.hack//INFECTION PS2 Review

I’ve saved the world from the brink of annihilation countless times in RPGS, making me wonder if originality would ever exist in any RPG plots ever again. .Hack//INFECTION, the first instalment of a four part RPG series, proves that it does. The game simulates a MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online RPG) and has you playing as Kite, a character in an online game known as The World. Kite is seeking answers when his friend is left in a comatose state after a ludicrously powerful enemy attacks his character during a session in The World.

If you’ve played any online RPGS in the past, you should be familiar with the premise of //INFECTION and should have next to no trouble picking up the game, while the same can’t be said for people who have never swung a sword in one of these games, it’s still one of the most accessible RPGS you are likely to find. Even for the RPG unfamiliar, it will most probably take no more than a few minutes to learn entirely.

The game does a remarkable job of replicating an online world (thankfully without the ostentatious Americans) with tutorials cleverly disguised as message boards, emails and present fellow players who are more than happy to trade items with you, just as long as you offer an item of their liking of course. Combat is in real time to give you that veritable MMORPG feel and at heart; the game is a dungeon crawler that has you trawling through dark dungeons.

To enter a dungeon you must first input keywords at a chaos gate (which are situated in any one of the two servers). Depending on the words selected, the dungeon varies in difficultly, though dungeon keywords that precede the game are often discovered whilst trawling the message board, but can also be picked up from emails or from other characters playing The World. There isn’t many variations on the themes of each dungeon, meaning things become a bit too samey relatively soon, none of the dungeons are exactly brimming with style either. Striving to strengthen my small group, taking out every enemy and exploring every dungeon in its entirety, soon made me forget the monotony and dullness of my dungeon travels though, it’s then that I found a thoroughly absorbing, though somewhat flawed game.

To begin with, the camera is initially an annoyance, requiring constant adjustment and being a right pain, especially during combat. With time, you’ll grow more accustomed to this, but a more feasible camera would have been much preferred.

Then there’s the combat, which at first can be confusing, untidy and at times has you wondering where the hell your avatar has disappeared to. With time, this improves considerably, but unfortunately things still remain relatively messy throughout, a problem that isn’t helped by the lack of a lock on system and no evasion moves other than running away. Hacking through the enemies is still a lot of fun, but I do feel that it could have done with a considerable degree of extra polish. You have three party members, but are only ever in control of Kite, though it is possible to give your AI buddies some basic commands (either individually or for the entire team). Commanding one member to act as a healer while you and another buddy joyfully hack away at the enemies, is an effective strategy to utilize for example.

Early on in the game, Kite obtains a forbidden power known as “Data Drain” which allows him to rewrite the data of his enemy, making them massively weaker and receiving some rare items at the same time. But just as it has got many advantages, Data Drain also has many disadvantages. For instance, killing a Data Drained enemy awards you with considerably less experience points, and using it can also affect the state of your characters, furthermore, abusing this power can also have dire consequences resulting in a system crash, meaning game over for you.

Visually, the game is terribly primitive for a game of today, with characters that look like they could benefit from a few more polygons and environments that lack the detail of, say, a Final Fantasy game, or just about any RPG for that matter. Not even the magic effects look all that impressive. But to be fair the majority of true online RPGS aren’t exactly beautiful visual masterpieces either. When a cut scene kicks in, you’ll no doubt notice that the characters are considerably more detailed than their in game counterpart, which is a shame, but even these suffer from terribly clunky animation and voice acting of a pretty poor standard. At least upon completing the game you are awarded with the option for the original Japanese voices, which I can tell are superior just by more of an obvious emotional punch.

Maybe it’s the convincing online world that had me well and truly hooked, or the satisfaction of levelling up my characters, or perhaps a bit of both. Because even with all its faults, .hack//INFECTION still manages to be a highly addictive game. Did I mention that you can import the same equipment and character levels into any of the three upcoming future volumes and that there’s also a cool anime DVD in each instalment included? //INFECTION is an enjoyable first part to an intriguing and quirky RPG series and I await part 2 with gusto.