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

A computer virus infects a massively multiplayer online game - and people start collapsing in the real world. When your online game is so addictive that gamers can't stop playing - and you start paying the price in comatose players - it's conspiracy time. The real-world cover-up begins to blend together with the mystery inside the game. Soon, players are banding together to get to the bottom of it all, and discovering that a psychotic programmer may be to blame. That's the story of the original .hack, released over four volumes a few years ago. And it looks like the sequel is primed to cover similar ground.

In a PlayStation 2 game that simulates the world of an online RPG of the near future, nothing is exactly as it seems. The original got a little predictable, though - gameplay-wise, that is. As the story became addictive, the gameplay slid into neutral. This time, though, the developers are working to ensure that doesn't happen again. Best news: .hack//G.U. is broken into three volumes, not four, which should keep things from getting stretched too thin. Now that we've finally got a chance to get our hands on it, it's obvious that the developers are looking for ways to deepen the illusion - that you're playing an online game and that the fates of real people are at stake. That's the very thing which sets .hack apart.