The game designers at Capcom have pulled off an extraordinary feat with Monster Hunter Tri. They've created a game that successfully reboots an iconic franchise, tweaking and re-balancing every aspect of play. The combat is deeper, the monsters are more cunning, and the weapons and armour you can craft look more ridiculous than ever before. Newcomers and veteran hunters alike will face plenty of gripping challenges, and those who put in the time will discover that one of the most misunderstood franchises in gaming is also one of the most captivating.
Taken at face value, Tri is simply a third-person action adventure game where you hunt and subdue bizarre creatures in a Conan-esque fantasy world. But it's also a hugely complex simulation. Even though there are no life bars over their heads, monsters have both health and stamina, just like the player. Certain weapon classes, like the hammer, can take off huge chunks of stamina as well as health, leaving monsters lethargic, and more likely to stuff up their attacks. You can confuse their senses with flashbangs and sonic bombs, but this is also likely to send them into a rage, making their attacks faster and more erratic.
Monsters even get hungry. If a frilled-neck velociraptor you're fighting starts drooling and staring off into space, then that could be an opportune time to drop some poisoned meat, and get in some easy damage when it blithely wolfs it down.
Most of the major bosses in Tri are completely new to the series, and all have been designed to maximise not just their visual weirdness, but also their tactical versatility. Take the rock-headed T-Rex monster, the Barroth. It likes to roll in water to ease the desert heat, yet this also flips its elemental attack weaknesses. When dry, it's vulnerable to fire, and when soaked in mud, water element weapons are super effective. Then there's the Qurupeco, a big goofy bird that can imitate the distress calls of other monsters, summoning them out of nowhere. It can also perform songs to heal and buff itself, but if you hit its inflating neck sac in the middle of its routine you can steal those buffs for yourself.
Even returning wyverns like the Rathalos and the Diablos have had their move sets enhanced to make them more unpredictable. In short, these monsters are tougher to fight than ever before. And the harder the task, the greater the satisfaction when it's ultimately overcome.
The new underwater combat sequences work surprisingly well. Aiming and movement are straightforward, and you can hold your breath for what seems like minutes on end. Your offline co-op buddy, the incorrigible Cha-Cha, is far more versatile than the Felyne companions in the last Monster Hunter game, and on top of everything else, the interface has been streamlined to iron out a lot of annoyances.
This is the best Monster Hunter game to date. It's not the largest, in terms of content - a competent player should be able to complete the single player missions in 60 or 70 hours, compared to the 500-odd hours of action in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on PSP. Yet with oodles of high-rank event quests and the added bonus of 4-player co-op available in the free online mode, there are enough challenges in Tri to keep you coming back for months.