2015 will be known in gaming circles for a lot of things when all is said and done. It is famously a year where AAA games roared back to life with major releases and announcements of projects that many thought were impossible. It was a year where independent studios stood their ground, with a few taking up publishing and becoming the new Midways and THQs that we so desperately need. It was also a year where the Quake 3 model would evolve and come to consoles, for better or worse. With the begrudging acceptance of microtransactions and the hype that Titanfall generated before its launch, it was inevitable that publishers and studios alike would take a crack at more multiplayer focused console experiences.
I've played quite a few of these games recently, but there was one that suffered from being the first of its kind. It underestimated its potential audience and their appetite for ongoing DLC, salting the Earth with aggressive pre-order campaigns that turned many off before the game was even released. However, I still love it for the world that it created and the gameplay mechanics that keep me coming back despite the rest of the world abandoning it. If there was one game that I feel was overlooked by many this year, it would have to be Evolve.
For those that don't remember, Evolve is an asymmetrical first person shooter where a team of four sparefaring hunters take on a player controlled monster that is invading the world of Shear. Each hunter is assigned a specific role, from the damage dealing Assault and the shield toting Support to the monster stalking Tracker and the always vital Medic. Additionally, there are multiple specific characters within each role, all packing unique weaponry that ensure variety between matches.
Evolve's varied arsenal is one of the reasons I am drawn in by the title. Despite the best efforts of games like Halo and Bulletstorm, the modern FPS usually sticks pretty close to the standard tools of destruction that DOOM ushered in. Evolve uses its futuristic setting to its advantage, featuring Lightning Guns, Rail Cannons, Harpoon Guns, Stasis Guns, and more. The scenario is also unique, forgoing deathmatch for a set of focused asymmetrical objective modes that keep you engaged in the action, make support players feel useful, and naturally lead up to tense nail-biting conclusions.
Turtle Rock Studios, the developers of Evolve, were originally known as the team who brought Left 4 Dead to life, and their sense of character and world building through gameplay shines through here as well. Before each round, Hunters load up into a dropship to dive into battle from above. While they're waiting to get into position, you get to overhear one of a large number of conversations, each chosen depending on who is in your party at the time. During lulls in the combat, you'll occasionally also get brief dialogue bits describing some wildlife you've run into or just delving into a character's backstory.
There are a crazy number of these conversations, and the fact that they effortlessly integrate with whatever DLC characters you possess and update when new characters are released really add to the immersion of the world that these characters are living in. Turtle Rock put a lot of effort into ensuring that players would care about the narrative of their world despite the fact that they lacked cutscenes or a traditional single player campaign.
Alas, Evolve suffered from several issues at launch that may have turned people off at first glance. As pointed out in our review of the title, Hunters and Monsters were initially locked behind grinding challenges, which meant that the game's character variety was severely reduced for all players until they had invested hours of time into it. This system has since been wisely patched out, and has led to much better matches as a result, especially considering how limited the player pool is currently during certain times of the day.
The other big issue was with the game's initial lack of content and a big focus on paid DLC expansions. There were a sizable number of maps available, but the game's design made them hard to tell apart, with many of them being nothing but dense jungles and random rock formations. They also were required to be much bigger than most shooter maps in order to accommodate the size of the Monster players and the movement abilities that the Hunters possessed. So, despite the fact that new maps regularly entered the rotation, the real focus was always on the rather pricey character DLC. Not many people were willing to fork over the extra cash months later after paying their sixty dollar admission, especially in a year with so many other games to sample.
Evolve certainly had problems when it launched, but I feel that the game does deserve a second chance, especially if you are looking to play the game on console. (The PC audience for the game is almost non-existent at this point and probably beyond saving.) The Ultimate Edition of the game has now been released, which includes all the DLC characters right in the asking price. This version makes Evolve into the robust and fully featured game that many were wishing it was at the start of the year. If you're a fan of FPS game, a Left 4 Dead aficionado, or you just ignored the title due to their marketing strategy, you'll find that Evolve has become a polished and deep experience that strives to think outside the normal deathmatch suite. It breaks the mold in all the right ways and then shocks those pieces with a giant lightning cannon. What more could you ask for?
Were you initially disappointing with Evolve? Never thought to give it the time of day? Or are you one of the twelve people still playing Dead Space 2 multiplayer online right now? Sound off in the comments, and be sure to check in all week for more Overlooked Games of 2015!