by Jed Pressgrove
You might think a big-budget game about killing beasts and upgrading equipment wouldn’t bother with pretension, but Monster Hunter World immediately flaunts a brand of dignified bullshit with its title screen. The orchestrated music for this screen drips with sensitivity as if to suggest a deep respect for the natural-world imagery on display. It soon becomes clear that this dramatic frame is a misleading precursor, as the actual game amounts to little more than a cycle of anticlimactic action with no convincing emotional weight.
In the game, a governing agency named the Research Commission sends you on quests to exterminate creatures that supposedly threaten various ecosystems. Before going on a specific quest, you prepare yourself at a hub called Astera, where you can augment weapons and armor, take bounties, eat stat-boosting meals, and more. Once you activate a quest and get dropped into a locale, the typical goal is to track down a particular monster and slowly pick away at its life as it tries to defend itself and run away to hiding spots.
Despite the simplicity of this premise, I don’t have an issue with the aim of Monster Hunter World. Outside of eliciting pity for the monsters as they struggle to walk during combat, developer Capcom simply botches countless opportunities to lend gravity to the game. The developer’s first mistake is failing to make the game’s story halfway interesting or believable. For an organization dedicated to ecological management, the Research Commission doesn’t seem like a diverse team that takes its scientific and ethical mission seriously. Characters tend to speak with a one-dimensional kind of adolescent excitement, the music in Astera makes it sound like everyone’s getting ready for a lighthearted game of kickball, and, in the most infantilizing bit, the commission employs little cats as helpers.
The hunting itself is plagued by a hand-holding approach. By emphasizing footprints and other signs of monster activity, Monster Hunter World intends for players to feel that they’re tracking down targets in the wild. The problem is you barely have to be observant: glowing “scout flies” highlight the trail of anything you need to find, eliminating any sense of discovery or hardship. (Last year’s Metroid: Samus Returns did a much better job of making one feel like a hunter.)
Killing is also a neutered and senseless experience in Monster Hunter World. Although Capcom went to great lengths to give the creatures lifelike animations, the monsters too often behave as if they can’t see you. During one quest, I engaged a group of smaller reptiles, backed away to avoid their advances, and ended up killing an aggressive one that was a few yards removed from the others. The remaining lizards forgot I was there, so I ambushed them even though there was no good reason to believe I had the element of surprise.
The bigger monsters are not much smarter. These towering foes frequently get distracted by the protagonist’s little cat helper. When they aren’t trying to stomp the feline, they often look at spaces to the right or left of the hero and then charge at nothing. When they don’t lose track of you, their attacks are so telegraphed that there’s little reason to worry. The best strategy is to roll out of the way and attack again, giving the action little to distinguish itself from that of numerous other titles.
Given its lack of original or monster-specific tactics, Monster Hunter World favors tedium over kinetic drama. You might have to hit a beast hundreds of times to kill it, and when it runs away from you, all you have to do is follow the lit-up trail of the scout flies to resume the predictable attack-and-dodge process. The violence reaches the peak of its antiseptic quality after you deliver a fatal blow: you can cut the corpse of a giant monster multiple times to gather materials for improved gear, but when you harvest the body, you will see no blood, no gashes, nothing to show that you’re taking parts from the creature. Monster Hunter World is the dullest action game of 2018 thus far because it has no idea what hunting entails.