Freedom in video games comes in different shapes and forms and more often than not the word open-world comes to mind. Sure enough, a huge sandbox provides the player with the freedom to do whatever they like within the limitations of the game’s design, but freedom is not only limited to the games world but to the choices you’re able to make as well. A simple example would be most of Bioware’s recent role-playing games. The player is free to shape their experience based on their choices and actions within the game. Monster Hunter doesn’t fall into any of those categories though but it still provides what I find to be the most enjoyable form of freedom; the freedom to choose how you play and how you build and grow your character.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate for the most part still follows the same pattern as before. Hunt monsters, gather materials from them to build better gear so that you can hunt even greater and larger beasts. The hook however is the wide variety of playstyles it provides and while it’s common for a game of its kind to provide these options, especially when it comes to weapon types, Monster Hunter doesn’t fall into the similar pattern of having weapon type’s fall neatly into categories based simply on weight. This is not to say that weight doesn’t play a role as you can still choose between the slower Great Sword and the faster Short Sword for instance, but each type feels unique and provides a different experience thanks to their inherent set of skills and combos.
There are a total of 14 weapon types with 11 of those being close range and the remaining 3 being long-range. Each weapon has a special skill, set of combos and different characteristics. For instance, The Great Sword is all about timing and observation. It requires precise timing of its attacks and because it’s slow due its weight, you have to be able to predict a monster’s movements so that your attack connects. You’re also able to block and charge up for devastating attacks. On the other end of the spectrum and new to this iteration is the Insect Glaive which grants users the ability to shoot out an insect like creature called the Kinsect to drain essences from a monster for temporary stat buffs and it also has a pole vault attack. The focus then shifts from constantly going on the offence to mixing up your attacks with the Kinsect to gain those buffs for an added advantage. The pole vault attack also ties into a new feature introduced in this game which is mounting a monster.
Similar in style to Shadow of the Colossus, you’re now able to mount an enemy if you time your attack correctly when doing a jumping attack from either a pole vault or from jumping off a ledge. While it’s not as deep as other mounting systems, it does add a nice touch to battles. As an example, while one of your team mates has mounted the monster and is in the process of dishing out some pain, everyone on the team gets a short reprieve to recuperate and get in shape to continue fighting. It adds a lot to the team dynamic as it is always beneficial to have a member that can easily pull off a mount. Unfortunately the lack of voice chat does hurt when coordinating your attacks but the visual cues are adequate enough to facilitate a natural synergy between party members.
Monster Hunter is meant to be played with other humans as the most fun can only be had when you’re all struggling together to overcome some of the behemoths in this game. There is nothing quite like a group panic that sets in once a monster goes into its frenzy mode which is an aggravated state that increases its power and changes its behaviour. On the flip side of the same coin, when you overcome this beast as a group you can’t help but feel an immense sense of camaraderie amongst your fellow teammates and it just serves as a catalyst to inspire a group to challenge even greater hunts. It’s an amazing cycle of hunt, gather, craft and more hunting. It never really gets stale as Capcom did an amazing job of gradually introducing new challenges to keep hunters fighting and growing. I should also note that playing online was near perfect and I never experienced lag or any sort of latency issues.
While the bulk of the enjoyment does come from online play, Monster Hunter 4 actually has a decent campaign this time around, and while it’s nowhere near as extensive as what you’d find in other RPGs, it’s a welcome addition considering what we were given in the past. That said, it still follows the usual Monster Hunter formula of questing but it’s just dressed up in a better fashion this time around with some witty dialogue, CGI cut scenes and an actual story that means something. Expect a ton of cat puns as well, and while the dialogue is no way purrfect, it is entertaining.
On the presentation side of things, Monster Hunter is pretty easy on the eye, more so on the New 3DS as textures are much more defined. Monsters are extremely well designed and each looks and feels unique. Most of the eye candy comes from the various weapons and armour sets which looks so cool that you’ll sometimes just want to stop playing and stare at your character. Sound design is pretty good as well, but nothing particularly outstanding. As an overall package, Monster Hunter looks and feels more alive than previous versions especially in the town areas and does a fantastic job of maintaining a steady and constant frame rate throughout.
It’s also very flexible in its control scheme and while it would handle better on the New 3DS due the added analogy nub, playing on older systems works just as well with a lock on system for bigger monsters and a virtual d-pad on the lower screen to control the camera. The lack of voice chat does hurt the online experience but the game is designed in a way to make the co-op experience feel natural, even without it. Quest separation between online and single-player is tedious and it’s definitely something I feel should’ve been tweaked even though it makes sense in terms of the game having more of a proper single player campaign this time around.
Last Updated: February 27, 2015