Version tested: PSP
As job descriptions go, Monster Hunter is pretty hard to top. Not only is it concise and wonderfully self-explanatory, it's also the sort of thing that instantly impresses the opposite sex and marks you out as someone whose genetic material is worth adding to the family tree.
- "Have you met Ian? He's in computers"
- "Oh, that's interesting. I'm a MONSTER HUNTER"
No prizes for guessing who'll be getting the last slice of Vienetta at that dinner party, right? And as games are a veritable buffet of puerile wish fulfilment, it's really no surprise that such a rugged pastime has finally been given a "does what it says on the tin" virtual version. Part role-playing game, part Capcom slash-'em-up (complete with the now obligatory "violence and gore" warning) Monster Hunter Freedom casts you as a wannabe adventurer in a world populated by medieval peasants and asks you to exterminate the local fauna with extreme prejudice.
Put Your Face On
First up, you have to create your beast bashing avatar from the usual array of male/female face shapes, haircuts and skin tones. It's not the most nuanced character creation tool in existence, but for a portable title it's more than ample - you can easily create a unique and groovy looking surrogate to twat some sense into scaly foes on your behalf.
In true RPG style, you then awake in bed (thankfully not suffering from amnesia or in possession of a mysterious pendant) and are free to roam your tiny village. And by tiny, I mean really, really tiny. It's less of a town and more an item-generating savepoint, with a sprinkling of shops and places to choose new missions. A few NPCs are dotted about, but don't expect them to offer anything other than the same stock phrases.
There's also a farm run by cats [Do they have strange hats? Someone tell Tom! -Ed], but we'll get to that surreal sideline later.
After browsing the handful of shops (and wondering just what a Felvine is) you'll probably head on over to the Guild, because that's where the swinging scene always kicks off in games like this. Needless to say, the wenches within scoff at your novice ways. Lingering outside is the village elder, and he's the guy who sends you off on your first batch of quests - cunningly disguised as tutorial missions.
Initially you'll be tasked with performing embarrassingly simple tasks, such as picking mushrooms, or scrutinising the scenery for foliage that might give up some goodies if investigated. As almost all of the items on these early objective lists can be obtained from the village before embarking on the missions, most of them can be completed simply by entering the wilderness with everything already in your pockets. How educational.
You do learn some useful tricks along the way though - not least how to strip the carcasses of your kills for useful items, and how to turn the raw meat into a delicious steak dinner. Annoyingly, if a plant or corpse contains more than one item you have to keep hitting the circle button to get them, rather than simply being shown a list of what's been found and letting you choose what to take. As the "searching the ground" animation takes two seconds to play through, and some areas can contain four or five items, that's a long time to be prodding a button just to clog up your inventory with sodding berries.
Before long, things do start to get more exciting and your first encounter with an aggressive foe comes as you head north to prove your worth as a fisherman (which you do via the skill of pressing the square button at the right time). What the village elder doesn't tell you is that guarding the pool where your fishy quarry swims is a hulking great warthog thing, and it's through this initial brush with danger that some sadly persistent gameplay niggles become clear.
To start with, the hog charges at you as soon as you enter his territory. You probably won't have time to unsheath your weapon and block him, so the impact knocks you back into the previous section. Two loading screens later, and you re-enter the fray slightly better prepared.
Unfortunately, for a game that hinges on the concept of being a monster hunter, the hunting of monsters is actually the most frustrating element. Suffering from the PSPs solitary control stick, you're stuck with a limp camera that requires either constant correction with the d-pad, or constant centring with the left shoulder button. Not too bad when you're simply out for a stroll, but painfully annoying when in mortal combat with a savage enemy. When you consider that it's not unusual to be besieged by up to four or five nimble and bloodthirsty critters, the game is crying out for some sort of lock-on command to keep the monsters in your sights. It's not unique to this game, of course, and is a problem that blights most PSP third-person titles in some way.