Friday night ‘little known fact’ time! The average U.S. Ranger carries up to 50 pounds of combat gear, which translates to about 22 of our homely British kilograms, or roughly the same weight as these. Roman legionnaires had it even tougher: some historians put their kit in the region of a spine-warping 93 pounds. Keep these sobering statistics in mind next time that recruitment guy tries to wow you with talk of exotic climes, paid accommodation and generous pensions.
Keep them in mind, too, next time you look at a Monster Hunter Tri screenshot and feel inclined to say something like ‘there’s no way he could lift a lance that big’. Capcom’s renowned fauna-bashing epics do veer a little on the exaggerated side when it comes to so-called ‘handheld’ weapons, but ask yourselves this: what’s more faithful to military reality, hearing the sinews creak in a warrior’s forearms as she hefts half a ton of hide-bound thighbone? Or being able to skip across miles of broken rock in scorching heat with sixty billion rifle bullets and a Predator in your pocket, arriving at the frontline fresh enough to nail split-second reloads and hold a scope level?
Some may curl their lips at those fridge-sized shields and chitinous folding siege bows, but I’ve always found the franchise’s preposterous chunkiness to be its strongest attraction. Faster paced action offerings like Devil May Cry 4 or God of War 3 go heavy on the particle effects and slow-mo, but look close and you’ll find there’s never all that much physicality involved: impacts sheer seamlessly through enemies, arrows are shrugged off like so many raindrops and poundings from titanic elemental beings elicit only a dutiful stagger and a geyser of rather over-compensatory gore.
Monster Hunter Tri, by contrast, at least attempts to recreate what it might actually feel like to smack something with a hammer the width of a manhole cover, and not simply for shits and giggles either. Fail to take your malachite sword’s weight into account when lunging at a grumpy dinosaur, and you’ll probably miss; miss, and you’ll probably be too busy recovering your balance to avoid getting T-Rexed in the face.
It’s important to underline such punishing nuances because surprisingly few dabblers associate this series with tactical thought, confusing its high entry threshold with a lack of finesse. Many first-time Hunters muscle their way through to a fight, struggle with the notoriously unresponsive manual camera, get the stuffing knocked out of them and conclude, savagely, that the game is a ponderous, superficial button-masher with a high element of dumb luck. In fact, it’s one of the best assembled third-person combat experiences out there, set in its ways and very heavy on its feet, but calculating (and thus rewarding) to a degree Kratos and chums can only dream of.
It’s also a game that shies refreshingly away from the over-stimulatory, movie-ish thirty-seconds-of-fun formulas of other, more populist action titles, despite the urgency with which Nintendo’s marketeers are shoving it into mainstream headspace. Partly that’s because you can’t, as noted, simply get in close and hold the attack button till the world explodes, but mainly it’s because Monster Hunter’s conception owes as much to Harvest Moon and Phantasy Star Online as prior Capcom sabre-rattlers like Onimusha.
Play time – and rest assured, there’s plenty of that – is split once again between the deserts, forests and caves that supply not only hunt targets but also a vast assortment of raw materials (of course, one generally equals the other), and a hub village where you temper the weapons, shape the armour and concoct the many, many items that (might) enable you to come off best in an encounter with a crocodile made of magma.