Evolve, the latest multiplayer shooter from Left 4 Dead creator Turtle Rock Studios, has been somewhat mired in controversy since its launch. Underneath all the contention, though, Evolve is an incredibly inventive and entertaining game. And while it’s not quite the smash hit L4D was, it’s still a damn fine piece of work.
Evolve is based on asymmetrical gameplay – four hunters versus one colossal monster. The aim of the hunters is to track down and kill the beast, while the monster’s goal is to skulk around eating smaller wildlife, building up the energy to evolve (hence the name). Once it’s big enough, the monster can then attempt to turn the hunters into bite-sized snacks.
It’s an interesting idea, and one that works well in practice. An overeager monster can find itself quickly trapped and put down by the hunter’s advanced tech, while a team of hunters that take too long in finding the monster can wind up smushed into paste through sheer brute force.
The human hunters are divided into four classes: assault, support, trapper and medic. All fairly self-explanatory stuff – the medic heals the team while at times also tagging the monster’s weak points, assault dishes out damage and acts as the tank, and support provides various buffs and bonuses such as cloaking the team. The only slight wild card is the trapper, whose main role involves sniffing out the monster, and making sure it can’t get away by deploying a big-ass forcefield.
The classes are all particularly well-designed. Their weapons and abilities are unique and satisfying enough to differentiate them from the endless parades of SMGs and shotguns that saturate most other shooters, and they’re immediately likeable. They’ve got endless personality, and the visual design is vibrant enough that you won’t lose track of anyone in the midst of combat.
Trust me, you’ll be glad of it – playing as a hunter means that co-operation is an absolute essential. There’s no room for glory-hounds, and a teammate that wanders off under their own steam will swiftly fall prey to hostile beasties, or indeed the monster itself. Instead, players must work together, using all four classes skills in unison.
The monster, on the other hand, is a lone wolf, avoiding the hunters and gobbling up unwary critters until it’s big and mean enough to take them out. That first part is surprisingly important, too; while you may feel like Godzilla from the get-go, having a team of hunters dispatch your un-evolved monster with ease will definitely shrink your ego.
There are currently three playable monsters available, each with various strengths and weaknesses. Goliath relies on brawn and close-range damage, Kraken is best suited to long-distance attacks, and Wraith is best described as the “stealthy assassin”. Thankfully, the previously overpowered Wraith has been nerfed since the beta, and is now much less teeth-gnashingly frustrating to fight.
I wrote a first impressions article on Evolve when 2K hosted their PC beta, and it struck me then as being inventive, good-looking and generally pretty damn fun. I played the hell out of it while the beta was going on. However, as I write this, I’m struggling to think of anything I can meaningfully say that I didn’t already cover in that article.
The truth is, there’s just not a whole lot different. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course – one of the reasons I enjoyed the beta so much was that it was already an incredibly polished game, and I suspect that Turtle Rock spent countless hours in closed-doors playtesting before they let the notoriously judgemental public anywhere near it.
On the other hand, I think it’s a little telling that it didn’t feel like a new game. The PC beta lasted for three days, and by the end of it, I felt like I’d exhausted all it had to offer. I was pinning a significant amount of my hopes on the Evacuation mode to reinvigorate the gameplay, but it doesn’t do much to change up the formula.
Grinding for character unlocks is really the only reason to keep playing for more than a weekend, as by that point – despite the game’s promises of ‘over 800,000 possible matches’ – you’ll have seen pretty much everything Evolve has to offer.
Evolve’s story is slim to non-existent, despite the intro cinematic for the Evacuation mode seeming to promise a more detailed narrative woven in between the missions, in a similar way to Titanfall. However, aside from assorted schlubs asking to be bailed out of monster attacks, the mode features no plot whatsoever.
It’s a shame, as the characters themselves are unique and well-rounded. The Evacuation mode’s intro, the pre-match dialogue and the incidental snippets from the hunters are all entertaining and engaging, and leave me wishing the characters had more room to develop.
The central conceit of Evacuation mode (and the damp squib that passes for a plot) is that a burgeoning human colony, Shear, is found to have something of a pest problem. Given that the pests in question are the size of a small house, a team of the galaxy’s best hunters have been drafted in to hold off the monsters, while everyone else gets the hell out of Dodge.
In practice, this is the basis for a rather disappointing randomly generated five-round mini-campaign, which cycles through the various maps and match-types. Aside from the standard Hunt, there’s also Nest, Rescue and Defend modes.
In Nest, the monster defends six eggs, which can also be hatched to reveal a little mini-me, which can aid in combat. Rescue entails the hunters escorting a series of hapless boobs to a pick-up point, while Defend involves protecting three generators from a fully-evolved monster and periodic waves of minions.
While they may initially appear diverse and interesting, these modes all play pretty much identically. Of course, having different game types is irrelevant anyway, as almost every single game will devolve into a slugfest until one side is dead. You can’t fight human nature, and when the two teams run into each other, odds are good they’re not going to stop stomping unless they absolutely have to.
Possibly the best feature of Evacuation mode is the win/loss effects – a victory will provide the winner with specific boosts and benefits dependent on the scenario. For example, a monster victory in the Aviary map will unleash hostile flying enemies on the hunters in the next game, while the hunters rescuing the staff of a medical facility means that the next arena will be filled with health stations. It’s a nice twist that adds an element of consequence beyond a simple score counter.
I praised Evolve’s maps in my first impressions article, but I feel like I’m regretting it now. While the character design is fresh, inventive and visually engaging, the more I see of the environments, the more they strike me as being nearly identical.
The palette is made almost entirely of dirt brown, gunmetal grey and murky green, and everything gets samey enough that you’ll inevitably get turned around at least once per game. There are token snow areas or slightly rockier sections here and there, but overall you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between maps without looking hard.
As is the danger with online titles, load times are often infuriatingly long. However, it’s very possible that that has more to do with a sub-par internet connection than with server issues. Nonetheless, I often found myself spending more time on my phone waiting for the game to load than in actual matches, so bear that in mind.
As opposed to other multiplayer-focused titles, Evolve’s solo mode actually holds up reasonably well in comparison to the base game. It plays identically to the main version, but with all the other characters controlled by bots. The AI can actually hold up remarkably well on its own, and while it’s not quite the same as playing with another human, it’s perfectly serviceable for grinding. Or if you really, really hate other people.
Remember, none of this means that Evolve isn’t fun. I still enjoyed my time with it a great deal, and if you didn’t play the beta, you’re likely to have a blast. But compared to how entertaining it was when I first played it, the finished game didn’t really grab me in the same way.
If you’re someone that can forgive a lack of variation in exchange for incredibly solid and enjoyable gameplay, then Evolve is definitely going to be worth your time. However, those looking for something that they can really sink their teeth into are likely to be disappointed. While it’s almost certainly going to have a longer shelf life than Titanfall and its ilk, it’s hard to imagine Evolve sticking in many players minds’ for long.