Monster Hunter is Capcom's attempt at an online Action RPG for your PlayStat 2. Okay, it isn't Everquest or World of Warcraft but it does create a world which feels quite close to an MMORPG, it is as close as you are likely to get on the PlayStation 2. Think Phantasy Star Online (if you were one of the people lucky enough to have played it) not Ultima Online. Capcom have created an amazing looking world for you to explore, however it isn't all plain sailing as the game comes up short in some major areas.
Within about ten minutes of playing Monster Hunter you 'may' find yourself disgusted. Your first mission involves slaughtering some peaceful looking dinosaurs with a rather large sword. The dinosaurs are just taking it easy, hanging out with their dinosaur buddies. Along comes big bad mister Monster Hunter to make orphans out of some poor little dinosaur. Maybe I'm just a touch sensitive or something? Who knows? Fear not though, the game isn't all like this. There are nasty monsters to attack too. All of which look amazing.
The graphics are very good. The landscapes are incredibly lush and the game has a massive draw distance. However, the world is split into smaller 'nodes', somewhat like Fable, which destroys any sense of a huge scale the world could have established for itself. Character models are also impressive with a large degree of customisation possible. The 'monsters' (well they are just dinosaurs really) are also incredibly detailed. One gripe I have though, involves 'Invisible Wall Syndrome.' In such an impressive looking game world, one wouldn't expect to start running into invisible walls. It happens though and does impact on how 'immersive' the game feels. It isn't a huge problem but it can be annoying at times. Sound is also a plus point. While music is forgettable enough RPG fare, the dinosaurs sound suitably menacing.
Gameplay doesn't fare quite as well though. The controls are incredibly cumbersome and often lead to players running into some awkward situations; particularly when online. The left analogue stick is used for movement. The right stick though is used for combat. It doesn't quite work though. Capcom have tried to be novel by using the right stick for different attacks. However, they really should have learnt that right thumbsticks should be for camera controls. R1 is used to centre the camera behind the character but it just doesn't work. More often than not, your character is attacked from the side before you even see it. It becomes annoying very quickly. It can affect online games as well; cries of "help!" from team-mates will often leave you struggling to find just where your team-mates actuallyare. It is incredibly frustrating. If the game was easy then the problem may not have impacted immensely. However, as the game progresses it gets very challenging. Missions are, at times, impossible when not completed online in a team. Communication becomes vastly important online.
Communication is another problem however. The game does not support the PlayStation 2's USB headset. Instead, players use either a USB keyboard or an onscreen keyboard to talk to their fellow monster hunters. The onscreen keyboard is far too unwieldy to be of any use and I would much rather use voice communication than a keyboard. In a game where communication is so important, it really does lead me to wonder why headset support was not included? The game's mission system is vaguely similar to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Various missions can be taken on in town with promises of reward. Then your intrepid hero is sent out into the wild to go hunting. Unfortunately, and quite unlike Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, there is little variation in missions. Differences only really extend to the monsters you hunt or how hard it is to kill them. Doing the same thing over and over again can become tiresome and it is only really when gamers go online that the game becomes rewarding.
As I mentioned earlier, online play is not without its faults. Communication can be incredibly difficult. However, when it works, it works really well. As in most online games, finding a good group of people to play with is the key. When you manage to complete a particularly difficult mission with some online buddies, the feeling of accomplishment is immense. Pre-hunt communication is handled in a way that is reminiscent of Phantasy Star Online, though on a far smaller scale. Up to eight players meet up in a town, take on missions and then go off hunting together. Limiting towns to eight people is another annoyance though, as you are left hopping from town to town trying to find decent people to play with. This is an online game primarily remember and the anonymity provided by online games brings out the worst in some people.
Monster Hunter is a fun enough game if you are willing to struggle through some of its problems. The camera is absolutely appalling and it will cause you nightmares. The game can be incredibly fun though, especially if you manage to have some online buddies to play with. The graphics are also great. If you aren't online with your PlayStation 2 though, I would suggest giving the game a miss.