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.hack Part 4: Quarantine (PlayStation 2) artwork

.hack Part 4: Quarantine (PlayStation 2) review

"The .hack series has established itself as a guilty pleasure of roleplaying video games, akin to Sylvester Stallone and action movies or The OC and cheesy teen dramas. Despite repetitive button mashing and frustrating artificial intelligence, .hack remains entertaining because of a ruthlessly addictive storyline and the encompassing universe around it. .hack//Quarantine is the culmination of the four-part .hack series. "

The .hack series has established itself as a guilty pleasure of roleplaying video games, akin to Sylvester Stallone and action movies or The OC and cheesy teen dramas. Despite repetitive button mashing and frustrating artificial intelligence, .hack remains entertaining because of a ruthlessly addictive storyline and the encompassing universe around it. .hack//Quarantine is the culmination of the four-part .hack series.

.hack//Quarantine is the fourth and final segment of the series and ties up all the loose ends from previous installments. However, it is impossible to share specific story details without ruining the past games. The following description is simply what is known from the beginning of the series.

In the .hack series, you control Kite, a young boy playing an online multiplayer RPG known as The World. Think of it as a more advanced version of Everquest, with players immersing themselves in gameplay via headsets and customized character models determined by each individual player. However, it is clear from the start that not all is right in The World. Orca, Kite’s friend, is attacked by a garbled mess of programming code during their first gaming session together. Kite manages to escape from the program, but Orca doesn’t... And he soon falls into a coma in the real world.

Kite resolves to find out why Orca has fallen into a coma and to find a cure - If one exists, that is. As Kite probes deeper and deeper into The World, he finds allies in his quest, such as BlackRose, a teenage, amazon-like warrior with a gigantic broadsword, and Balmung, renowned across The World as one of the most powerful and noble users. Their friends have also fallen into comas because of their involvement in The World, and each searches for an answer as to why The World has gone haywire.

This immersion is The World is the strongest point of .hack//Quarantine. A game about a game spiraling out-of-control is an intruiging concept that gamers (surprise!) can personally relate to. What gamers haven’t found themselves awake far past when they should be sleeping as they desperately try to advance another level? Such pursuits have indirect effects on your life, but what if the game could actually harm you physically?

This concept is fully exploited with excellent tie-ins. A DVD series known as .hack//Limentality comes packaged with each installment and details the “real world” fight against The World and the corporation that controls it. Also, characters from the prequel TV series, .hack//Sign, make cameos and can even be recruited. The universe of .hack is one which immediately sucks you in and provides enough content to drown in.

Unfortunately, the gameplay of .hack//Quarantine is sloppy, boring and tedious. Combat consists of running up to an enemy and jamming on the X button. At this point, one of two things occur: the enemy runs around as if it had discovered the theory of relativity or it laughs at your feeble attack and slaughters you with the enormous butcher’s knife it’s carrying.

To compound the situation, attacks frequently miss, and when they do connect, they don’t inflict enough damage to make the process worthwhile. There are special attack moves that can be used, but they carry the same vulnerabilities and leave your character defenseless if you miss. Therefore, attack-based characters are frequently relegated to a damage sponge role, soaking up enemy attacks while spell casters work.

Of course, if attacking is all but worthless, then magic must be ungodly powerful, right? Bzzt! Guess again. Magic is stronger than attacking, but it only does decent damage if an opposing element is used. You know the drill - fire hurts water, dark hurts light and vice-versa for other elements. If you don’t use opposing elements, you’re still not doing enough damage to really hurt an enemy, but at least you don’t have to run in and get the snot beat out of you.

The enemy design of .hack//Quarantine provides no relief from the other gameplay issues. Hit point totals are high, enemies hit back harder than they take, and there are just too many of them to hack through in a dungeon. It doesn’t help that you can’t escape from battles in dungeons either.

Even the hordes of monsters were bearable in earlier installments of .hack, but it has become a ghastly mutation by now because of tolerances. To make an apt analogy, think of tolerances as the unbearable 75 pounds your wife gains once you become married. Nearly every enemy you face in .hack//Quarantine has a tolerance which negates any damage from physical or magical attacks. Sprinkling these enemies throughout would have created a more enjoyable experience then the constant grind it is.

From the Broken Record Department, it should be noted that another critical mistake is made regarding skills. They are contained on equipment and there is no way to “gain” skills or transfer them from one piece of equipment to another. This is a mind-blowing frustration since you must constantly choose between keeping useful skills or taking small stat gains and inferior skills. You can’t even keep all the weapons you might possibly need, since your inventory space is limited to 40 different items. It is a seemingly simple problem that could have been corrected by linking skills to level growth or allowing them to be transferred.

This might be the most maddening thing about the entire series. All of the flaws of the first game, .hack//Infection, should have been corrected by the fourth installment. Attacks could have been made more powerful, cutting down on repetitive button mashing. Kills could have been made transferable. Fewer enemies could have been given tolerances and virus status. If Bandai insisted on making four parts instead of one continuous game, then the flaws between games should have been corrected.

The final blow against .hack//Quarantine is the incredible lack of intelligence that pervades it. Allies can be given general attack orders during battle, such as focusing upon one enemy or using just physical attacks, but immediately revert to standing around once a fight is finished. There is a trading system with non-playing townspeople, but generic store-bought goods can be swapped for rare equipment. Areas that have been long forgotten must be revisited for the sake of pointless fetch quests. All of these are simple problems that, once again, could have been fixed between installments, unlike your wife’s poundage.

These problems add up. The compelling concept of .hack//Quarantine can not substitute for a battle system that could be charitably called flawed. Players of the three previous installments could probably careless, but if you're new to the series, do realize that what you see in the first game is what you get even in the fourth.

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Community review by sgreenwell (June 08, 2005)

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