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One of the great pleasures of recent years has been seeing Capcom’s Monster Hunter series go mainstream. It’s been a bit like seeing an old friend finally fulfil their potential and get the plaudits they deserve, and the best thing about it all is knowing that millions more are now onboard with an action series that is, in my opinion, pretty much as good as it gets. Playing through Monster Hunter Rise on PS5 as it makes its way to Sony’s console – and as it also hits Game Pass on Xbox – underlines what a special series this is. Getting reacquainted with everything that Rise introduced to the formula just confirms my initial belief that this particularly is a modern masterpiece – the best Monster Hunter to date, I reckon, and as such one of the very best games of the last five years.
I can empathise with those that were slow to warm to the series’ charms; it took me a fair while myself to get onboard, and it took the encouragement of a small band of enthusiast friends for me to finally succumb with Monster Hunter 4. Back then, an arm around your shoulder was needed to get past the fussiness of those first few hours spent gathering and grinding, and to explain the thrill of the hunt and precisely what it is that makes the series’ fuzzy analogue combat so special. Now that’s no longer really necessary, and Monster Hunter’s got a surer sense of itself and is so much quicker to get you to the action.
That’s never truer than in Monster Hunter Rise, which has you squaring up against screen-filling beasts within minutes. Maybe it’s down to my own familiarity with Monster Hunter and with Rise’s own opening having blasted through it a couple of times before (or maybe it’s also down to some of the items introduced around the launch of hard-edged expansion Sunbreak) but it feels something like speed-running through it all as opposed to the stodgy progression of older titles. It underlines the breeziness that was always a core part of Monster Hunter Rise’s appeal.
The shift to more powerful hardware helps an awful lot too. I skipped the PC version that launched last January so I’m new to the concept of Monster Hunter Rise running in 4K with hi-res textures, denser foliage and all sorts of extra detail squeezed in while doing a decent job of sticking to 60fps. I’ll leave Digital Foundry to apply their own expertise in that department, though I will say it’s a delight to see the artistry and exquisite animation find a new sense of life beyond the confines of the Nintendo Switch.
The amount that Monster Hunter was able to squeeze onto the small screens of the PSP and 3DS on which it forged its reputation always felt like a small miracle, which was what made the big-screen outing of World so enticing. Rise might have felt like a small step back in that regard, but now it’s got the room to stretch its legs on more capable hardware it’s evident that in all the areas that matter this is easily the measure of Monster Hunter World, and the enhancements it made to the formula shine all the greater.
Rise takes the biggest leaps forward when it comes to traversal, thanks to the introduction of palamutes that can be summoned on a whim, effectively giving you a canine mount to stride from one side of the map to the other. Elsewhere there’s the wirebug, granting you what amounts to a grappling hook that has you leaping athletically up cliffsides, or perhaps pulling yourself back into battle after being knocked back by your mark. The simple act of getting from A to B is an absolute pleasure in Monster Hunter Rise thanks to its myriad options and their execution – the immediacy of the wirebug, or the dumb but brilliant fact that you can drift your dog into battle.
Dumb but brilliant seems like a fine way to describe the appeal of Monster Hunter, really, a series where the considerable challenge it presents is undercut by a certain goofiness – and where your ill fortune or being carted for the umpteenth time during a fight is more often going to result in a little chuckle to yourself rather than chucking your controller across the room. It’s that sense of character that keeps you coming back for more even when Monster Hunter keeps putting you on the floor; it’s that character that’s baked into each of the monsters with their bespoke animations and behaviours. An individual beast in Monster Hunter often boasts more personality than most triple-A games have in their entirety.
So yeah Monster Hunter’s pretty special, and Rise is comfortably my favourite entry in the series to date. It’s as approachable as the series has ever been, and these new console ports present Rise at its very best. The PS5 version, in particular, is impeccable thanks to its implementation of gyro controls which the original wirebug mechanic feels built around – and yet I’m still drawn to the Xbox version seeing as it’s on Game Pass, and seeing how it might help introduce a whole new audience to this most wonderful of series. Monster Hunter’s bigger than it’s ever been, and the idea of it going even bigger still fills me with excitement.