Ah, yet another .hack game. Do you feel the love you felt when you picked up Infection? Yeah, you should. Do you feel the love you felt with Mutation? No, you shouldn’t. While Mutation was an improvement over its predecessor, Outbreak devolves back to Part 1. Plot-wise, Outbreak should be the most exciting part of the series. However, the constant virus core hunting, the lack of new characters (only two?!) and the linear mission setup back up the works in the series.
The plot picks up from the cliffhanger from Mutation. The World is completely infested with the virus, and it is starting to show with bunches of raw code appearing all over the walls, floors and fields. Mia, one of your party members, is acting oddly and disappears from your crew. Wiseman and Helba have teamed up and are now plotting together to stop the Phases from putting more players into comas. You learn from one Phase that the corrupted data is flowing into reality (as seen in .hack//Liminality Part 2). Balmung, the legendary hero who pesters you constantly in the first two games, decides you don’t suck and ends up joining you. Remember that this all takes place in the first two hours of the game. However, after this is over, it is back to the linear missions with you. Throughout the game, you are ordered by Helba to chase the numerous Phases from field to field, and also Gate Hack the hell out of everything, resulting in Virus Core hunting between every level. Also, you only pick up two new characters, Balmung (Blade Master) and Terajima Ryoko (Heavy Axe), which is a bit disappointing. Remember, this is entirely field-hopping in order to track down one specific monster, which you Data Drain by bringing to critical health, in order to have a one in five shot of getting the item you need four of and then doing it twice more for the other Virus Core types; really, this gets just a bit annoying after the third time. However, if you are up to this point already, you are probably already deeply interested in the story, and that will keep you going to the end of Outbreak.
There is still no improvement in the AI, sound or graphics, and by now it is pretty obvious there won’t be one. There is still the sub par sound with annoying, repetitive music, still the mediocre in-game graphics with spectacular FMVs and the holocaust level AI. It doesn’t matter though; you should be used to it by now.
The side quest setup didn’t get a Mutation sized overhaul either. You get the final Books of Ryu in Outbreak, which lets you unlock even more useless little prizes by treading over many-a-field and killing everything that moves, which is still as annoying as ever, but this time around, you get a prize for your Grunty raising skills and for making people like you. The Sign-related quests are much different. Unfortunately, the remade scenes are over with and have been replaced with ghost hunting. Now, you have to run from server to server, hunting for ghosts of the Sign heroes who are wandering around in the root town. There is one cool new sidequest, though; SORA! That’s right the annoying but lovable PKing Twin Blade from Sign is back and being tortured by your old pal, Skeith, but that is it for new stuff.
One thing that hasn’t been addressed in the other reviews is the DVDs included. Neither of the past ones were particularly great, but had a few nifty little things hidden; this one, however, is just bad. The OVA episode on this disc is the single most boring anime experience I have had in my life and the hidden game things were just?useless (at least in Part 2 you learn Piros is a CC Corp. worker who has an edited character).
Outbreak commits the great sin of being worse than its previous installment. The plot continues, but the mission setup makes it impossible to enjoy as much as you (should have) enjoyed Mutation. You don’t get the nice influx of new characters like you did in Mutation. The .hack//Sign stuff in Outbreak is rather unimpressive, and still nothing new for the gameplay. Anyway, you should still play this game if you are an RPG fanatic, or if you have played the other two .hacks. Think of it this way; the next one is the finale, and this series goes out with a bang.