Tobold's Blog
Sunday, June 06, 2004

.hack//Infection is part one of a 4-part single-player Playstation 2 game. So what the heck is it doing in a MMORPG blog? Glad you asked: .hack is a MMORPG simulation. You play a player of a MMORPG, as well as his avatar in "The World" MMORPG. So most of the gameplay is somehow similar to that of a MMORPG, but you also "play" logging out of the game, reading the games message boards, logging one step further to your "desktop", and reading news and e-mail.

.hack (pronounced "dot hack") plays in the near future, 2007. The internet exploded in 2005, due to hacking, and now the whole world uses a fictional secure operating system (this plot not sponsored by Bill Gates). Online entertainment was forbidden for a while, but now there is a MMORPG again, only one, and it has 20 million players. A friend introduces you to the game, but then strange things happen, you encounter monsters whose data have been corrupted, and the game crashes (sounds familiar?). Back in the real world you discover that your friend has fallen into a coma and is hospitalized. You decide to explore the cause of this further inside the game. Seems that "The World" is infected by a virus, and you have been given the tool to fight it. Who is behind the virus infection? And can a corrupted game make people fall into a coma in real life?

Gameplay of .hack most of the time is good simulation of a bad MMORPG. There is a town with shops, where you can buy and sell stuff, and you can encounter other "players" there, and trade or chat with them. Of course, this being a single-player game, the other players are also computer controlled. But they are well done, and the conversation with them falls into the same curious mix of real world and game issues that dominates conversation in games like Everquest. From the town you can reach many different areas full of monsters, dungeons, and treasures, by traveling through a chaos gate. The gate is controlled by entering keywords, which produce pseudo-random areas. You kill monsters, collect loot from treasure chests, level up, then come back to town, lather, rinse, repeat.

Graphics are sub-par, compared to modern MMORPG. Combat consists of hectic button mashing, interrupted by pauses when you open menus to select items or spells (which obviously wouldn't be possible in a real multi-player game). The areas and dungeons are simple affairs, but the monsters are quite okay. The whole thing is saved by the storyline which adds the additional layer of game around the game. If you don't just randomly visit areas to level up, but follow the keywords provided on the message boards and by e-mail, you follow the storyline of the games infection, and how you battle the sinister forces behind it. You also have to overcome the resistance of the games company, which wants to hide the fact that things are wrong in their game. So you have to hack yourself into forbidden game areas, which have simulated graphics glitches and bugged monsters, which you have to hack as well, to learn about the virus code.

Of course the story is over the top. But if you read typical real world MMORPG message boards, you will encounter a lot of paranoid people, who would feel right at home in .hack. While real MMORPG are not virus infected, they certainly contain bugs enough, and the game companies trying to hide unpleasant truths isn't exactly unthinkable.

I'm going to play .hack//Infection for a while. But I am certainly not going to buy the other 3 parts, which are basically the same game, with the storyline continueing. Nice try to introduce something like monthly fees into an offline game, but I don't think this will work.
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