You probably hadn’t heard of Turtle Rock Studios before, but they were the minds behind successful Valve published franchise Left 4 Dead. This multiplayer shooter created in the Source engine was so popular because of its asymmetric classes that all felt unique to play. Evolve continues this trend, but also does away with even teams to create a big challenge. Can the hunters take down the monster, or will they get eaten alive? As it turns out, this concept makes for great gameplay; but does the entire package hold up at retail?
This is one dark looking game at times, with each map feeling like a wilderness where at any time without warning, you could be gobbled up or assaulted by tiny hunters. It’s a jungle out there and noises emanating from the trees really showcase how immersive the atmosphere can be. There does seem to be a low frame rate cap on console versions though. Hunters all have a great sense of character though repeated dialogue when dropping from the airship can grate slightly, especially when first playing the game with limited roster options. Monsters, on the other hand, have unique and utterly terrifying designs, perfectly camouflaging themselves into the dense forest.
Evolve‘s biggest strength is that every game acts like a campfire tale. “There I was, out there in the woods with my good friends, working as a team to hunt and slay a monster. Always hungry, always angry, and, above all else, always evolving.” You’ll have that one game where things went to the wire and remember that long enough to tell someone about it that’s interested. While not all the game types are successful in relaying that tense atmosphere, they’re all still fun in their own right to an extent.
“It is always advisable to perceive clearly our ignorance.”
Hunt is by far the most developed and ultimately best game type. Four hunters of differing classes go up against a solitary monster on a 4v1 basis. The catch is that the monster is hunting for food to enable new evolutions, going up to stage three, with the aim to wreck a generator. First previews had the generator at a weaker level, with the monster able to eat hiding civilians after the generator was destroyed, but this works out as a fairer alternative. Some may feel the hunting sections are “boring”, but that’s the beauty of its design. Hunting is tense and that shows.
Speaking of civilians, Rescue has the hunters revive and guard civilians against the monster, who is trying to stop the civilians from reaching sanctuary via teleportation pod. Similarly, Nest has the monster protecting eggs from the hunters, with the ability to hatch one at a time. These are nice modes, but feel underdeveloped as it’s relatively simple for the attacking side to win. Finally, Defend has hunters defending generators from a Stage 3 Monster and its frequently respawning minions; acting a bit like a MOBA where one engagement could spell the end of the game. It’s an interesting idea though again the balance is a bit skewed in favour of the monster until the climax of each game.
Evacuation puts players in a five-day cycle where they play a selection of the game types, culminating in a final desperate struggle in Defend. Each win will put the opposing side at a disadvantage in the next game through a variety of different ways. One interesting variant had plants mutate to enable the monster to heal after eating them while another had birds escape the hatchery to populate the next map with more birds so that hunters could better track the monster. This is probably the way to play Evolve, gathering friends together and pitting each other against the monster to take all the glory.
“I am not the least afraid to die.”
Another big strength for Evolve is in its character variety and unique abilities each comes with. It’s actually quite staggering to see 12 hunters, three in each of the four classes with only one shared ability; and three monsters that are all drastically different. Your four starters are the best possible ones for new players to get to grips with. Maggie, in particular, is great for new Trappers as she has harpoon traps to ensnare the monster and has her pet Trapjaw – Daisy, who can sniff out the monster, survivors and eggs. Val’s healing gun is the most consistent healing ability while her tranquiliser darts slow down the monster. Markov has heavy weapons but can also lay mines; while Hank has the shield support ability and an orbital drop to help the team in his unique way.
Some are more obviously useful than others though. For example, Lazarus – one of the healing class, doesn’t have any healing ability beyond the class specific healing burst, but his Lazarus Device can revive the dead, while his personal cloak helps him sneak around as he’s performing resurrections. Bucket has the unique support ability of a UAV to track monsters down, while Hyde uses toxic grenades to flush out a hiding monster. Monsters also have a great amount of variety. While the Goliath is a fire breathing brusier, the Kraken takes to the air to rain down thunder on the hunters, while the Wraith uses stealth to isolate the party and potentially eliminate members with distract tactics.
There is however a big caveat to completely being in awe of the class system. Evolve‘s progression system is bloated beyond all feasible belief and one might suspect it plays into marketing. As you play, you’re aiming to use your full arsenal of moves to their fullest effect, meaning that you’ll score a limited score after each round. To compensate for this though, you are able to score points no matter how you play, but after each star you gain a permanent small percentage bonus in effectiveness. If all that was unlocked were skins and emblems, this wouldn’t be an issue, but new characters and game changing perks are a bit of a sour point. This also brings up the issue of longevity. Though assurances that the game will receive free support through its lifespan have been given by Turtle Rock Studios, will the offerings on show maintain a user-base?
Matchmaking seems relatively stable on release, as one would hope so after the Big Alpha and Beta! Even partying up with strangers can be a fun time if everyone is communicating. If they’re not however, you could be in for a slightly more aggravating time as constant talking is very important. Even if someone should drop their connection, the Bot does an admirable job of human-like behaviour; but having an entire team of Bots is not as enjoyable an experience.
Turtle Rock Studios have taken the asymmetric multiplayer that made Left 4 Dead so successful, skewed the numbers a bit and created a unique offering that is best played with friends. It certainly looks the business and for the most part is a successful shooter with great replay. It’s just rather unfortunate that the progression system is slow as molasses and hunters sound a bit like a broken record when being deployed for the first time each game. It’s almost exciting to see how they can expand with continued support in maps and modes in the future. Hopefully the game will see a long life, but the offerings on show may not satisfy for long. Evolve is one of the most intense multiplayer shooter in years. Not bad considering the legacy it had to live up to!