Monster Hunter Freedom

Remember the Labour party's Respect Agenda? Blair's troops have since been too distracted looking for erroneously freed criminals and keeping tales of lusty secretaries off the front pages to bring consideration back into the community, but we think the solution lies elsewhere anyway.

Labour should instead invest John Prescott's salary in PSPs and copies of Monster Hunter for uncouth hoodlums. Because if you're looking for a practical lesson in the notion of respect, you could do a lot worse.

Granted, gearing up with swords, armour, and associated hunting paraphernalia before setting off to hack fire-breathing, limb-tearing creatures into barbecue-sized chunks is unlikely to be the approach Labour has in mind.

But once a player returns from a failed quest with their tail between their legs rather than a dragon's over the shoulder because they arrogantly failed to show their prey due deference, the moral learnt is very much the same.

Not least because this impressively comprehensive roleplaying game is set in a time of reverence, when fearsome creatures roamed fields, forests and deserts, and the community looked to you, medieval exterminator extraordinaire, (and potentially three ad hoc multiplaying chums), to embark on a series of quests to rid the land of the offending fiends.

Tread carefully, though – Monster Hunter commands respect because it often bites those who strut into battle having grossly overestimated their own ability. Then again, careful preparation isn't always a guarantee of success either, for reasons we'll get to in a moment.

First things first. Once you've decided on the look of your avatar from the reasonably detailed set of options offered, you soon discover you'll sometimes get contracted to capture rather than kill, as well as gather materials or search for treasure. You do get to practice your hunting skills on these excursions – there's plenty of oversized game around – but the focus tends to be on a less bloodthirsty approach.

Not that carving up prey isn't useful; you won't obtain crucial materials such as meat and bone otherwise, just as taking the time to search fields and shrubs for herbs, bugs and fungi, mining rocks for ore, or fishing during hunting quests naturally pays off.

Whatever you collect you can sell back at the village shop, supply to the local armour and weapons specialist to upgrade or create new equipment, or use while still out in the field; by learning to combine elements you can often create potions to replenish health or assist your hunting, while carrying a barbecue spit enables you to cook raw meat into delicious stamina-enhancing steaks.

Wonderfully, there's even management-led side-quests involving a kitchen staffed by cats eager to learn how to cook and, though Gordon Ramsay may hiss at the notion, the results do wonders for your character's vital statistics. The Felynes, as they're known, also run your farm, maintaining your land for when a quick supply stock up is needed.

The rest of this review could be spent detailing the variety of items at your disposal and their equally diverse uses, but it would prove futile since we'd run out of bandwidth before running out of items – let's just say it's a bewildering array. Besides, part of the fun is finding this out as you establish yourself as a master of monster hunting.

For this you'll need weapons, and the variations here (namely sword, hammer, lance and bow/shotgun derivatives) and armour are just as vast, while the ability to enhance your equipment with materials brought back from your expeditions adds great subtext to the action.

Which is vital, given action is Monster Hunter's weakest area. Sure, the first time you encounter a beautifully animated dragon and experience its tremendous power first-hand is a moment of genuine awe. But from the player's perspective, the combat itself often feels cumbersome and isn't helped by a clumsy camera system that requires constant adjustment.

Then there's the issue of the expansive game world having to load each new segment – an understandable technical requirement, and certainly tolerable, but grating nonetheless – and the laborious nature of certain aspects of the controls.

So it's a testament to the solidity of the game's core RPG elements that Monster Hunter manages to remain powerfully compelling despite the deep wound affecting one of its primary aspects.

The freedom and range of item management creates huge scope for personalised gameplay and strategy, and while the dawdling pace won't suit many, those able to respect the game's qualities should find the experience very rewarding.

Monster Hunter Freedom is out now – click here to buy.

Monster Hunter Freedom

Unlike the Labour party, Monster Hunter is flawed yet ultimately delivers on much of its promise