dungeons look more
infected and corrupted. For example, the first town you begin in has a greenish
building color to it, but it’s pockmarked by holes where 0’s and 1’s are showing
through like the programming is breaking down. The sky also shows tears of data
or cloudy, viral looking areas showing through as well … and there doesn’t seem
to be as many players running around to interact with, talk to, or trade items
with in this one. There weren’t really any enhancements done overall though, so
everything still looks as it did in the first two titles.


Overall, .hack 3 continues a
really fun game, and people like me who were fans of the first two will no doubt
appreciate being able to continue our adventures in The World and get more
information about the corporation and the hackers being blamed for the viral
outbreak. If you haven’t played the first two, then you may not find part 3 to
be as enjoyable. They did add in background story for you if you decide to pick
this one up and play it without the others first, but many of the character
interactions and info that’s given may not make a lot of sense. If you have a
desire to play an MMORPG, but don’t have the means to do it, the .hack series is
definitely worth the money and does a great job simulating an online world … in
an offline only environment.   


Gameplay: 8.0
While the overall
gameplay element remains the same as the first two without too many additions,
it was good to begin with. The added AI intelligence helps out a lot though, and
made it a little more enjoyable … and more challenging at the same time. The
e-mail and message boards are still there as well, and help add to the online
feel of the game while dropping clues to help you move from dungeon to dungeon
and get more info about the outbreak.


Graphics: 7.3
Graphically, if
you’ve played the first two titles, you’ll know what to expect from the third
one. They did a good job in setting up the overall atmosphere to make it more
corrupted and dark. You can still switch Kite from third to first person mode as
well, and animations of characters and monsters still stayed the same.


Sound: 7.7
I thought the
music and voiceovers were good in the first two, and they remain pretty much
unchanged for this one as well. There are a couple of new tracks added in, but
overall feels the same as its predecessors.


Difficulty: Medium
Outbreak is
definitely more challenging overall, but you can still access your own server
combinations to allow you to gain experience, find items, and level up as you
see fit which helps out in taking on some of those tougher battles.


Concept: 8.0
I still think
that the overall concept of the game is great, and while there isn’t a whole lot
that changed from the first two games in terms of overall gameplay, they do a
great job in simulating an online environment off line with conversations,
trading, e-mail, and message boards for communication.


Overall: 7.8

The .hack series is a heck
of a lot of fun, and Outbreak does a great job in continuing the story. The
added AI changes make it more challenging, but also allow you to focus more on
battles vs. party health all the time, which is a plus. While the whole idea of
an RPG that revolves around people playing an RPG may sound a little strange,
Bandai has done a good job in making a series that captures a lot of the fun of
an online MMORPG in an offline environment. If you’re looking for a good RPG
series to fill your time for a while, .hack is one that I would recommend.