While everyone else was busy getting ready for the Game Developers Choice Awards, Capcom held a Monster Hunter Freedom Unite event in San Francisco so that we could get hands-on time with one of Japan's hottest-selling games. Staying true to the series but adding new features to make it more single-player friendly, Freedom Unite adds a helpful cat as a sidekick so that you don't have to go on your monster-hunting missions alone. Our hands-on session primarily focused on the multiplayer portion, but after tracking down a giant crab and eventually carving out its parts, it's not hard to see why this game is so popular.
Like the previous games, Freedom Unite is like a mini massively multiplayer online game on your PlayStation Portable. By mini, we still refer to an endless number of quests and content available for you in single-player mode and even more in multiplayer. For those who really enjoy working together with friends (or have friends with PSPs since you can only play ad hoc), this game has plenty of multiplayer missions that will yield better items so that you can upgrade weapons and armor for your single-player game.
The series may be light on story, but Freedom Unite is connected and takes place after the previous Monster Hunter Freedom 2, so your character will be recognized as the hero that saved the village in the last game. Once again, you'll be given quests, but there are missions that will require you to fetch items, carry eggs back to town, or capture a monster instead of killing it. In our play session, we were after a monster that was lurking in a colder region, so we had to prepare ourselves by grabbing a hot drink before we wandered off. Our character was named Gin and looked like a warrior princess with her furry outfit, head full of feathers, and dual swords. She was quick with her blades, but her range was pathetic, so we really had to get in under the crab to do any sort of damage. Once her blades lost their edge, it was time to pull out the whetstone to sharpen them, and before we knew it, we were back in full swing. Each member of our party had a different weapon type, which balanced our team and made the challenge easier. Since character stats are completely dependent on armor and weapons, the beefed-up gear probably had something to do with it too.
The multiplayer component is really what stands out in the game. It's infinitely more interesting to be searching for dangerous creatures with your friends in tow than to be wandering the groves alone. Rare item drops are more likely when you select a quest, which are designed for four players, in the gathering hall. However, if you do end up playing solo, Freedom Unite has included a well-fed cat that will fight alongside you, so you won't be all alone. We were told that the learning curve is not as difficult this time around because of the feline addition--which we saw dressed in a samurai outfit amd wielding a giant hammer. Another addition is mid-tiered weapons, so you no longer have to pinch and save for that ultra-powerful weapon without anything to use in the meantime. These transition weapons can't be upgraded, though, but their requirements are much lower than the high-tiered stuff.
Our time with Monster Hunter Freedom Unite was nothing compared to the 800 hours that the Capcom representative had logged. It truly is an MMO game with a never-ending number of things to keep you occupied. In our quick run through, we liked what we saw. There seemed to be a decent variety in the environments, and each of our character outfits was very elaborate and detailed. The monsters we encountered were menacing and intimidating, which made the carving very satisfying once the major battle was won. There's more to be explored for sure, but that's going to have to wait. Trackers be on the lookout, because the hunt begins sometime this summer.