Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is not the kind of game you're likely to play in short bursts -- which is probably why the Monster Hunter franchise didn't make the trip to iOS devices sooner -- but that doesn't mean it's not a fantastic gaming experience just the same.
If you've not had the pleasure of taking a full Monster Hunter title for a spin, the idea is pretty straightforward: The games always start with you, a mysterious hunter, arriving at a village of some sort. The need help gathering items and downing the massive beasts the roam the land, and it's up to you to make that happen.
Where Monster Hunter games deviate from most action role-playing games is that there's never an isolated storyline you have to follow; It's up to you to decide which quests take priority and how you want to go about completing your objectives. You can approach combat in a variety of ways, from ranged attacks with projectile weapons to up-close-and-personal melee onslaughts. In practice, the games play like a strange, beautiful hybrid of an open-world RPG and a hack-and-slash action game.
The formula remains the same in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, with your hunter finding its way to a snowy village that could very much use your assistance. After some lengthy training sessions, the quests begin, and you'll spend the majority of your time defeating towering beasts and collecting resources from the world.
Finding and crafting new gear is also a huge part of your character progression, and finding the right resources to create something great quickly becomes an adventure in its own right. It's the kind of experience you'll want to eat up in large chunks, and if you plan on seeing everything the game has to offer, you can expect to put dozens or even hundreds of hours into it.
Freedom Unite was originally released in 2008 on the PlayStation Portable, which is decidedly underpowered when compared to the current crop of iOS devices. As such, the game's visuals are a mixed bag. On one hand, the resolution has been revamped to take advantage of Retina displays, but the low-res textures still look pretty rough when the camera gets too close. Still, the game's huge open world is a sight to behold, and you'll likely be impressed with how smooth the game runs, even as monsters crowd the screen.
The on-screen controls, which rely on virtual buttons and an analog stick for movement, definitely take a bit of getting used to. Touchscreen controls are rarely ideal, so there's no surprise that a game originally designed for physical buttons feels somewhat odd in the transition. That being said, it's absolutely playable once you get the hang of it, and after you've bested a few beasts with the new control scheme it should feel considerably more comfortable. For those who have invested in a new MFi game controller, you'll also be able to use it here, which I have to say is the preferable option, but certainly not a requirement for enjoyment.
It's clear that a lot of love went into both the original Monster Hunter Freedom Unite game as well as this new iOS re-release. The game is a blast and a huge time killer if you aren't careful, but be warned that it's a bit of an investment at US$14.99. Still, for a game that offers hundreds of hours of playtime with no worries over in-app purchases, that's a completely reasonable price tag. Get it.