By and large, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite for iOS is a success. Despite flagging a few minor flaws here and there, we said as much in our extensive first impressions in last week’s Mobile Watch. Since then, however, my experience with the game has changed somewhat all thanks to one simple albeit crucial feature: online multiplayer.
As mentioned before, every portable Monster Hunter title to have launched overseas has featuredlocal co-op only. Even last year’s Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for the Nintendo 3DS shunned wi-fi enabled play, unless you had the luxury of syncing the device to a Wii U. Considering how different the game feels when playing with others, it has always seemed strange to omit such a feature, especially given the huge presence of multiplayer gaming today. However, after half a decade of whinging, I finally got my wish albeit in higher resolution and on a touchscreen device.
Multiplayer in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is easy to set-up. When stood in front of the Gathering Hall (where hunters convene in between missions) you can toggle between multiplayer and solo play, online lobbies restricted to one’s online rank. These lobbies can hold up to four players who can do as they see fit, either teaming up or carrying out the extensive list of missions alone.
My first gripe with this system is the four player limit. It’s just stupid. During a week of playing Unite online, I have been dropped into plenty of lobbies where three hunters were already questing, leaving me to either wait for them or switch. Given that some contracts can take half an hour or more, I often found myself surfing lobbies, sinking minutes at a time just to find a four-man party that was free.
Needless to say it’s frustrating, especially given the fact that the original Monster Hunter (a game from 2004) managed to effortlessly house lobbies of eight. Perhaps even more annoying were the connection issues that would occur just as I set out on a mission, only to be returned to the Gathering Hall. When I did manage to find a lobby and stay connected however, the wait was worth it.
Moments into my first co-op hunting spree I realised this is what I had been pining for since Monster Hunter first debuted on a handheld. Kitted head to toe in armour made from salvaged scraps, my three companions and I went about stocking up on supplies including healing potions, ammunition for bowguns, and items to help us acclimatise to the harsh blizzards of the snowy mountain peaks.
Then the hunt was on. Having poured hours upon hours into the Capcom series, I immediately started to fall into old habits as I revisited familiar places, not even bothering to take a provisional map from the supply chest. Our target was the Congalala, a huge ape-like creature skulking around the snowswept mountains. We found him soon enough and initiated an orchestrated assault. After several minutes of thrusting lances, firing bullets, swinging hammers, and slashing blades, it fell, each hunter immediately racing forth to carve loot from the beast’s carcass. In that moment, as the “Mission Complete” screen popped up, I felt an unmatched sense of satisfaction.
Riding high, we returned to the Gathering Hall only to sign up for another contract, something a bit harder. In the end we decided to go after the Khezu, a blind and blubbery wyvern that packs a rather potent secret weapon. One of our companions had left, her place filled by another random hunter looking for spoils and experience.
A few minutes later and we were on the trail, soon catching up to our dangerous foe. Again, another special moment occurred – an unspoken exchange of respect – as two of my fellow hunters flawlessly dodged the Khezu’s lightning area attacks. Though the weapons and armour they carried painted them as green, their dexterity told a different story. Like me, they were clearly veteran hunters with experience from playing prior games.
The same couldn’t be said for our new arrival. Dressed in the paper-thing rags every players starts out with, he sloppily charged his prey only to have his health bar decimated. Without taking pause to heal and read the Khezu’s attack pattern, he came bowling in for another strike, only to be swatted away. Part of Monster Hunter’s brutality is how it deals with defeated players. Adopting a three-strike system, the game will send hunters packing if they get too clumsy, stripping them of any rewards. When we saw our companion fall, we thought he’d received the message, but no. Straight back on his feet, he joined the fight again and sure enough we failed the mission.
Needless to say, I was fuming and this wasn’t to be the last time this would happen either. A fitting note to end this post with is that Monster Hunter, when played online, is a double-edged sword. A double-edged, ten-foot long hunting blade, to be precise. When the stars align and you’re blessed with experienced partners, Unite for iOS is simply unbeatable, a delicious display of teamwork and choreography. Throw one or two loose cannons into the mix, however, and it can soon deteriorate into a frustrating and fruitless waste of time.