This is Capcom's third Monster Hunter for the PSP now, the sixth overall, and by now most everyone out there has probably made up their minds. Either you like it or you don't. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite doesn't change anything in any way that's likely to change anybody's opinion.
- Strong art direction
- Excellent 3D modeling
- Tons of new game content
- Lots of long load times
- Clumsy combat
- Solo play is still thin and tedious compared to co-op
This is Capcom’s third Monster Hunter for the PSP now, the sixth overall, and by now most everyone out there has probably made up their minds. Either you like it or you don’t. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite doesn’t change anything in any way that’s likely to change anybody’s opinion.
In Japan they can’t get enough of these games – Monster Hunter is the PSP’s top seller in its home country – but that’s Japan. The Japanese also still love Dynasty Warriors and fermented soybeans. Chalk it up as one of the many mysteries of the inscrutable east. Over here, Monster Hunter has its ups and downs. If you love the ups and don’t mind the downs, this is definitely a heck of a lot more Monster Hunter, with a vast array of new places to go, new mythic beasts to slaughter, and new bits of equipment to craft out of their harvested innards. If you didn’t like any of the last five games, though, there’s not much here that’s liable to convince you otherwise.
In The Hunt
Monster Hunter was conceived as a cooperative 3D action game, like Phantasy Star Online, for a party of up to four players. Players form teams of warriors, venture out into a primitive world, and hack, slash, trick, or trap all sorts of giant monsters. Killing monsters nets the cash and raw materials required to buy or build better equipment, which makes it easier to kill bigger monsters, and so on.
“Cooperative” is the key word up there. Despite whatever efforts Capcom has put forward over the years, this is not very much fun as a single-player game. A solo hunter can’t tackle the more challenging quests, can’t use the more complex tactics that make the co-op game interesting, and tends to be hampered in some of the most basic possible ways during combat. The camera controls, for instance, are very hard to use on the PSP. In the single-player mode, without other players to watch your back, you’ll spend most of your time during battles just trying to point the camera at what you want to hit.
Generally speaking, there are layers of tedium in between starting up the game and getting to the fun part (going out and killing monsters). The menu interface is dense and unfriendly, even if you’re already familiar with the series. If you’re not, look forward to spending a long time in the complex training mode learning all of the different basics. Also, expect to spend a lot of time sitting through load screens, which interrupt at every turn.
It’s possible to alleviate most of the load times by giving up 578 megabytes of Memory Stick space. Granting the game faster access to most of its important content cuts down the time spent waiting in between bits of the game world by a good 60-70 percent or so. If your Memory Stick’s capacity isn’t measured in gigabytes, though, tough luck.
The big disappointment about Monster Hunter, though, is that when it works, it works really well. With a four-player party that knows what it’s doing, where each member carries out their part of the plan just right, there’s a great sense of accomplishment to pulling off a difficult hunt. It’s not as user-friendly as Phantasy Star Online, but there’s a lot more to the game for dedicated players to master, and the variety of loot available is insane. Freedom Unite also adds the chance to train a funny little AI-controlled sidekick character, a “Frelyne,” which can handle some of the more tedious tasks of gathering up items during a hunt.
Capcom’s art direction and 3D modeling are as beautiful as ever. Monster Hunter as a series has exactly the right look and feel to it. It looks like the kind of unspoiled, primitive landscape where folks would have to go out and carve up giant monsters to gather the necessities of survival. The small outposts of civilization that serve as a jumping-off point for quests have a thrown-together, jerry-rigged style – you can see which pieces came from, say, the ribs of a giant wyvern, or the tusks of a massive snow ape.
A Relic of the Barbarous Spirit
Unfortunately, slogging through to the advanced stages of the game is a painful, draining journey. Once again, the single-player mode simply isn’t very much fun. The clumsy camera and hand-to-hand combat controls, the constant loading, and all the fiddling around with different interface menus make a steep learning curve just that much steeper. Meanwhile, if you don’t have any friends to play with once you’ve mastered the game, there isn’t really much of a reward for all that effort. Veteran monster hunters, then, should enjoy diving in to this new adventure. For them, Freedom Unite offers loads of new content (and Capcom plans to offer even more for download later.) They’re probably not going to see very many new players joining their ranks, though.