As Evolve began its rapid transformation from an intangible, freshly announced concept into a frequently played, comprehensible love-child of Turtle Rock, there was plenty of skepticism surrounding the developer’s approach towards four versus one asynchronous multiplayer design. Would Evolve be unbalanced thanks to the Wraith? Would Evolve feel complete if you didn’t opt in for the obnoxious pre-order bonuses? Would Evolve ever live up to being the second coming of the co-op driven shooter after the studio’s success with Left 4 Dead? All of these were valid concerns, especially considering the worrisome alpha and beta, which quickly revealed discrepancies in this angelic silhouette.
Leading up to its release, the coverage of Evolve was borderline idealistic, with like-minded members of the press asking questions about coordination, verbal cues and advanced team strategies, all of which the type of player Evolve was catering to would want answers for. They are the party chat goers, the Battlefield clansters, and the high-fiving tea baggers. But I’m not one of those players. I play multiplayer games for little more than self-merit, and I find that the most effective use of my mic is to silence the voices coming out of my television. I am not a social player. Yet this is a social game. So here’s the question I asked: Could players like me, isolated competitors, enjoy a game like Evolve?
It’s instinctual that players like me would want to skip picking a hunter and instead simply go for the lone monster’s role. Here, they should expect an agonizingly solitary experience as it emulates the ultimate lone wolf play style, pitting you against four (ironically) hungry hunters. Failure comes at the fault of no one else but yourself, and victory only means that you – yes, you – are the best among all others.
But thanks to Evolve’s strict class designation format, you will (and most likely more often than you’ll initially be comfortable with) end up playing as one of the four hunter classes. This is where you’ll have to start paying attention.
As you may already know, Evolve pits four distinct hunters against a single monster; all five roles are ideally controlled by humans. Playing as a hunter requires a firm understanding of not just your role, but the strengths and weaknesses of all the members in this crazy clown posse as they attempt to aid the colonists of the planet Shear. It matters little whether you’re on a mic or not; not being familiar with the full set of hunters puts you at a significant disadvantage either way.
Here’s where I fill my shoes as Power Up Gaming’s resident Contrarian Douchebag. Evolve’s progression system is the progression system that you need – not the one that you want.
In order to unlock all of the characters in Evolve, the game forces you to fill in its quantitative requirements of doing X amount of damage with certain weapons and using signature abilities Y amount of times. Admittedly, the system is rote and often seemingly bloated, but it only stands in your way until you “master” each class. The game acts like a basketball coach, conditioning you to practice your foul shot. This progression system is even more necessary if you’re a silent player like myself.
When the camera pulls down the middle of the drop ship showing all four hunters awaiting the jump, it’s here where I complete my assessment of what I expect from my teammates. Say I play as Abe (who has the best one-liners, by the way), I’ll know that his stasis grenades would complement Hyde’s toxic grenades to help slow the monster down, and Cabot’s damage amplifier accompanied by Lazarus’ weak-point highlighting rifle will make our bullets hurt like hell. I have only come to set these expectations after familiarizing myself with each class, thus making me a better team player without having to utter a single word.
Every moderate level player in Evolve holds their fellow hunters to a similar standard. And while those on a mic may bitch that players who aren’t vocal hurt their team’s cohesion, this typically isn’t a contagion that cripples overall team performance. Hunters are sure to lose when all four filter in their own directions, when the Trapper neglects to drop the dome on a fleeing monster, when players ignore downed allies, or when the last hunter standing attempts to duke it out with the monster rather than escape until the drop ship arrives. These are straightforward situations that call for common sense solutions, none of which necessitate the need to bark, “Bro! Daisy’s running this way!”
One of my best matches consisted of Parnell, Hank, a neglectful Griffin, and myself as Caira. While Griffin fucked off somewhere else, Parnell, Hank and I chased a level one Wraith. The player who controlled Parnell did his job correctly by getting in the Wraith’s face bombarding the living crap out of her with rockets and shotgun shells. Hank and I weren’t far behind as I pelted Parnell with healing grenades while Hank shielded him from what would otherwise be devastatingly unbalanced supernova attacks from the Wraith. Eventually, we took the beast down with the kind of silent coordination of synchronized swimmers.
As an aggressively marketed AAA release, Turtle Rock had to make specific design choices to accommodate players who let their guns do all the talking. Evolve’s HUD can be quite busy, with various icons to indicate the status of your allies as well as the monster. All three trappers (as well as Bucket, Val and Cabot) have different ways of locating the monster. Between tracking darts, UAVs, sounds spikes, and Daisy herself, they all appear differently on your screen. By now, players should know all too well that the frantic pinging of yellow and red waypoints means that one of your fellow hunters has spotted the monster. There has also been an impressive effort made on audio cues as well. Hunters have proven to be autonomously intelligent enough to use call-outs for when their abilities are recharged, as well as important sightings such as carnivorous plants, buff-gifting wildlife, and even simply getting eyes on the monster itself. In many ways, Evolve does much of the talking for you.
But even while I argue how effective silent cooperation can be, being anti-social doesn’t mean that you should ignore what your teammates are saying. In my experience, I’ve encountered fewer hostile players on Evolve than I typically do in multiplayer shooters. My guess is that the nature of having hunters compensate for one another in such a demanding game of cat and mouse has penetrated the volatility that online shit talkers quickly resort to, encouraging them to give helpful advice instead of slinging demoralizing insults. If I hadn’t listened, I wouldn’t have learned that instead of dropping the arena the moment a monster shows up at the generator in Defend mode, it’s better that I wait until after its shields are low to allow my team to inflict some real damage. I also wouldn’t have learned that an effective way to help an incapacitated ally as Hank is to drop a mortar strike on top of them to keep the monster at a distance before moving in cloaked to revive them. You don’t always have to speak to be an effective hunter, but completely shutting out your teammates will ultimately do yourself a big disservice.
It goes without saying that Evolve is a superbly well-built co-op experience. The class design and complementation of each of the hunter’s abilities don’t give players a choice to do anything else but work together. However, while Turtle Rock idealizes a vocal gang of four, calling out elaborate strategies to best the monster, Turtle Rock has also supplemented the experience with strong non-verbal communication tools that even the cagiest of gamers can take advantage of.
Don’t be intimidated by Evolve’s high concept co-op design – it is truly a multiplayer shooter for all shades of social tolerance.