Monster Hunter – PS2 – Review

When Capcom announced that
the next Resident Evil game would be an online game, gamers everywhere salivated
at the thought of an online community of gamers that rivaled Final Fantasy XI
or even EverQuest Online Adventures.  The truth was that while
Resident Evil: Outbreak
did support online multiplayer fun, it didn’t quite
live up to everyone’s expectations thanks to a number of things that go well
beyond the fact that the game didn’t allow voice chat.  But leave it up to
Capcom to pull something entirely new out of their hat and bring us another
online multiplayer adventure.  Is Monster Hunter the online game that
will make up for Outbreak?  Let’s hunt for the answer.   


Monster Hunter
is a Broadband-only online game that, much
like Resident Evil: Outbreak, also has a single player game.  The single
player mode gives you but a taste of what the online game (called Network Mode)
will be like but then again much of the exploration becomes a lonely trip into
the game’s exotic landscape where humans share the world with creatures both
familiar and grotesquely unique.  There is also no real story, merely a
collection of quests that serve as tutorials and practice for when you decide to
take the game online.  The game revolves around a world where the human
population hunts down creatures that resemble dinosaurs of our world, hence the
title of the game.  Hunters, it seems, are looked upon as heroes since villages
depend on them to hunt to bring back meat or to safeguard the village from
dangerous carnivores.


The first thing you’ll do
in the game, whether it’s playing online or offline, is creating your own
character.  You’ll be able to choose your character’s gender, hairstyle, facial
features (which also include skin tone) and even voice (well, not really voices,
but grunts, screams and cries).  The character creation options are very limited
so you won’t have quite an original-looking character.  What does give your
character a distinct look is how you choose to equip him or her.  You’ll be able
to go into a village or town and have the local armor upgrade your body armor
with items you find or the bones of dead monsters.  You can even upgrade your
weapons.  Weapons consist of bladed weapons such as swords or knives as well as
projectile weapons such as blowguns. 



Online, the game is played
with up to four players.  After selecting a server, area and then a town, you’ll
move about a town looking for your four companions that will join you in the
available quests.  The first quests are easy.  Some of them having you bring
back meat for your village or have you collecting herbs, making potions or
learning how to fish and cook your own meat.  Then it’s off to slaying dangerous
carnivorous creatures such as the velociprey and then even bigger monsters (like
the awesome-looking dragons) that threaten the nearby area.  Unlike the single
player game that has you doing this rather blindly, online you’ll have three
other players to cover you in case you’ve lead them into a tight spot.


And unlike a certain game
set in Raccoon City, you’ll finally be able to communicate with your fellow
adventurers.  Monster Hunter allows gamers to use a USB keyboard,
although with a Broadband-only connection, a USB headset would have been a lot
more preferable.  In fact, voice chat would have eliminated a big chunk of what
makes this game a clumsy experience.  Monster Hunter is the type of game
that has players come up with a quest strategy before launching into the quest. 
There’s nothing quite like voice chat to quickly come up with a game plan if the
original plan fails.  Typing just doesn’t cut it in a game where the action
flows so fluidly.  And, with only four players instead of a massive party (as
you can have in EverQuest Online Adventures), voice chat would have made
communicating change in plans so much easier.


The quests in this game
are nice and varied thanks, in part, to the massive world that has you climbing
up to reach new areas or using a pick axe to clear a path through breakable
walls.  One quest has you attempting to grab the egg of a creature known as the
Wyvern.  Completing the quest can be done in a number of ways like having one
companion distract the Wyvern while one player grabs the egg and the other two
acts as escorts to the player carrying the egg.  Players learn a number of
skills useful to the hunt as well.  For example, you can set traps like a
pitfall trap that trap smaller creatures or you can track a monster by shooting
it with a paintball (it then tracks the creature on the map). 



All of this sounds great
on paper but when it comes to the actual execution, this is where Monster Hunter
disappoints.  For starters, combat is frustrating because of the awkward control
scheme.  Thrusts of your bladed weapons require the use of the right analog
stick and this could have been all right if the game had a targeting system that
locks on to the enemy in question.  The result is watching your character miss a
lot and get bitten by the enemy.  Secondly, because of the lack of voice
communication, the game feels much like the Dreamcast version of Phantasy
Star Online
–in other words, a bit dated.  Yet what will test some gamer’s
patience is getting in online in the first place.  Talk about putting gamers
through some unnecessary obstacles.  Why not just have us choose a server and an
area and be done with it?


One thing that will
impress is the game’s graphics.  Monster Hunter is a beautiful-looking
game with gorgeous landscapes and great-looking monsters.  Many of the monsters
you’ll face are familiar and thanks to the wonderful detail, you won’t help
simply stopping long enough to admire these creatures.  The landscapes are
nicely rendered and do a great job of immersing the gamer into the exotic
world.  As for the player created characters, there isn’t a considerable amount
of physical details but gamers can be as creative with the armor and weapon
upgrades that change the appearance of both.


The sound effects and
score, on the other hand, are a mixed bag.  You’ll either like it or hate it but
there’s no denying how incredibly cool the monsters in the game sound.  Much
like Capcom’s early dinosaur-themed game Dino Crisis, the
dinosaur-inspired monsters have distinct and familiar sounds.  The docile
herbivores, for example, have a loud but lazy bellow while the velociprey will
bring to mind the velociraptors in the movie

Jurassic Park

Yet when it comes to environmental noise, you’ll find that the experience of
being outdoors isn’t as convincing.  You’ll hear babbling brooks and the
occasional call of some unseen exotic bird but nothing that really makes you
feel like you’re in a lost world.  The musical score is decent and is used well
enough during key events.  When you cook, it’s music that tells you when your
meat is fully cooked.  As for voice work, you’ll think you’re playing Banjo-Kazooie
with the way the NPCs talk.  What’s up with that?


Monster Hunter
is a fun online adventure that could have
been a really amazing game if it wasn’t for the number of things that hold it
back considerably.  Offline the game is weakened by little interaction and no
real plotline, but online is another story.  Online you’ll find enough
adventures to get into with other gamers and for the most part the majority of
the quests are pretty darn fun.  Yet as a result of its awkward controls and
dated online features, Monster Hunter just makes for a good weekend


Scoring Details for MONSTER HUNTER


Gameplay: 7.0
It’s all about the online Network
Mode since the offline single player game really doesn’t satisfy the way
Resident Evil: Outbreak
does.  The short quests are really nice but thanks
to the awkward combat controls hunting monsters becomes a frustrating feat. 


Graphics: 8.0
The environments are rendered
beautifully and the monsters look spectacular.  Player created characters are
limited to a few animations and facial features but can wear distinctive armor
so you won’t run into many clones out there.


Sound: 7.8
You’ll hear nearby waterfalls or the
unusual sounds the herbivores make while grazing, but don’t expect to be
surrounded by a wall of sound.  There’s a soundtrack and it’s used at all the
right moments.  Yet the nonsense babbling you hear from NPCs just doesn’t work.


Difficulty: Medium
Depending on your choice of weapons,
hunting monsters isn’t an easy feat, especially when going up against a
full-grown dragon.  Luckily you have three other companions to back you up in a
fight.  Thanks to the poor combat controls, you’ll be missing more times than
hitting your target.


Concept: 7.0
The world map is pretty huge but not
as impressively massive as those found in other recent online adventures.  Yet
there are plenty of things to do and the fact that you can hunt, kill and cook
your own monster meat makes things a bit more interesting.


Multiplayer: 7.2
Four is a decent number for
companions when it comes to Monster Hunter’s quests.  Cheers for the
missions that require a perfect balance of teamwork and careful planning but
jeers for the serious lack of voice chat.  My biggest gripe, though, is that
getting online is like passing an airport security checkpoint–you have to go
through a lot just to get in!


Overall: 7.0
There are a lot of things that make
Monster Hunter an entertaining title, but there are a lot more things
that make it a mediocre experience.  The missions are short and to the
point, which works out nicely but if you’re use to exploration EverQuest
style, then you’re in for a disappointment.  Still, the mild thrills you’ll
experience in this game are worth a good rental.