Mon­ster Hunter: World

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Cap­com For­mat PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now (PS4, Xbox One), Au­tumn (PC)

PC, PS4, Xbox One

Okay, the Scout­flies can stay. Track­ing a beast in Mon­ster Hunter used to mean scour­ing a clus­ter of small, self-con­tained zones, linked to­gether via nar­row paths – and brief loads – be­fore stum­bling across your tar­get and im­me­di­ately tag­ging it with a paint­ball, lest it dis­ap­pear from view. The paint, as sea­soned hunters will at­test, would nat­u­rally wear off over time, forc­ing you to ap­ply a fresh coat dur­ing longer fights. Now, in­stead, we have a cloud of lu­mi­nous in­sects that flits be­tween ob­jects of in­ter­est, not so much draw­ing your at­ten­tion as in­sist­ing on it. Even­tu­ally, they’ll hover near a glob of mu­cus, a set of foot­prints, a wall scarred by claws; tap a but­ton to in­ves­ti­gate and they’ll form a glow­ing bread­crumb trail, steadily lead­ing you, clue by clue, to­wards your mon­strous quarry. To vet­er­ans, this might sound like sac­ri­lege; early on, it may even feel like it too. In prac­tice, not only do you feel much more like a hunter, steadily pick­ing up en­vi­ron­men­tal clues as you get closer to your prize, but your first en­counter with a new crea­ture be­gins not with an awk­ward bit of busy­work, but with the un­sheath­ing of your weapon.

It’s em­blem­atic of a game that not only gets to the good stuff quicker, but also keeps you in the fight for longer. As be­fore, you might have to climb a ten­dril, leap off a cliff, dive un­der­wa­ter or inch through a crawlspace to reach a new area, but there are no im­mer­sion-break­ing pauses, no vis­ual seams be­tween them. That means when a wounded mon­ster stum­bles away, pant­ing and trip­ping, it’s a much more thrilling pur­suit. You may even catch up be­fore it man­ages a restora­tive meal or doze, while in the case of the fly­ing Wyverns, you can use your in­sec­toid as­sis­tants to pick up the trail – or, in­deed, re­fer to the mini-map, which high­lights any beasts you’ve en­coun­tered.

But more im­por­tantly than all that, the Scout­flies have also al­lowed Cap­com to build en­vi­ron­ments more dense, in­tri­cate and de­tailed than ever be­fore, with­out wor­ry­ing about play­ers get­ting lost and wasting too much time search­ing for their tar­get. Even af­ter dozens of vis­its, there are parts of the An­cient For­est you may not have vis­ited, from its wa­ter­logged caves to its knots of trees spi­ralling up­ward to­wards canopies and mon­ster nests, with vines to climb and swing from. The arid, un­for­giv­ing Wild­spire Waste proves rather eas­ier to nav­i­gate, but then you’ll need your phos­pho­res­cent guides once more to ne­go­ti­ate the gor­geous Co­ral High­lands, an un­der­wa­ter par­adise that hap­pens to be over­ground. Then fol­lows a de­scent into the pu­trid waste­land of Rot­ten Vale, where the air is so thick with death and de­cay that it steadily saps your health.

Still, if this mon­ster grave­yard is as grim and grisly as Mon­ster Hunter has ever been, it’s also host to three of the game’s best new­com­ers. Part co­bra, part lizard, the Great Gir­ros is a hand­some, ven­omous pest of an op­po­nent, ca­pa­ble of paralysing you with its over­sized fangs, and feed­ing on car­rion when it’s los­ing the fight. The ag­gres­sive Odog­a­ron moves at ter­ri­fy­ing speed as it in­flicts deep wounds with vi­cious swipes of its keen claws. Per­haps the pick of the bunch is the Radobaan, which, ar­moured with a shell of jut­ting bones, looks like a tar Kata­mari rolled through a wendigo nest; fit­tingly, one of its most ef­fec­tive at­tacks is to curl up into a ball and roll di­rectly to­wards you. Carve up this trio and you’ll end up with an ar­mour set that makes you look like a mem­ber of the Norse black-metal band you thought only ex­isted in your night­mares.

This pre­pos­ter­ous-look­ing kit is a re­minder that while World may be a cal­cu­lated play for a western au­di­ence, Mon­ster Hunter isn’t about to lose its sense of iden­tity. Yes, the strong­man pose af­ter you quaff a health or stamina po­tion is gone, but it’s hardly missed. Your fe­line as­sis­tants, the adorable Pal­i­coes, are back, still keep­ing mon­sters oc­cu­pied, or giv­ing you a gen­tle whack when you’re stunned to knock some sense back into you. And if it’s not quite as ex­ag­ger­at­edly silly as be­fore, there’s still a sense of comic des­per­a­tion to your hunter’s mid-fight run­ning an­i­ma­tion; sim­i­larly, hold­ing the right trig­ger to scam­per up a wall of ivy prompts an ac­cel­er­ated climb that looks won­der­fully daft. If these mo­ments are en­tirely in ser­vice to fun rather than phys­i­cal­ity, there are few games that quite sell the im­pact of their com­bat as well as this. Mon­sters may not re­act to ev­ery sin­gle blow you land, but over time their hides will be scarred, their ar­mour stripped away, their unique abil­i­ties neutered – watch out for the tragi­comic moment where a wounded Tz­itzi-Ya-Ku tries to daz­zle you, only to re­alise its frills no longer work. And the most pre­cise or force­ful at­tacks pro­duce a tan­gi­ble re­sponse: there are few things more sat­is­fy­ing than swing­ing your ham­mer with per­fect tim­ing to con­nect with the jaw of a charg­ing beast, send­ing it sprawl­ing to the ground so you can whale away as it bucks and writhes, des­per­ately strug­gling to get back up.

It al­most goes with­out say­ing that this is com­fort­ably the best-look­ing Mon­ster Hunter to date – mov­ing from 3DS to home con­sole, it re­ally should be – but its tech­ni­cal vir­tu­os­ity comes sec­ondary to the in­ven­tive bril­liance of its crea­ture de­signs. The Paolumu is a clear favourite, a bat-like crea­ture that in­flates a col­lar around its neck to lit­er­ally bal­loon in size, while the sleek-winged Le­giana, the apex preda­tor of the Co­ral High­lands, has a strik­ing el­e­gance – at least when not launch­ing vol­leys of stamina-drain­ing ice crys­tals at you.

The spec­ta­cle is height­ened by the greater fre­quency of mon­ster-on-mon­ster ac­tion, giv­ing the sense of a func­tion­ing ecosys­tem at which pre­vi­ous games only ten­ta­tively hinted. Ven­ture into Wild­spire Waste, for ex­am­ple, and you may well see the slimy, mud-dwelling

Its tech­ni­cal vir­tu­os­ity comes sec­ondary to the in­ven­tive bril­liance of its crea­ture de­signs

Jyu­ra­to­dus wrap it­self around the heav­ily-ar­moured Bar­roth (the lat­ter, once re­cov­ered, will re­tal­i­ate with a pow­er­ful head­butt). Such face-offs aren’t wholly or­ganic: if the two meet again, the en­counter will likely play out sim­i­larly, but their pre­dictable be­hav­iour can be fac­tored into your bat­tle tac­tics, as you de­lib­er­ately bait one to­ward an­other be­fore re­treat­ing to a safe place to watch them knock spots off each other and sub­se­quently make your job all the sim­pler. As­sum­ing, that is, you don’t at­tract the at­ten­tion of both ri­vals at once.

And if you do, you’ve got more ways to fight back. With higher ground in just about ev­ery area, it’s eas­ier to mount en­e­mies than be­fore – and if a leap­ing at­tack lands, you might end up pum­melling away at a mon­ster’s tail or face, rather than sim­ply play­ing buck­ing bronco on its back. With the ad­di­tion of a cape, you can catch drafts of air, or glide off tall plat­forms to­ward your foe. Steep in­clines, mean­while, turn sprints into down­hill slides, let­ting you launch into a jump and an­other po­ten­tial rodeo op­por­tu­nity. The ham­mer’s spin­ning aerial con­vinced us to switch from our favoured In­sect Glaive – though the lat­ter al­most tempted us back with its won­der­fully im­pos­si­ble midair dash, let­ting you course-cor­rect a mis­judged vault.

There are more ways to get out of trou­ble, too. Cap­com has gone as far as to let you eat or drink on the move – with the caveat that in­ter­rupt­ing the an­i­ma­tion by break­ing into a sprint or be­ing struck means for­go­ing its ben­e­fits. You don’t have to re­treat quite so far to sharpen your weapon, with a ghillie cape that cam­ou­flages you from view in ar­eas with plenty of brush or ob­jects to hide be­hind. Then again, mon­sters have a nasty habit of clip­ping through scenery, while the cam­era is a per­sis­tent pain. Long-time hunters will Your lodg­ings in Astera are mod­est at first, but as you progress you’ll have the op­tion to move to more lav­ish sur­round­ings. Re­tir­ing to your quar­ters to lis­ten to harp mu­sic is the per­fect way to un­wind af­ter an in­tense hunt

know that care­ful move­ment of the cam­era is as im­por­tant as care­ful ma­noeu­vring around your prey, but with such large and fast-mov­ing en­e­mies it’s not al­ways pos­si­ble – an un­for­tu­nate side-ef­fect of World’s menagerie boast­ing some of the se­ries’ largest, quick­est and dead­li­est mon­sters to date.

The most glar­ing prob­lem, how­ever, comes when try­ing to play the cam­paign co­op­er­a­tively – a process which, un­like World’s en­vi­ron­ments, is any­thing but seam­less. Cap­com has, in its in­fi­nite wis­dom, de­creed that play­ers can only join an as­sign­ment once ev­ery­one has seen its key cutscene, which means two friends at the same point in the story will have to en­ter the quest sep­a­rately, with one quit­ting to join the other once the scene in ques­tion has played out. And with their bad lip-sync­ing and mo­ments of in­ad­ver­tent com­edy – just wait for the “mas­sive slag” scene – they re­ally aren’t good enough to jus­tify such need­less hoop-jump­ing.

In truth, there were al­ways likely to be a few legacy hold­backs for a long-run­ning se­ries mak­ing its bold­est stride for­ward in years. It isn’t quite the dra­matic leap some will sug­gest; Mon­ster Hunter isn’t vastly more ac­ces­si­ble than it was be­fore, but then the se­ries was never quite as im­pen­e­tra­ble as some made out. World sim­ply smooths out a few of the big­ger ob­sta­cles to new play­ers, and makes the whole thing so spec­tac­u­lar that any lin­ger­ing bumps can be tol­er­ated, if not fully ex­cused. In other words, it’s still Mon­ster Hunter. This lat­est – and surely great­est – en­try sim­ply makes it eas­ier than ever be­fore to un­der­stand why its fans fell in love with it in the first place.

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