During E3 2014, each member of the USgamer team will be focusing on a particular question that will define the future of gaming. Kat Bailey asks: "Has the next generation truly arrived? Or are we still waiting?".
I think Jeremy might be on to something when he suggests that Western developers are taking Monster Hunter and running with it. Evolve is the clearest example yet of a game that takes Capcom's tried and true formula and makes it ever better.
Granted, they are apples and oranges in some ways. Though they are both based around the concept of a four-player party of human-controlled adventurers hunting a large and ferocious monster, Monster Hunter is a slow-paced and methodical action RPG while Evolve is a class-based first-person shooter. But the philosophical similarities between the two override any superficial differences. At their core, they are much the same.
When I think of Monster Hunter, I think of the teamwork and communication required to take down a massive monster. I think of the unique personality each beast exhibits, and the strategy required to take them down. In my opinion, many of those elements also apply to Evolve, despite the superficial differences in execution. The monsters are the stars in both games; and at the end of the day, they're both about the thrill of bringing them down.
In Evolve's case, the biggest difference is the introduction of asymmetric multiplayer, which puts a human in the shoes of the monster. It's an approach that serves to turn it into something like "The Most Dangerous Game," pitting human intelligence against human intelligence in a battle of wits. It's a concept that has only recently begun to be explored in any real depth by game developers, and its exciting to see it mixed with the already strong cooperative elements of the Monster Hunter formula. In that way, it's both something old and something new, making it a welcome addition to next-generation consoles like the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One.
The appeal of asymmetric multiplayer is in the way that it successfully splits the difference between cooperation and competition. One of my favorite recent examples is Animal Crossing Sweet Days, part of Nintendo Land on the Wii U, where four human-controlled animals work together to collect fruit while similarly human-controlled guards try to stop them. It's a game that establishes clear goals for both sides, encouraging communication on the part of the animals while also fostering a sense of "me against the world" in the guards, both of whom are controlled by a single player using the dual sticks of the GamePad. Much more than a simple deathmatch mode, it embodies a lot of what is great about multiplayer, appealing to a wide range of tastes.
Evolve takes some of those concepts a step further with a monster hunt that requires a solid grasp of individual class roles as well as solid communication. Funnily enough, some of that complexity actually works against Evolve. For much of my time with the game, a representative was in my headset trying in vain to get the team to work together with pleas to, "Hit the left bumper, medic! The left bumper!" Meanwhile, the monster -- a flying xenomorph-like creature called the Kraken that was capable of launching ranged attacks -- zipped around and basically wiped the floor with us. As it turned out, it was quite a bit easier to play a single powerful monster than it was to coordinate a whole team in trying to take it down.
But despite my failure, it was easy to perceive the foundation of a really excellent multiplayer shooter. I enjoy the slowly building tension that accompanies the hunt for the monster, followed by the chaos of the team trying to stay together and fulfill their individual roles while a substantially more powerful beast bears down upon them. It makes for some memorable co-op gaming, which is exactly what I would expect from the developers behind the equally memorable Left 4 Dead.
It just goes to show how strong the core of Monster Hunter's gameplay remains after all these years. I'm actually sort of surprised that it's taken this long for Western developers to latch on to it. Hunting monsters is an idea that's practically made for online multiplayer. But Monster Hunter's overwhelming success in Japan has largely been met with crickets here in the U.S, at least until now.
After all these years, I'm happy to see the monster hunting game I've always wanted for mainstream consoles is finally on its way, and that it has a next-gen take on the formula. I love that it plays with established concepts and improves them in the process. It may be based on a decade-old series, but it's decidedly forward-thinking in its approach and its execution. This is exactly what I like to see from the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.