Evolve: Big Alpha Impressions

It’s big, bold, and action-packed. You have the steely determination of the Hunters up against the anxious evasiveness of the Monster. We haven’t seen many unique titles on next-gen platforms so far, but there’s one on the horizon that looms as something quite special.

It’s called Evolve, and playing the Big Alpha was an exciting and, at times, scary experience. As a Hunter, there is soaring confidence in the early stages of each round, knowing the extreme vulnerabilities of the Stage One Monster combined with the safety of three teammates. It’s only when your adversary reaches Stage Three that a cold shiver sneaks up your spine with the realization the hunter has become the hunted.

For a game in its alpha stage, Evolve runs surprisingly well. An occasional drop in frame rate and substantial loading times were the only downsides to my first session of multiplayer matches, as the servers juggled expansive maps, ability activations and the game’s graphical output.

At times you will notice changes to the map’s environmental effects. Darkness with sleet and even snowfall added a nice touch and broke up the stock-standard, still, nighttime environments, despite these effects making no difference to gameplay.

Every map is played with Van Helsing-esque lighting and locations are extremely dark. Though this makes the hunt quite exciting when you don’t know where your prey will pop out, it gets dull rather quickly. Every minute of footage we’ve been shown up to the alpha showed Evolve in a night setting and I can confidently say it desperately needs some colour, either from a bright forest or a rural location for a bit more character. Perhaps this will be reflected in the beta.

But there is no doubt that Evolve brilliantly captures the thrill of the hunt, whether you’re on the offensive or defensive. There are the Hunters who consist of four player types. There’s Assault, Trapper, Support and Medic to choose from, all of whom must work in harmony to track down the Monster and kill it, or survive beyond a time limit to win the round.

Up close and personal spray ‘n pray action!

While the team may look to the Assault class to do the most damage and the Trapper to keep line of sight on the enemy, the Medic has, by far, the most responsibility. Not only must they stay alive to ensure the rest of the team are healed, but they have the only means of physically slowing down the creature (tranquilizer dart); the team will fail if the medic dies.

Evolve strives to achieve unit cohesion and if one person isn’t doing their job properly cracks will begin to form until hope evaporates. It’s something few games ever manage to accomplish and it seems Evolve has already done that in the Big Alpha.

Playing as the Monster was definitely the most unique and stressful part of the alpha. Goliath (one of the playable monsters available) will be pounding around on the forest floor with the odd trip to high cliff faces, whereas the Kraken will constantly fly around the map only landing to snack on prey and evolve into its next phase. This makes tracking the latter quite challenging, as its quick travel speed and verticality of the levels borders on unfair for the Hunters.

“Who enters my domain!?!”

Unfortunately, we only ever got to play as Goliath during our playthrough. This was due to a crazy amount of XP required to unlock Kraken. Even though we only got the experience one of the available monsters, it was still really fun.

Being stuck in Stage One is all about running, hiding and snacking on wildlife. Stage Two is more of the same. After reaching Stage Three several times, you tend to feel an immediate power boost after leveling your abilities. This often meant that I was too cocky and came off second best. But, of the matches I did win, I successfully removed the power relay (a secondary form of victory) once and obliterated the Hunters with Rock Throw and Fire Breath twice.

Little tip: taking advantage of the ‘sneak’ mechanic and creating overlapping tracks are a great way of playing mind games with the Hunters.

As a Hunter, taking on an opponent in Stage Three was daunting. The creatures are tremendous in stature with substantial increases to damage and potential armour. Goliath will set the map alight with Fire Breath and Leap Smash, and Kraken will electrify foes using Lightning Strike and Aftershock; they are both intense encounters.

If your team contains a bot you were doomed to fail. The AI-generated teammates were extremely unhelpful and would often follow you around instead of following Daisy (the Trapper’s tracking pet) or pursuing the Monster. If there was a bot present, it was easier to just exit the match, as only three players doing their job simply wasn’t enough.

“Release the Kraken!”

Turtle Rock Studios’ post-match presentation is to be applauded. A diagram of the map with a timed breakdown of events is a great way of using data in the match and lets all players know how close, or far away, they were from their target/pursuers.

However, as expected, it still needs a lot of work. Even though gamers have seen footage since E3 2014, Evolve’s problems are a numbers game: there remains only one game mode, two monsters, three maps, and four classes. Despite a soundtrack being virtually non-existent, Evolve’s success won’t lie in its graphics or lack of enjoyable gameplay; those are already safe.

The game’s future success will hinge on convincing people to purchase a game that, up until this stage, is a 4v1 multiplayer-only title with no premise or character back-story. Still, 2K Games could very well pull ‘a Destiny’ and sell all this important content as DLC. That remains to be seen

The Evolve Big Alpha was, ultimately, a success, but the beta will prove to be the game’s ‘make or break’ moment. Content will be the decisive factor as we look for bigger, bolder colours in new locations, a detailed storyline and new game modes.

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