Tag Archives: action games

MONSTER HUNTER 3 ULTIMATE REVIEW

Every time a new Monster Hunter games comes out, I think: surely, I must be done with this now. After several hundred hours over at least three versions, I’m not going to get sucked in again. But I do, every time. It’s because Monster Hunter’s world is so absorbing, and the gentle rhythm of prepare, hunt, and collect is so innately satisfying. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is the slickest game in the series to date, and it’s an ideal introduction to the hugely enjoyable business of cooperative monster-slaying.

The basic idea is to venture out into the wilds, find an impressive monster, kill it, and then make hats and swords out of its entrails – but there’s a lot more to it than that. There are 12 weapons, hundreds of items, and more than 100 hours’ worth of quests, but it’s the thrill of the chase and the addictive rush of hard-earned victory that continually hooks me in.

Monster Hunter has a reputation for being intimidating, but really it’s a lot easier to get to grips with than it looks. It’s challenging, sure – thrillingly challenging – but it’s hardly Dark Souls. In Japan this is a game played by mums, little brothers, couples… something like five million people, going by Monster Hunter Portable 3rd’s sales. All you need is someone to show you the ropes.

There are a few new monsters, a rearranged single-player experience and a whole new multiplayer area, but the meat and bones are the same as 2010’s Monster Hunter Tri –

with updated graphics on Wii U, of course, and much better loading times. It’s got the same finely-tuned selection of weapons, the same storyline, and many of the same single-player quests, though they have been reshuffled to incorporate new monsters and the difficulty curve is slightly gentler this time around – some of the toughest missions have been moved up a rank or two, evening out a few of Tri’s difficulty spikes. 

Whether you’re playing on 3DS or Wii U, you’re getting the same experience, which is pretty remarkable in itself. You can transfer your save between the two platforms using a free app from the eShop. You can play online on Wii U, but not on 3DS – and if there’s four of you in a room together, you can play locally on three handheld consoles and one Wii U, and the TV screen becomes an HD showcase for your battle – which is by far the most exciting way to play. Monster Hunter really comes alive in multiplayer, so you’ll want to coerce some friends into playing with you. Show them a few of the best battles, though, and they probably won’t need much persuasion.

The graphical update is a touch disappointing for players of Tri, though. It’s clear that Capcom has spent most of its time making the monsters themselves look better; the environments, by contrast, are still very sparse, with some textures that are noticeably out of place in HD. The smaller monsters and non-player characters in the single- and multiplayer towns also haven’t been remodelled.

Touchscreen features, though, are a valuable addition. The Wii U gamepad and 3DS touchscreen can be customised with panels, so you can put your map, health and stamina, item pouch, and whatever else on the bottom screen if you want, giving you an unobstructed view of the action. It unclutters the screen, it’s customisable to your tastes, and it’s more convenient to actually play.

Monster Hunter quests come in three broad flavours: head out and gather some of this thing, kill a number of smaller monsters, or kill one big bad monster. The third flavour makes up about 75% of the quests on offer, and those are the ones that progress you through the ranks;Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate knows we don’t want to spend hours collecting mushrooms before we’re allowed to fight anything.

That said, crafting is integral to Monster Hunter, and gathering materials out in the wilds to make the tools you need provides the slower-paced, more soothing counterpoint to the lengthy battles. You need ore and metals for armour, herbs for making potions, plants and animal parts to combine into useful things like performance-enhancers and, of course, weapons and armour. There are only six large areas, from desert to volcano to beautiful mountain to the obligatory frozen tundra, and one new area that looks like a mystical Chinese jungle. Almost all of the quests take place in these same six areas (excepting a few that have their own special arenas); it might seem stingy, but it forces you get to know them intimately, mentally mapping every shortcut and resource point.

It’s all preparation for the main event. Monster Hunter’s battles are among those rare video game confrontations that truly qualify as epic: they last up to 50 minutes, and at their most gut-wrenching they are battles of attrition that go right down to the wire, as you launch your lance into the air with your last sliver of stamina just as a monster opens its jaws and miraculously kill it with seconds left on the clock. It’s these tremendously rewarding struggles that deliver the most powerful adrenaline surge, and if the first one works on you, you’ll be chasing that hit through the 200-odd quests in the game.

Underpinning Monster Hunter’s grand battles is a lovably quirky sense of humour. It’s got eccentric gestures, ridiculous armour, talking cats that cook your dinner, pigs in Babygro onesies, a cheesy barbecuing mini-game, and wittily translated dialogue – and the sight of my hunter haplessly sprinting away from a monster before falling on her face still raises a smile 40 hours in.

The best moments in Monster Hunter are when you meet a new beast for the first time. These creatures look incredible; aggressive, distinctive, and properly alive. They don’t have anything so obvious as a health bar – you have to ascertain how close you are to victory by observing their behaviour, watching for a limp, a damaged wing, or signs of tiredness. This is one of the best things about Monster Hunter – you have to rely on your instincts and get to know your quarry.

There’s a lot to learn about here, too. Even 50-plus hours in you will be seeing new monsters – though you’ll also be seeing a lot of the same ones, or a subspecies of a different colour. If you want to make a full set of armour out of a monster you’ll have to hunt it a lot. It can start to feel like a grind; friends come in handy here to alleviate the repetition. Working together towards a common goal feels a lot less like grinding than hunting the same monster on your own to mine it for parts, and gives you more room to experiment with the different weapons.

These different weapons are the key to Monster Hunter’s lasting appeal – whenever your hunting style is starting to feel stale, you can just craft yourself something new, and combat transforms. Playing with a greatsword feels almost like a different game than playing with a bowgun. Each of 3 Ultimate’s 12 weapons is easy to learn, but there are nuances to the combat system that reward those willing to dig deeper, and within a team the dynamic of each one changes. Ranged weapons can feel a little sterile playing on your own compared to the up-close thrill of a sword or switch-axe, but in a team the bowgunner’s role is more exciting.

The single-player sees you trying to save a quaint little fishing town called Moga Village from mysterious monster-related earthquakes. It’s a place I already know and love from Tri, but if you’re new, this is where you’re taught how to hunt. It has a farm where you can enlist feline minions to grow useful items for you and a fishing fleet that can bring back treasure, whilst free-hunting in Moga Woods gains you resources that you can use to help the villagers out.

Playing alone, you’re gifted a little companion called Cha-Cha who comes in very handy on quests, distracting monsters for you whilst you land big hits. As this is a game designed for multiplayer, his help is invaluable. In MH3 Ultimate, there’s a second companion called Shakalaka who unlocks towards the end of the single-player story, just in time to help you with the high-rank quests. There’s some cute competitive interplay between the two sidekicks, but essentially he’s extra monster bait; it’s not exactly a game-changing addition.

When it’s time for real multiplayer, you head to Port Tanzia, where you can meet up with friends. Local multiplayer is easy to set up, but the online interface on Wii U is unfortunately still as archaic as it was in Tri; one connection error and you’ll be booted aaaaall the way back to the start screen. Once you’ve managed to connect to a lobby, though, it rarely stumbled in my experience. The player population will obviously ramp up post-release (and in April, a patch is coming that will let American and European friends play on the same servers), but it’s difficult to imagine that the servers will be slammed.

Monster Hunter has often been a series where you have to work around its quirks, whether it was the absurd claw-like hand position needed to operate the camera on the PSP versions or the inconvenient lack of online multiplayer. With 3 Ultimate, a lot of these frustrations are gone; both versions control well. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate wasn’t made for the Wii U controller and it does feel a little awkward at first, but it never gets in the way of enjoying the game.

On 3DS, even without the Circle Pad Pro attachment, controlling the camera using the touchscreen works surprisingly well. It’s not quite perfect, but it’s certainly a lot better than it ever was on the PSP; it’s only noticeably slow when you’re fighting underwater. Target Camera, meanwhile, lets you focus the camera on large monsters, which is a godsend for newer players.

THE VERDICT

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a good update of a great game that is starting to show its age, but it’s still very much worth your time and money. The monsters are stunning, the fights can be incomparably exhilarating, and the 3DS and Wii U connectivity is really impressive – even if the online infrastructure is still rather archaic. There’s just enough new stuff for Monster Hunter addicts to get into, and if you’ve never dived into this complex and rewarding series, this is the best opportunity yet.

Gears of War: Judgment’s Campaign Will Break You

The heavy chord at the end of a Gears of War battle used to be congratulatory. Your chainsaw roared, corpses crumpled, and a thundering hum warned the world what you’d done. In Gears of War Judgment, the sound that used to celebrate success is a comforting signal to unclench your teeth and start breathing again. You probably won’t make it out next time.

Judgment starts 30 days after Emergence Day, just as humanity goes to war with the Locust. The COG doesn’t know its enemy just yet, which leaves them exposed to the grubs’ fearless aggression. Locust spawn by the dozen, popping out of the ground, crawling out of emergence holes, and knocking down doors in the largest, scariest groups you’ve seen in a Gears game. They are lethal individually, seemingly unstoppable in mixed groups of enemies new and old, and utterly terrifying for even the most grizzled Gears vet. At first, this challenge defines Judgment. Before long, that gives way to an impressive level of newfound complexity.

The common thread between difficulty and depth is variety – each enemy encounter is unique, both by design and thanks to the new semi-random spawning system, which generates different opponents each time you retry an encounter. If a group of Bloodmounts takes you down, don’t expect to see them a second time – Maulers and Grenadiers may replace them, perhaps with a half-dozen Wretches in tow.

Judgment doesn’t ever dial back because you’ll always have the tools necessary to scrape by. This is Gears at its quickest and most aggressive. I swapped between guns as opposed to relying on my Lancer, typically because I’d thrown it to the ground after running out of ammo. Early in the story, when Damon Baird’s Kilo Squad makes its way through the Onyx Guard’s home city of Halvo Bay, you’ll hunker down to defend the Museum of Military Glory using sentry turrets. The tower defense-influence works as effectively in a campaign context as it did in Gears of War 3’s Horde 2.0. It’s a stark change of pace from the push-push-push mission structure preceding it.

 

 

Baird, Cole, Paduk and Hendrick – Kilo’s key members – previously swapped Gnasher shotguns and close-quarters combat for the ranged superiority of the new Markza semi-auto sniper-rifle. They chainsawed grubs beneath the burning surface of Halvo Bay’s Old Town district, where they’d later mount turrets to chew through the horde. With Mauler, Boomer, Kantus, Cyclops, and Dark Wretch corpses behind them, Kilo should have earned a leisurely rest while turrets took down Locust inside the museum. Judgment never gives them that chance. I died three times trying to hold off incoming forces. Later, I’d die nearly 10 during a futile stab at the punishing Hardcore difficulty.

Moment to moment, Judgment always has something new and interesting for you to do, but it also presents the opportunity to add an interesting variable to each and every enemy encounter. Activating glowing crimson omens heralds not a hidden COG tag but instead unlocks the “declassified” version of an upcoming fight. Typically, these opt-in objectives limit your weapon usage to, say, Hammerbursts or a Gnasher/Sawed-Off combo. Others give the enemy an advantage. You may come up against Cyclopes with Lancers, grubs who attack from behind, or One-Shots with high-ground positioning. But why on Sera would you willingly make a tough shooter harder for yourself? What good could possibly come from wandering into a claustrophobic cloud of dense, blinding smoke when it’s unnecessary?

Two things.

 

The common thread between difficulty and depth is variety.

First, declassifications present narrative conceits that fits Judgment well. The story begins with Kilo Squad in a military court, and each mission we play representing a testimony of the events leading up to their trial. The testimony Kilo Squad delivers will change as you activate omens, revealing information you may not have known about the characters and world. Sometimes it relates to military rules, characters’ origins, or simply the COG discovering the intelligence of the Locust.

Secondly, declassified objectives tie into Judgment’s scoring system – and before you run off, it’s not as awful as it sounds. Earning stars for performing well adds substance to the combat without trivializing it. Fighting is more tactical and engaging than ever when you’re rewarded for speed, style, and efficiency. You’re always rewarded for headshots, executions, gib-splosions and other decidedly Gears of War kills, but playing with optional variables adds a multiplier to your score tracker. Earning more stars for kill combos feels even better when the pot’s sweetened. In turn, the way you think about Gears of War’s combat changes – not only because the actual flow of battle is different, but because you’re actively trying to do better than usual. Suddenly Gears of War feels smarter, even if it has more video game-y elements in the mix.

All of this plays hand-in-hand with multiplayer. Free-for-All remains an aggressive departure from the norm, particularly on the smaller-scale street map, while OverRun encourages a different kind of cooperative experience than fans are used to. Epic told IGN that completing challenges and goals across all modes contributes to character unlocks; each character can be customized in a way that’s comparable to past Gears’ weapon skins.

Really, the only way Gears of War Judgment is the same as previous games – core mechanics aside – is in the way its cast interacts. There’s some smart, funny writing behind the characters in Kilo Squad, and it comes through in the way they tease, mock, or outright dislike each other. The witty banter between these characters is exactly what you’d expect out of Marcus and Dom, which speaks volumes about how well this cast – whether they’re old friends or new – will carry its story.

Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag: what we know right now

Swashbuckling adventures haven’t exactly featured in a glut of high-quality games over the years. Sid Meiers’ Pirates! did a decent enough job of satisfying buccaneering urges from a strategic point-of-view, but realistically, the über-niche pirate gaming segment peaked in the early-90s with the first two Monkey Island titles. However, high-seas hustling now looks set to enter the 21st century in earnest – and in style – after Ubisoft officially broke cover with the next instalment of its Assassin’s Creed series. Centred around the golden age of piracy in the 1700s, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag was announced on 4 March and is understandably arousing the interest of casual and enthusiast gamers alike, so let’s take a look at the most salient points regarding the forthcoming title.

The protagonist

Fans of Assassin’s Creed reacted lukewarmly to the ambivalent emo brooding of half-Brit/half-Native American Connor Kenway, the Assassin’s Creed 3 lead. With Assassin’s Creed 4 slotting in as a prequel to the 2012 title, the series’ new protagonist will also derive from the Kenway lineage – though it looks like the family tree will be receiving a fairly radical makeover. Taking the reins in Black Flag is Edward Kenway, a privateer-turned-pirate noted as much for his heavy drinking and womanising as he is for his charisma and intelligence. He’s a dab hand at stealthily knifing targets in the back, of course, and while we’re not quite sure how Edward will find himself mixed up in the Templar conspiracy, we do know that his journey will see him cavorting with a number of unsavoury types including Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and Calico Jack.

Gameplay

Ubisoft has obviously listened closely to user feedback. In addition to ostensibly bestowing Assassin’s Creed 4 with a more interesting protagonist, naval gameplay – one of Assassin’s Creed 3’s big successes – is set to play a major role in Black Flag. Gamers can look forward to customising, upgrading, and repairing Kenway’s flagship vessel, the Jackdaw, whilst attempting to navigate treacherous weather across a vast open-world comprised of some Caribbean different 50 settings.  As well as creeping your way around busy cities like Kingston, Jamaica and Havana, Cuba with a view to covert enemy takedowns, you’ll be able to broadside and board rival ships out on the high seas, or opt for a more discreet route by diving into the water and sneaking aboard other vessels to assassinate the captain. The new diving and underwater exploration mode will also be utilised in side quests, and despite protest groups like PETA getting their sabres in a twist, players will be empowered with the ability to harpoon whales in the traditional 18th century manner.

Elsewhere, Ubisoft has promised that the pace of gameplay on Assassin’s Creed 4 will be noticably quicker than that of its predecessor, which took a good few hours of engagement to get you stuck into main storyline. The rather tiresome modern-day Animus inhabited by the even more tiresome Desmond Miles will be on the receiving end of a significant kick in the pants, we understand, with the latter expected to be shuttered entirely. There’s no word yet on exactly how the next Assassin’s Creed will tie together past and present, but it can surely only represent an improvement on the current set-up.

Availability

Assassin’s Creed 4 is scheduled to release on 1 November for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. PS gamers will be privileged to an extra 60 minutes of gameplay via the PlayStation Network, but those on PCs will no doubt be frustrated to discover that – once again – they are second-class citizens in the game release sweepstakes and will have to wait for a taste of the new title.

Assassin’s Creed 4 has also been confirmed as coming to next-generation consoles – that’s the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720, in case you didn’t know. Given the popularity of Assassin’s Creed 3-fronted PlayStation 3 bundles, we’d fully expect Assassin’s Creed 4 to arrive as a PS4 launch title in Q4.

Those content with current-gen hardware, however, can pre-order Assassin’s Creed 4 via Amazon right now, where the going-rate at time of publication is £42.

For a further glimpse of Ubisoft’s upcoming pirate epic, check out the official Assassin’s Creed 4 trailer below.

Yakuza 5 and why it needs a western release

We’ve often heard the Yakuza games described as Japan’s answer to GTA. Such comparisons are generally lazy: the two series share little in common beyond narratives that offer a glimpse at a criminal lifestyle and tonal oscillations between the serious and the silly. So it’s a surprise to find producer Toshihiro Nagoshi inviting the comparison, likening Yakuza 5 to GTA: San Andreas. Having spent over 50 hours with the Japanese-language edition, however, we’d probably agree with his choice of comparison: as with Rockstar’s opus, this is perhaps the apotheosis of the series so far, a game of extraordinary volume and generosity.

There are five cities to explore, for starters, and the fictional suburbs of Fukuoka, Sapporo, Osaka and Nagoya are rendered with a similar attention to authenticity as the series’ familiar corner of Tokyo, Kamurocho. In truth, none of these new cities are as intricate or as dense as the old one, and a few are aggressively gated, with huge invisible barriers preventing you from crossing certain roads in Sapporo, for example. While it’s impossible to escape the staples of Club Sega, M Stores and the Don Quixote jingle wherever you go, each area has signature features, from Sapporo’s towering ice sculptures to Osaka’s wooden piers and takoyaki stands.

Nagoshi described development of the game as “like building a new house”, but it’s one constructed on established foundations. Structurally, this game is identical to Yakuza 4, with four separate narrative threads that entwine in a final chapter, not to mention a similar fight-cutscene-fight flow. A new game engine makes transitions between the two less jarring, though, and moves from exploration to street fighting have been streamlined, too. When accosted by a thug, you have but a few seconds to ready yourself for combat, and then you’re thrown into the fray.

Once battle commences, there are a few notable changes. It’s by no means Bayonetta or Ninja Gaiden, but there’s a greater fluidity to combos, and you’re granted access to better moves earlier on. Subtle tweaks to the movesets make the four characters distinctive: it’s much easier to tell loan shark Shun Akiyama and lead Kazuma Kiryu apart now, the former barely bothering to use his fists. Saejima Taiga, a powerful but sluggish brute in Yakuza 4, is far more fun to play as well.

Each of the game’s stars has an additional Climax Heat move, too, an extra-powerful attack that drains the familiar Heat meter (built up through regular combat) entirely. Washed-up baseball star Tatsuo Shinada charges into opponents, stunning them if their momentum takes them into a wall or solid object; Kazuma can pick up an enemy by his foot, spinning him around to trip nearby goons; and Akiyama launches a series of airborne kicks that would put Ryu and Ken to shame. The standard Heat moves have ratcheted up in brutality, too. Yakuza’s violence has always had a cartoonish edge, but some of the attacks here are vicious enough to make you wince. Even the likeable Akiyama stamps on heads, while noses are regularly crushed against walls and shop fronts.

The most significant break from tradition comes in the third chapter, in which Kazuma’s adopted daughter, Haruka, trains to become an idol in Osaka. The rhythm-action sequences that pitch you against a more experienced duo are very easy, although in that regard it’s much like Yakuza’s fights: it’s all about winning with style. Street brawls are replaced with dance battles, and the upbeat J-Pop numbers you tap along to will quickly burrow into your brain and take up residence.

Beyond that, Nagoshi seems unwilling to upset the status quo, though it’s easy to see why, surrounded as Yakuza is by legions of long-lived game series in which differences between entries are minor. Besides, strong launch-week sales are essential to offset the costs of an expensive voice cast and the evident effort expended on its two-year development. Yakuza’s formula sells, so there’s little pressure to deviate.

However, it’s a formula that only sells in Japan, which explains why Sega, currently focusing its attention on big franchises and mobile partnerships in the face of financial troubles, has been reluctant to announce a western release. With that in mind, an import purchase is all the more tempting, though we’d advise against it unless you’re fluent in Japanese. This is, after all, a series driven by the stories it tells, often through long conversations between two characters.

Much of Yakuza’s appeal comes from the fact that, behind the crunching violence, its moral compass is pointing firmly in the right direction. With every nose broken, a new lesson is taught. Yes, characters might need to take a beating before learning the error of their ways, but almost everyone becomes a better person as a result of your pugilistic interventions. Persistent mission markers and simple objectives make it an easy game to muddle through, sure, but take away Yakuza’s narrative and you lose its heart, and the slightly clunky nature of its not-quite-open sandbox is exposed.

So 50 hours in and we’re still itching to return to Kamurocho, even though we can’t help but wish we were playing this in English. Over here, Yakuza might be a cult hit at best, but this is surely too good a renovation to ignore. Nagoshi’s housewarming is in full swing in Japan, and it’s high time the rest of the world gatecrashed the party.