Friday, July 10, 2009

Monster Hunter Failure Unite

I'm no stranger to self-punishing games. I've devoted hundreds of hours level grinding through Final Fantasies, Guild Wars, and Ragnarok Online. I could swear I am the perfect match for Capcom's aptly titled monster hunting adventure, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite... Except that it sucks.

Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is a PSP RPG which has taken Japan by storm. Emphasizing cooperative wireless play with friends or strangers, MHFU has pushed PSP hardware sales and spawned all manner of merchandising (special edition PSP's, carry bags, toys, beverages, etc...).

I can see why. It's a gorgeous game, with hundreds of weapons and armors to collect, customize, and use. The adventure is rife with character development options and it's cooperative to boot. The emphasis on local wireless (ad-hoc) as opposed to online (infrastructure) play means none of the retarded thirteen year olds that populate your typical massively multiplayer online games.

So what's the problem? The gameplay is broken. Let me make this clear - I really really wanted to like MHFU. I loved the concept, the graphics, and virtually everything I'd seen of it... until I actually played it. Even after downloading the demo, I gave the game multiple chances to impress me, punishing myself with a dozen hand-cramping attempts to play it. No. Fundamentally broken.

Let's begin with the monster hunting itself. Monsters have a ridiculous amount of health, and there are specific strategies to killing them. These are not always obvious, nor is it easy to line up the target. The factors working against you being able to are legion. Collision detection is crappy. Characters move slowly. Camera is frustrating. Auto-lock is absent.

In a fascinating twist of logic, Capcom decided to map character movement to the PSP's analog nub (already a thumb-cramping device) on the left side, then supplement this with camera controls mapped to the PSP's D-pad also on the left side. The only way to control both at the same time is to contort your thumb and index finger into an unnatural C-shape that Mounter Hunter aficionados affectionately call "finger-hooking." Personally, it makes me feel like I have rheumatoid arthritis. However, you literally cannot play the game without it because monsters move fast, you move slow, you need to hit precisely, and the auto-camera sucks bollocks.

Whilst I was still trying to get the hang of this game, I tried to seek help on Monster Hunter online forums. The advice I found for new players like me amounted to two sentences: "Don't get hit. Hit the monster." Gee whiz, thanks professor.

Seasoned Monster Hunter players will shrug off the game's deficits as merely "a challenge." Apparently, "challenge" is the word they prefer to use when qualifying the game's dysfunctional controls. "It's not broken, it just makes you work harder!" After all, if you don't get arthritis, you're not committed enough.

Gamespot recently released a pitch perfect review of MHFU, which said:

Lock-on control could have been used to alleviate at least some of the camera's problems, but yet again, it's nowhere to be found. Because you're supposed to attack different parts of a monster's body to achieve different results it's true that lock-on control might remove the challenge of and pinpoint control needed to, say, aim for the head versus the front leg. There have been variants of lock-on control employed in other games that still allow for body part targeting though. Further, the "challenge" here is turned into frustration thanks to the initial problem of a poor camera system.

Bang on. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is a game that is loaded with content and remains conceptually appealing. Hundreds of hours of character development, engaging RPG gameplay, local multiplayer, and the sweetest graphics ever seen on a handheld device all make it a compelling sell. But an insane level of difficulty, broken camera, and conniption fit-inducing controls all make it impossible to recommend.

This entry was
adopted by Brutus.