A look at the tech powering the upcoming Switch exclusive.
The Monster Hunter series has long catered to a niche audience until Monster Hunter World popularised it in 2018, a proper AAA release on consoles and PC. Monster Hunter Rise is, in some respects, a step back, making the move to Nintendo’s portable console at the expense of the considerably more powerful eighth (and ninth) gen consoles. However, we wouldn’t put it past Capcom to deliver a solid experience here – the RE engine powering Rise is remarkably scalable and has delivered some of the best visuals we’ve seen this generation in games like Resident Evil 7.
With a release date of March 26th 2021, with ninth-gen consoles already firmly entrenched, Monster Hunter Rise has its work cut out for it if it wants to impress today’s audiences.
Let’s take a closer look at the significant features presented in the available gameplay footage.
This is the first time the RE Engine is being used on Nintendo Switch hardware. The RE Engine is a proven powerhouse, at the heart of games such as Resident Evil 7, The RE remakes, and the upcoming Resident Evil Village, all of which have some of the best-looking visuals in the AAA market.
To utilise the Engine on Switch though, the developers had to scale down certain features. This is understandable considering that Capcom had previously tried porting Resident Evil 7 to the switch, but the performance limitations rendered it unplayable. It’s likely that Capcom has tweaked the RE Engine considerably to work well in this specific game.
Considering that the RE Engine can scale up to 4K resolution with HDR support and a VR specific mode, there are definitely features being left on the table. If/when a Nintendo Switch Pro comes out, we might just some of this being implemented – in particular, improvements to the low resolution artwork currently in the game.
Even with the lower quality textures, though, the visuals are some of the best we’ve seen on Switch to date. Better yet, the game targets a solid 30 FPS and mostly sticks to in.
One of the main features of the RE engine is photorealistic shading and material rendering. The main character models display that in close shots. Even the monsters have incredible model detail with the individual feathers or scales being visible when up close. Texture quality could use improvement, but that has more to do with the Switch’s memory limitations.
Models, texture quality, and environmental asset quality
The models utilised in this game for the main characters and the monsters are extremely detailed, and so are the textures applied to them.
Unfortunately, the environmental assets have taken a huge hit in this regard to keep the game at a steady 30 FPS. There are very notable repeating textures on walls and rocks, from dirt to lines of snow. Textures on doors or trees can look very underwhelming when observed up close. So much so, it appears that Capcom intentionally held back on applying high fidelity textures globally to avoid the Switch’s VRAM limitations. If there’s ever been a Switch game asking for a high res texture pack, it’s this one.
The contrast is very evident between the high detail models and textures used on the actual player characters, weapons, armours, and monsters, and the rest of the environment. Moment to moment gameplay looks great, but the hit to texture quality could impact slower paced exploration segments.
Lighting and shadow quality
Coming to the lighting and shadow quality though, the RE Engine once again delivers strong results. This is the same engine used to provide incredibly photorealistic lighting in the Resident Evil games.
Monster Hunter Rise dips into this feature set with high quality lighting and reflections. Reflective surfaces such as water leverage SSR (screen space reflections). Simple reflective surfaces also reflect any dynamic lights around it as long as they are visible.
Characters and monsters feature detailed subsurface scattering effects on their skin and scales. Global and ambient shadows are present throughout scenes of battle but especially so in the player hub area.
There is of course no ray tracing at play here, considering the Switch doesn’t contain Ray Tracing hardware.
Post-processing on Nintendo games is always a treat. What Nintendo games often can’t make up for in terms of graphics owing to their weaker hardware, they do so in visual and aesthetic styling. A colourful palette and tasteful effects can go a long way, as in Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Monster Hunter Rise tries to capture a similar aesthetic, but only to an extent. It seems the developers instead went for a mix of the gritty colours seen in Monster Hunter World and the vibrant palette of the past Monster Hunter games and Switch games in general.
The result is an interesting mix of vibrant HUD and weapon and damage effects, paired with gritty looking environments and monsters. The game could have utilised a more distinct style to make it stand out, but the current effects try to ground it in a form of reality.
As for the other effects such as particles, the RE Engine is capable of rendering multiple particles volumes simultaneously. While fighting monsters, especially in co-op, you often end up lost in a flurry of lighting effects flashing all over the screen. But despite the complexity of these effects, the frame rate seldom dips below 30.
Water and fire effects are also surprisingly detailed: water caustics is in play, adding depth to splash effects, and fire lasts on environmental assets. Again, however, certain effects such as bubbles look incredibly cartoonish and this can be attributed to the weird blend of aesthetic: that the developers have gone for.
Ambient occlusion is utilised but in a rather pared back form. Its evident in hub areas and the characters and monsters themselves. However, the low draw distance means it’s often hard to see in the environment. It’s a subtle effect, though on portable devices, so not a big loss.
Hopefully these tinier details will be fleshed out if or when a more powerful Switch arrives or perhaps even in the rumoured PC port. But even as it stands, Monster Hunter Rise is an incredibly good-looking game for Switch and aesthetically pleasing with a blend of realism and vibrancy.
Pushing the limits of the Switch hardware and featuring some extremely enjoyable gameplay, Monster Hunter Rise is looking like a game worthy of stealing the limelight among all the other next gen games coming out this year. It might not stand up to ninth-Gen quality standards, but Capcom have clearly pushed the Switch’s mobile hardware to its limits to great effect.