Arts

‘Monster Hunter: World’ is a fantastic, farcical foray into lands unknown

"Monster Hunter: World" is out now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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Capcom’s “Monster Hunter: World” has some of the most bizarre tonal shifts I’ve ever seen in a game. When an hour spent fighting a giant dinosaur-dragon is followed by 15 minutes of befriending the local piglet and customizing the color of its pajamas, I feel that some focus would’ve helped with these shifts.

For a series notorious for its bad controls, inaccessible lore, relatively low budget and general lack of accessibility, “World” makes a terrible first impression. A long cutscene with painfully chipper and poorly lip-synced characters who discuss events and places you don’t know about yet is followed up with a lengthy tutorial mostly designed to teach you the basics of walking. It’s also a tutorial which manages to introduce too many mechanics too quickly. Most subsequent features aren’t demonstrated through organic experience, but through tiny text boxes that never fully explain the game’s dozens of menus.

“World’s” saving grace is that you don’t need to understand all (or even most of) its systems and story to play it. Pick a weapon you feel comfortable with, try to ignore how bland the characters and their struggles are and start doing missions out in the field. You’ll quickly discover what “World” really is: the most enjoyable hunting simulator on the market.

You play a slow, presumably out-of-shape warrior tasked with killing monsters several times your size in a handful of small sandboxes that feature different biomes. Most of these monsters resemble small dragons or dinosaurs and, as a result, are incredibly slow. Monsters telegraph their attacks like they want you to write home and tell your family about each hit. Given how slow your own movements are, combat becomes a panicked chess match where you and your opponent constantly contemplate whether it’s a good time to roll away or finally lunge forward to strike.

"Combat becomes a panicked chess match where you and your opponent contemplate whether it's a good time to roll away or lunge forward to strike." 

The monsters’ artificial intelligence (AI) in this game is brilliant in its responsiveness and predictability. They’ll fight back when you attack, but like real animals, they’ll eventually get scared and head back to their lair to heal. If you’re smart about it, you can place traps on the routes they take to get home and gain a huge upper hand. You can even trick monsters into fighting each other and turn the game into a kaiju simulator — I managed to get a thirty foot slug/snake to wrap its entire body around an oversized gecko with a Rastafarian haircut. If all else fails, you can still ambush enemies while they’re asleep in their homes.

Either way, the game is successful in fulfilling the childhood fantasy of being a big game hunter (emphasis on the “big”). Huge chunks of this game are spent tracking down monsters and planning for your encounters with the most powerful ones. Few experiences are more thrilling than running through a typical part of the jungle and coming face to face with a giant-tongued-frog-dinosaur-demon-thing that you are in no way prepared to fight. Battles themselves are long and anxiety-inducing — there’s always a chance an animal will suddenly get the upper hand, but rarely are you punished with actual death. For all the notoriety these games get for being exceedingly difficult, I found myself standing victoriously over the corpse of a boulder-faced bull creature more often than not.

"I found myself standing victoriously over the corpse of a boulder-face bull creature more often than not." 

Multiplayer makes the game even more unbalanced. On top of that, it’s unintuitive, not to mention expensive. You can adventure in squads of up to four people, but multiplayer is online-only, so each friend you bring along will need their own console, copy of the game, subscription to the console’s online gaming service and in-game gear. The multiplayer system itself manages to be more convenient and helpful — you just use an item to summon a random player into your game to help with tricky situations. The downside is that summons are slow and limited, and the person you summon can be completely useless. FromSoftware’s “Souls” series implemented the same sort of multiplayer nearly a decade ago and does it better. Like everything in this game, your experience with the multiplayer is bound to be inconsistent.

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For all the junk between you and a good time, “World” still delivers on an experience you can’t find anywhere else. Specifically, it’s the experience of being Ernest Hemingway circa 1925: you venture into unknown territories, kill everything in your sight in the name of “research,” then go home, kick back and get a foot massage from your weird, anthropomorphic cat-servant. If that’s off-putting to you, you probably won’t like “Monster Hunter: World.” But if you can get into the fantasy — or at least get past it — and learn to appreciate its lovingly and beautifully rendered universe, then the monster animations alone make “World” worth a look.

There’s gold buried in those forests.

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