Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst
Playing Phantasy Star Online Blue Burst is to remember what it was like when games were fun. It's hardly the most comprehensive online experience. It's more repetitive than a Fast Show catchphrase and initially as baffling as a Swedish user guide to melon farming. It's also so optimised for console play that you keep expecting your keyboard to develop trigger buttons, and sports such a disregard for traditional MMO gameplay design that Guild Wars looks .positively normal by comparison. But above all of that is the basic fact that the damn thing is just sheer balls-out fun, whatever way you cut it.
Long-time gamers will probably have encountered PSO in one form and on one console or another - originally on Dreamcast, moving to Xbox and Gamecube for episode II, transforming into a Pokemon-style II card game by episode III, and now arriving on al the PC as an I all-in-one package containing episodes I, II, a restyled III and a whole new IV for your pleasure.
The story tells of the colonisation of planet Ragol and the subsequent disaster that befalls the colonists. You take up the role of a hunter onboard an orbiting station, venturing down to the planet on a series of missions to find out what happened and how to put things right.
In practice this means teaming up with three others in the station's various lobbies, then picking a mission and warping planet-side to fight wave after relentless wave of hostile native creatures. I collecting loot and levelling up. Which could be really tedious I if.it wasn't for the good ol' Sega magic infesting everything with a vibrancy that you just don't get from most developers. Sure, it isn't the deepest experience in the world, but there's just enough bubbling under the surface to keep you coming back. Your MAG sidekick for instance, floating robot pet things that all have different personalities, require feeding and nurturing and offer special attacks as time goes on. Or the symbol chat feature that enables you to design your own speech bubble images for quick communication. Or the special football' lobbies that provide a mini-kickabout arena for letting off steam between missions. Or the...
You get the idea. As is usual with Sega, Phantasy Star Online is jam-packed with special gaming touches all combining to create one of the most pleasing gaming environments around. It's not perfect, can come off as somewhat basic compared to the classy delights of Guild Wars, EverQuest II et all. and the interface takes a lot of getting used to. But the community is extremely sociable by and large, and prepared to help newbies rather than scorn them. What's more, the nods towards PC-style MMO design don't sit too badly with the original console mechanics (inclusion of basic guild functions don't really add much but are better than nothing), and the simplistic nature of the gameplay make it ideal for quick bursts of gaming relief rather than requiring the long-term time dedication of other virtual worlds.
It's substance over style basically and all the better for it. It's been a long time coming, but finally the Dreamcast legacy lives on. Good thing too.
Download Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP