Having played Evolve back at Gamescom, I had a few worries. Come the Alpha and the recent open beta, I still had them. Come release day, I still had them. The thing is, I’ve heard a lot about Evolve. A lot of people have talked to me quite passionately about how good it was and how excited they were for it. Yet whenever I combined those conversations with my worries over the game, the answer was always something like “it’ll be fine come the release” or “it won’t be an issue.”Evolve is an online multiplayer team hunting game, or an asymmetrical multiplayer game. The idea is that you work as a team of four to hunt a monster, or as a monster to defeat the team. You do this across a variety of maps, which are essentially alien landscape arenas with some vestige of humanity.
As the monster you walk around these arenas eating things so you can evolve your powers of destruction, and kill your hunters/destroy objectives. As the hunters, each of you has a dedicated role: Beat the crap out of the monster, trap it, shield everyone and call air strikes, or heal the idiots who just charge far away from you. You then stop the monster by death or by preventing it from completing its objective within the allotted time.
The problems I had are these: I worried that the game was too reliant on its online component (something that was a complete failure during the PS4 alpha for various reasons) and that not enough people would be interested. I was worried that the game wouldn’t have enough to do in it for it not to become ultra repetitive. I was also worried that the console versions would become very redundant very quickly. Leaving the game to the PC market only, and even then to dedicated people, and that it didn’t have the longevity of the Left for Dead series, Turtle Rock’s previous ventures.
What I have found when looking at other reviews is that people have completely misunderstood a lot of the information surrounding the game. There are massive criticisms from users on Metacritic and Steam over microtransactions. This needs addressing, as at present there is absolutely nothing in this game that is behind any kind of pay-wall to allow you to play it fully. The only thing that could be counted as such is a special edition monster only available to certain packages. There are many downloadable skins available for the game. That’s it. That will undoubtedly change with further DLC but the game isn’t requiring it in order to play, nor is there any pay to win solutions.From what I can tell so far, the problems for the PS4 that were apparent in alpha have been resolved. The game has some pretty decent matchmaking that doesn’t leave you hanging around too long. It was the top selling game in the UK last week too, so there’s obviously people playing it. There are offline elements but the need for people to be playing the game, so that you can get the best experience, is evident. However there are ways that the game tries to overcome this people quota issue.
In fact, it takes a leaf out of classic PC FPS gaming. I feel the game becomes quite similar in this regard to things like Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament, although given the developers PC pedigree it’s hardly surprising. If there isn’t enough people then the game will put in bots – AI controlled characters – to fulfill the roles. It’s quite clever in that it will help keep the online game alive even if it hasn’t filled up with actual players. It also makes up the majority of the solo play as well. Plus the AI isn’t ludicrously stupid for either you or the monster. It’s nowhere near the excitement of playing with other humans but it will do while you’re waiting for them.
This is where Evolve is at its best though. When you have a full party of people who know their roles and can communicate via chat, this game is a tactical masterpiece. The monster is a wild card and getting things exactly right is incredibly rewarding as an experience. Sadly it is rare that it occurs at the present moment. I’ll come on to the characters themselves but the way that people have been playing the game, in my experience, is very console specific in the run-and-gun style. Which can make games a tactically inept cat-and-mouse chasing simulator. If the console audience is ready to adapt their style of play and ability to communicate better then this game would truly be revolutionary. Unfortunately I still haven’t fully experienced that yet.
The positive is that Turtle Rock has given the people all the right tools to do it. In this regard they have a created a fantastic game, even if it is slightly limited by the built-in desire for online play and future DLC. The game modes are very simple and easy, yet are challenging enough to not become dull and repetitive in a short space of time. The Evacuation game mode is the highlight here. It’s masked as a solo campaign option but the five mission stages that you can complete (win or lose) is best played as a night event online in a party with friends. It’s amusing if you’re all together chatting and it is a separate enough entity that you could just do that once every few nights with your mates without ever leaping too far ahead.Graphically the game runs very well and with stable frame rates. The art design is excellent and creates some incredible alien worlds that science-fiction filmmakers would kill to have. My only criticism of the level design is that it can be very Monster-centric, making the early level hunters struggle to get around.
I’ve not seen many issues relating to Internet connection but there are certainly things that the game could patch like the in-game volume. It’s incredibly loud, louder than any game I’ve played, straight from the intro video. The in game sounds are also so loud that it eclipses the party chat in volume, which is a pretty key element. But these are all patchable things that can be easily addressed.
The characters or Hunters all have a different element to them. There’s four classes (Assault, Trapper, Medic and Support) and each of them have an important role to play. Which is where the need to play tactically really becomes necessary. The characters individually don’t have enough attacking power to just spray the screen with bullets. So you have to actually work together to get in to the best position to use everyone’s abilities. It becomes tricky when the environment starts working against you due to your failings and you realise that some kind of balanced personal weapons for each character is not only useful but completely non-existent. It’d be nice to have something that can tackle animals and such without your team having to bail you out or leave you for dead.
The rub of this is that more characters and monsters unlock the more you progress in the game. They are very typical of a 2K game release; slightly humorous and cliché meatheads/rednecks/smart-asses that come complete with occasional funny dialogue and cut scenes brimming with banter. They aren’t original at all, especially the first medic Val who could have been stolen straight from Resident Evil, but they are all entertaining enough in the short term that you rarely feel they make much of a difference to the game. Their weapons however do. The Assault character’s guns obviously occupy the role of a tank. The Trapper has some excellent things to help the hunt without being offensively anemic. The medic is very poorly equipped for a fight but essential to keeping your team alive, so smart monsters tend to target that role first. The Support or the buffer role is a bit weak but has a powerful yet cumbersome air strike ability. Together they work very well but if someone gets too far ahead then it can get very lonely and very deadly incredibly quickly.The monsters all have different attacks and abilities with the Goliath, Wraith and Kraken (Ed – every game has a bloody Kraken now, is Lovecraft out of copyright or something?) heading up the available line-up, unless you are rich enough to buy the special edition with the Behemoth. I personally love the Goliath’s fire breath that satisfies the inner need for me to be a dragon. The Kraken has enough lightning for me to scream Return of The Jedi Emperor quotes.
The only tricky thing with the monsters is finding a safe enough place to evolve and unlock more powers. Generally you are already on the run at that point and it feels like birds are everywhere. But you find yourself playing, again that key word, tactically. You know you’re one monster so you have to adapt, learn the map, work out how to separate the team and who to target.
The thing is that the game provides a lot of satisfaction as long as the right people are playing it at the right time. It’s like when you play an online FPS mode and come up against a clan. You are obliterated, utterly embarrassed and become incredibly jaded with your experience. For the most part, Evolve is an incredibly successful attempt at a complex style of game that challenges gamers to be better gamers and rewards them for doing so. It also is incredibly well designed, balanced and well thought out for the style of game it is. Normally the word “hunt” would go in the same sentence in gaming as Cabela or Duck. The only thing that lets it down is that it is reliant on communication, good teamwork and the collimation of that to create its online experience. Which is something that console gamers (I’m sorry for pigeon holing us but its true) so often lack. But it will challenge you and if you have a group of friends that all have the game then you will definitely have fun and if you’re willing, it will make you a better, more tactically thinking, gamer. After all, it’s evolution baby!
Evolve is a very good game that certain audiences, in my opinion, aren’t ready for. The PC market should love it as should parties of gamers. There’s a lot of noise about DLC and things that aren’t included in the game, as well as it’s longevity. But the game itself is an excellently produced “asymmetrical” multiplayer game. The weapons and characters are all interesting to play as and the environments are great.
[tab title=”Good Points”]
– Excellent gameplay that challenges gamers
– Interesting weapons and character roles/monster abilities
– Not totally dependent on Online availability
[tab title=”Bad Points”]
– Potential DLC costs a big factor
– Hard to find a good team of people regularly
– Even with bots it does have a limited longevity on console
[tab title=”Why an 8?”]
For all the noise surrounding the games content issues, it needs to be pointed out that they are not the game. The game itself is excellent and if there was more to the formula that could survive outside of the multiplayer design, then it would be one of the best. Whilst there are short term solutions to that, the experiences I’ve had on console haven’t been showing the game to its best ability. Maybe that will improve as a core group of fans develop. But the vehicle itself, the game, is great despite its limitations.
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game.