.hack//G.U. vol. 1//Rebirth - exclusive hands on

.hack is back.

More than two and a half years since the final installment in the original .hack saga wrapped up, a new story is beginning. Set seven years after the original game - and 11 years from right now - .hack//G.U. presents a world where online gaming has become synonymous with everyday life. If anything, that future world seems more like 11 minutes from now, with controversies over game addiction, game violence and governments monitoring their citizens making up the headlines on its fictional web news.

As the game'sdirector Hiroshi Matsuyama observes, "The popularity of the previous series in the US was more than we expected... we believed a story based on an MMORPG with an online/offline world and the idea of anonymity that real users feel in regards to the internet is something that can be enjoyed by players worldwide."

This game-within-a-game idea seemed novel when it first debuted in 2003; nobody's tried it since. When you turn on .hack//G.U., you meet Haseo. The tutorial covers his first experiences playing The World R:2, the fictional massively multiplayer online game that forms the core of .hack//G.U. Played by over 12 million people worldwide - dwarfing the current real-world leader of the pack, World of Warcraft, and its five million subscribers - it's the home to any number of heroes and rogues, and in his first adventure Haseo falls victim to Player Killers who lull him into a false sense of security and then slay him.

The cinema ends, and a title card comes up: Eight Months Later.

In that time, Haseo has transformed from a quivering newbie to a force of nature, bedecked in wickedly spiked black armor and carrying weapons that look even meaner - including a giant sword with a cruel chainsaw blade. When we join him again, he proceeds to ravage a guild of Player Killers. This is seriously savage - he takes down the peons with a huge scythe before sarcastically taunting the leader, Bordeaux, and leaving her face down in the dirt with a few swipes of that terrible sword.