Pre-E3 06: .hack//G.U.

The new version of The World, the faux-MMO .hack takes place in, looks much less drab, and much more varied, than the version destroyed at the end of the last game. The Japanese temple level we visited was full of detail in its sloping roofs and rough-hewn floorboards - touches you'd never see in the original game. Nor was there much to do in the first game but run through dungeons, opening the occasional chest and battling monsters. This time around, you'll have to contend with traps like heated floor pads, and puzzles involving Chim-Chims, a Pokemon-esque life-form that inhabits the game. Don't worry; you don't have to capture and battle them - you just kick the crap out of them and store 'em for later use in quests. You might also encounter other players in the dungeons, and if you join their battles and rescue them, they might even give you bonus items - which is a nice little reward as well as ramming home the "virtual world" concept of .hack a little bit more realistically.

And that's what's so cool about .hack. After all, you can play any number of other dungeon-crawling RPGs on the PS2. But the ultra-slick anime-influenced cinemas and the story that veers from catastrophes in the real world to bitchy, kill-stealing griefers in-game. From the simulated computer desktop that lets you launch your e-mail (from the players in the game, naturally) to the news reports, complete with streaming anime video to the card battling game you can play against other characters in the .hack//G.U. world (which will show up in volume 2), the story and game are an incredibly cool mix - real world meets really weird. With the much-needed overhaul of the graphics and gameplay, .hack//G.U. just has to find a way to make the story as compelling as the original's, and it's totally golden.

May 9, 2006