A dull trophy.
Television has been an effective medium for educating the world about
the plight of endangered species, though what started with the stuffy Mutual
of Omaha's Wild Kingdom
has evolved into more wacky, varied shows. Personalities
like Steve Irwin
give us an entertaining peek into
the secret lives of saltwater crocs and dung beetles, while Pet
the lovable critters found at home. The guy who came up with Animal Planet is
But underneath the fa'ade of conservation and entertainment, there's another
reason why we're fascinated by the new breed of animal shows: our primal need
to hunt. We don't need to bring home Brontosaurus burgers for the family, but
the need to "know thy enemy" is deeply ingrained in our predatory brains.
Capcom touches on a very basic nerve in their new third-person action game, Monster
Hunter. But while the idea of chasing after big, scary game is a good
one, this hunt meets with mixed results.
The premise is pretty thin. Monster Hunter is not set in any
particular time period, though it seems like a weird futuristic version of our
own prehistory. You're a member of a tribe of hunters and spend most of your
time trying to take down the hordes of gigantic monsters roaming about. That's
It all starts with a character customization screen in which you're allowed to name your character and select from several different hair, face, skin and voice types. The selection isn't as wide as one would hope for and attributes like height and body type are absent, but it doesn't make much difference once you get into the game.
From there, it's on to the village hub, which lets you do some shopping, meet
up with other players in the online mode or obtain a quest. One of the available
shops allows you to combine items you've found in the field to make new weapons
and armor. It's
always nice to see such customization in games like these, but it turns out that
the items you create are basically the same as those offered in normal shops,
only with a smaller price tag.
Unfortunately, you won't be able leave town and explore on your own without first
taking a quest by talking to one of the hub's residents. Maybe you need to find
one last chuck of iron ore for that armor you've had your eye on or just want
to scout the region so that you'll know what you're up against, but too bad -
you'll just have to make use of your limited time during quests to get all of
At least the quests give you a reason to kill, which is really what Monster
Hunter is all about. The real game begins once you manage to leave town
by giving you a camp complete with supply box, sleeping tent (just in case you
need a little health pick me up) and drop off point for those all-important quest-completing
Quests take place in one of the game's various regions (like forest, desert or jungle), which are in turn split up into zones. Each zone is further separated by load screens, but at least the wait isn't very long. Quests also come with a time limit, so depending on your mission, there may not be much time left for exploration and item collection.
Early on in the game, most of the quests involve heading out into field to search for unique objects like special mushrooms or to collect raw meat for some well-done steaks. Then suddenly the difficulty ramps up and you'll dive into much tougher missions like tracking and killing a velocidrome (think bird / velociraptor combination) or stealing wyvern eggs without getting eaten by an angry mama dragon. At this point, there's a good chance you'll be ill-equipped to deal with all the predators lurking about, so repeating some quests for extra cash and items might be in order.
Sadly, Monster Hunter's control scheme is a little wily. Movement
is simple enough with the left analog stick, but the right analog stick is used
for attacks, making it hard to string together any useful combos. You'll also
wind up re-centering the camera accidentally, especially annoying in the middle
of battle since you'll often get turned around and start swinging your weapon
in the wrong direction. It's just not very intuitive or fun chopping away at
bad guys. Plan on buying the best armor you can get your hands on " you'll need
And just what will you find in the wilds of Monster Hunter? Well, creatures naturally vary by location, but the beasties you'll run up against are both large and small, herbivore and carnivore. The huge, awesome wyverns dominate the landscape and will attack anyone foolish enough to enter their territory, while the antelope-like kelbi are content to feed among the grasses and leave well enough alone. Then there are the scavenging cat-people who love to steal from you, but will otherwise dump your inert body back at camp should you be defeated. You'll see all manner of beast out here.
Whether you're digging around for mushrooms or whacking away at a freakish rhino with a sword, the quests aren't particularly engaging. The good news is that some quests aren't just straightforward hunting and gathering missions. If properly equipped, you'll also be able to mine for precious metals, go bug catching, use the bugs you catch to go fishing and even try your hand at cooking. None of these distractions are complex, but they do lead to more items for Monster
Hunter's unique item combination aspect.
find a ton of useful objects in the field, from healing herbs to blade-sharpening
rocks. Other items like huskberries and spiderwebs may seem less useful, but
even these can result in handy gear. For example, mixing ivy and spiderwebs makes
a fine net and adding a toadstool to some raw meat leads to poisoned monster
bait. Of course, some combinations are garbage, so you have to experiment.
Monster Hunter has a pretty steep difficulty curve. You start
off on simple gathering missions only to be thrown into fire (almost literally)
with some really big, tough monsters. Luckily, you can go online and pick up
three friends to help make your task easier. The game makes much more sense when
played online, as friends can run distractions, set traps and provide extra damage.
It's basically a less interesting version of Phantasy
Star Online, and while it isn't terribly deep or innovative, it's
clearly better than playing alone.
The visuals aren't too shabby, either. The models for players and creatures
are pretty good and the environments are nicely detailed. The game would have
greatly benefited from more seamless design, though, as the constant loading
of smallish areas really kills off any sense of consistency. The sound is limited
to background ambience and the occasional grunts and squawks, really nothing
much at all.
In the end, Monster Hunter leaves a fairly bland taste in the
mouth. With its cool creature-catching concept and some field items that would
make a Boy
Scout proud, it sets a good table. Unfortunately, the poor control and lack
of solo playability hinder it from catching the big one.