Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is the latest entry in the Monster Hunter series, and the last title of the fourth generation of Monster Hunter (presumably). It’s a series that’s struggled for some time to gain a substantial foothold outside of Japan, where it’s guaranteed to sell like hotcakes, especially on whatever handheld the newest game is on. Part of that is due to the reliance that the Japanese culture has on public transportation; you’re virtually assured to find people hunting on trains and buses as they commute to their jobs or back to their homes, making it easy to jump in for a quick hunt or two before reaching your destination. Aside from that, another hurdle the series has always had is a dearth of tutorials and hand-holding, which, when combined with it’s punishing-but-fair difficulty, has left many people turning away before giving the game enough time to grow on them. However, with similarly-difficult titles like Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls gaining popularity in the West, perhaps the time is better than ever to see the Monster Hunter series come into its own. What better way to do so than with what is undeniably the best title in the series to date?

Get wrecked, son!

Get wrecked, son!

For those who haven’t heard of the series before, Monster Hunter is a game that revolves entirely around tracking, hunting, and slaying monsters. Battles are action-packed and necessitate knowledge of the weapon you’re using and even greater knowledge of the monster you’re fighting, as knowing when it’s safe to attack and when it’s better to get out of the way of an incoming blow is paramount. Monsters can often kill you in only a few hits, while it takes you dozens, if not hundreds, of attacks to slowly whittle its health down until it finally collapses. Damage done to certain areas can incapacitate it, or even break parts entirely, giving you advantages in battle along with extra rewards once it’s over. Many tails can be cut clean off with cutting attacks, while wings and crests can often be broken, or faces scarred and monsters dazed for a few precious seconds from enough blunt blows to the head. When the fight is over, you’ll carve scales, fangs, horns, claws, and all sorts of other items from the defeated foe, and can take them back home to forge them into brand new weapons and armor, which allows you to fight even bigger monsters as the cycle repeats all over. It’s that constant sense of progression that makes the games so satisfying and addictive.

Wait, they expect me to fight what?

Wait, they expect me to fight what?

Unlike most of the previous titles where the story was practically an afterthought, MH4U has a decently entertaining story to keep players rolling along, with a number of cutscenes that provide plenty of visual flair to the events unfolding around you. After a particularly thrilling start involving a massive sand whale-dragon, your customizable character ends up as part of a traveling caravan, roaming from area to area to deal with monster problems and try to find out more about a mysterious artifact that the leader of the caravan carries with him, though you’re often interrupted by a particularly dangerous dragon whose path you tend to cross for one reason or another. The story isn’t particularly incredible, but it’s certainly better than previous entries in the series, where the general jist was ‘Oh hey, hunter, there’s this monster terrorizing our village, go get stronger so you can kill it’. Some of the cutscenes are pretty cool, and the dialogue between your character and many of the NPCs you interact with are often quite humorous.

Hunting half-naked generally isn't the best idea, I've found.

Hunting half-naked generally isn’t the best idea, I’ve found.

MH4U does a good job of easing new players into what they’ll be expected to do, while making it painless enough that veterans of the series won’t have to wait long before bashing skulls in. After the intro and a few tutorial quests that any seasoned hunter can pass in a few minutes, the game doesn’t hesitate before throwing some of the big monsters your way, and things don’t slow down much after that. For new players, though, there’s ample time to get the hang of things, and after those first few tutorial quests, training missions are unlocked that lets you test out any weapon of your choice against one of the easiest bosses. New monsters and areas to explore and destroy are introduced in rapid succession afterwards, and in a new twist on the formula, many quests don’t simply appear at the quest giver, but instead are given by NPCs in each main town, with certain quests locked off until the previous one in their ‘chain’ has been completed. It’s a change for the series, and gives you a little more insight into the stories each NPC has to tell, rather than it being a few sentences that no one ever reads before going off to kill the next big thing.

Duramboros is the size of a small mountain, FYI.

Duramboros is the size of a small mountain, FYI.

Graphically, the game is pretty damn impressive, especially  considering the limitations of the 3DS hardware. Textures are a little muddy in places, but the monsters you fight all look great, with fluid animations that are distinct enough that you can tell what kind of attack a monster is preparing to launch if you’re paying attention. Not only that, but the game runs at a fairly steady 60 FPS, even when playing with four players, though I did notice a little slowdown on rare occasions. The sound is superb as well, with many monsters getting their own individual themes, and the roars and the sounds that monsters make are all very distinctive. Even many of the NPCs have their own distinct voices, even though none of them actually speak any real language.

See that mountain? You could probably climb it if you could get there.

See that mountain? You could probably climb it if you could get there.

As far as the gameplay goes, MH4U improves on its predecessors with leaps and bounds, quite literally. Instead of the limitations posed by the underwater areas and battles in MHTri and MH3U, movement has never been more dynamic in a Monster Hunter title before. Ledges, cliffs, and walls abound everywhere, providing a verticality that previous entries could never hope to match with their mostly flat plains. Most walls are climbable now as well, providing easier access to certain areas as well as letting players leap from them for devastating aerial strikes, leading into another new mechanic: mounting. Hitting a monster with a mid-air attack can cause it to plummet to the ground, and the offending player will automatically leap atop it to partake in a small QTE of sorts, mashing X to stab the monster while holding R when it tries to throw you off. Success will deal a hefty amount of damage and can even break certain parts of a monster, though monsters will build up a resistance to being mounted with each successive attempt. With 14 different weapon types (two of them brand new), it’s easy to find a favorite among them, whether you like the Greatsword’s slow-but-powerful slashes, the agility and in-your-face nature of the Dual Blades, the healing and buffing notes of the Hunting Horn, or the long-range assistance of a Bowgun.

Different weapons for any situation!

Different weapons for any situation!

Speaking of monsters, MH4U has the most monsters to hunt in the entire series, with 75 separate boss monsters to take on. Many are brand new, with others returning from MH3U or even MHFU. Returning monsters have revamped movesets and abilities to take advantage of the terrain, and most are just as mobile as the hunters can be. Even though I’ve fought many of the monsters many times before, they’ve still managed to catch me off guard with some of their new moves, though they’re bound by the new stamina rules introduced in the third generation as well, making them just as varied as their newest compatriots. Even after playing a good chunk of the game, I haven’t even seen a quarter of the available monsters yet. The game has tremendous replay value, as more and more monsters become available to fight as you get deeper into the game, with High Rank and G Rank monsters standing proud above the rest, waiting for worthy challengers. And while not every monster returns from the older games, many of them can still live on by trading certain monster parts for other parts, letting players make armor and weapons from foes that couldn’t be squeezed in.

You also get companions called Palicoes to help you on your ques- DAMMIT LOUIE STOP BEING USELESS

You also get companions called Palicoes to help you on your ques- DAMMIT LOUIE STOP BEING USELESS

Of course, as much as I love to gush about the game, and the series in general, I do have a few gripes. While the tutorials are very helpful for new players, I do feel that they could have taken it one step farther with certain aspects. There’s a wealth of information in the Hunter’s Notes section, but since it’s presented there in one huge chunk, it could be overwhelming for newcomers. Also, from what I’ve seen, there’s not an incredible selection of good early-game armor sets to choose from. While I appreciate things being tweaked from MH3U, where virtually every knowledgeable player started out making the exact same armor set, it feels a little more limiting to have a wide selection of relatively sub-par skills on most early sets, and while the online, in my experience, works almost flawlessly, communicating with your team can be a frustrating experience, with no in-game voice chat and a rather clunky keyboard interface. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t think the 3DS’s hardware wasn’t holding the game back a little from what it could potentially be, but that’s a can of worms I’d rather not open.

Don't mind me, just catching some BIG fish.

Don’t mind me, just catching some BIG fish.

Final Word:

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is an incredible game, one with hours upon hours of richly varied content for players to experience, and I couldn’t pack it all into this review without making it gigantic. If you want to see it all, you can expect to spend hundreds of hours mastering the combat mechanics, the intricacies of each boss and level, and the incredibly satisfying action-packed experience. I’ve put hundreds of hours into previous games in the series, and MH4U outclasses them all in terms of content, polish, and gameplay. If you’re a seasoned Monster Hunter, I can easily say this is the best in the series, and you should go buy it if you don’t already have it. If you’re unsure, download the free demo, and take some of the weapons for a spin, smack a few monsters around, and see if the game grabs you. I can’t recommend this game enough, and it’s sure to be a near-permanent fixture in my 3DS… at least until I can pick up a New 3DS sometime soon.

There are only a few zombie games that I can call original out there, and Contagion is one of them. I’ve heard the game described as a slow Left 4 Dead or a first-person Resident Evil 2, but neither of those descriptions are correct: this game is one of a kind and deserves to be recognized as such.

Contagion is a multiplayer zombie survival-action game that isn’t your run of the mill zombie shooter. The zombies are slow but can easily overpower you and ammo is usually scarce, depending on the game mode. The zombies are more like an obstacle than an enemy some of the time; I ended up running around them instead of shooting them in order to save my ammo for when I needed it.

Making the zombies hard to kill was a smart decision: it makes the player rely on as many headshots as possible, and while there are melee weapons, you have to get close to the zombies and take time to make sure you get a steady hit, which is harder than it sounds. In fact, I would say it’s worth risking life and limb to hold onto a couple guns, with little ammo, over a melee weapon because of how unusable they can be.

Each level has doors, gates, and buildings that will be locked and unlocked at random. With the exception of buildings, I really like this mechanic, as it keeps the player from relying on a specific path or route too much. Although, I found it unrealistic when buildings would be ‘locked’ because the windows also became inexplicably unbreakable when I shot at them. I think the point of locking out buildings was to prevent players from scavenging ammo too much, yet I can’t help but feel that leaving a place bare or lacking any useful supplies would add more to the game than locking the player out of a random building. It could make each scavenge a risk for the player, especially if they broke off from a group to do so.

i guess they locked the window from bullets too

I guess they locked the window from bullets

When a player dies in any game mode they don’t respawn, but instead come back as a zombie. I personally love this mechanic because it gives everyone a reason to help out other players. The major downfall of having player zombies is that they seem to be poorly balanced with the rest of the game. While it’s hard for me to judge just the game or the devs on this (as player skill is also a factor here), I have had games where a whole team was wiped out by a sole zombie and others where player zombies couldn’t get near the human players. This is really a minor issue that I didn’t notice until about eight or nine hours into playing the game, but I noticed other players were bugged by it too.

The player can die in more ways than the typical zed’s lunch; it’s actually possible for a player to be infected if attacked by a zombie or two. This is probably my favorite aspect of the game because of how each player approaches it. Personally, I would run off out of sight, turn and try to sneak up on the nearby people I just left: The infection mechanic can really throw a monkey wrench into any plans of survival if the wrong person (like a person inside a barricade) turns.

Everything gets blurring when you're infected.

Everything gets blurry when you’re infected.

Contagion has five different game modes within, with one of the more notable being Panic. Panic is basically Zombie Panic (which makes sense, considering it’s the same devs) without several of the more finite mechanics like the panic button. That’s really unfortunate, because it’s a watered down version of the game the devs seemed to want in Contagion. Panic isn’t bad by any means, but it can’t hold a torch to the actual Zombie Panic.

There’s also a Panic Objective mode, which is a mix of Panic and a third mode called Escape. They blend really well and offer an interesting combination of survival and a race to beat the level; the only downfall is that the mode has only one map and can get stale if you’ve beaten it a couple of times.

Escape takes just about every map and makes a linear path and list of objectives out of them. This is really the meat of the game in my opinion because these tend to last much longer than any other mode. Teamwork is vital in Escape, because player zombies are much more relentless and difficult than the A.I controlled ones: it’s one of my favorite modes in the game.

There’s also a PVP based game mode called Hunted in which the player who’s the last one standing is the victor. I honestly managed to kill only one guy in the few hours I had with the game, and it isn’t because I suck. Many of the players I encountered chose to be friendly instead of fight it out, because the zombies can also choose a winner in the end. I really like this mode, and my only problem is the fact that zombies will follow you across the map if they notice you. I don’t know why the developers chose to have the A.I track so well in this game mode, but they do; zombies I forgot about found me in hiding spots and sniper nests five to ten minutes after I thought I had lost them.

Then there’s the problematic game mode Extraction, where the players go rescue other A.I controlled people. It’s a fun game mode worth checking out, but the A.I controlled humans have unlimited ammo and are the best shot you could ask for. Whenever I was a zombie I couldn’t get near the players because the A.I would shoot me in the head. It really throws the balance of the game out the window at that point and it’s probably my biggest gripe with Contagion as a whole.

Final Word:

This game is worth getting, simple as that. It’s fun, original, and offers a nice twist to the stale FPS zombie shooter with the way it deals with death and infection.