Evolve is a good game with great ideas. Coming from Turtle Rock, the developer of Left 4 Dead, which has been resurrected outside the Valve empire, Evolve is an asymmetric shooter released February 10th for the PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Players either take on the role of a hunter on a team of four or that of the Monster. Each role plays about how you would expect in a co-op shooter; the Medic heals and revives team members, Support does auxiliary damage, shields and cloaks the team, the Trapper well... traps the Monster and Assault is your primary damage dealer.
Monster gameplay is broken into three "stages". At Stage 1, the hunters can quite easily take you down in a straight up fight. Stage 2 you are on roughly equal footing with the hunters and when you reach Stage 3 it will take a lot of skill from the hunters to take you down.
This sounds like it would make for an awesome game, a crack team of hunters desperately chasing a monster that is equal parts fleeing and stalking them. Unfortunately a lack of execution holds Evolve back in several areas.
The minute to minute gameplay is fun when it works. As the hunters you frantically chase, trap and attempt to kill the Monster in an immensely satisfying firefight. As the Monster you slink away, feeding and growing until you can turn your pursuers into prey. Unfortunately, it is very easy for a game to fall apart. Is your Trapper bad? Well good luck keeping the Monster in a fight. Did your medic fall behind? Whoops looks like you're gonna wipe.
So if you aren't on the same page with your team, its difficult to have fun, let alone win. For some who only like to play online with friends this won't be a problem, but for a multiplayer-only experience the ability to pick up and play (and have fun) is worth a lot. Even if everyone is sticking together, the 'hunt' gameplay wears thin quickly. It sounds cool to track the monster from tracks or bent trees but in practice it means a large chunk of every game is spent chasing after waypoints, and that rapidly becomes boring. Some of the other game modes, such as defending objectives from Monsters or rescuing civilians from Monsters mix it up slightly but the core gameplay never really changes. Add to that excessive load times and spotty at best matchmaking (I've played many online games with bots because roles couldn't be filled), and the seams of Evolve's gameplay show through. Essentially, when Evolve is doing what it says on the tin, it is excellent. Unfortunately the perfect teamwork fire-fights you see in the intro cinematic are few and far between.
Monster gameplay however is consistently very fun. Because you are relying only on yourself there is a great deal more freedom with how you approach every game. Sometimes the best strategy is early offense to pick off a scattered team, whereas against a more cohesive team you're best served to hide, flee and engage at Stage 3. The growth mechanic with the Monster caused me to engage with each round far more than any other online multiplayer game, where your performance is often independent of the round's outcome. In fact when I am defeated as the Monster, part of me is proud the hunter team was strong enough to take me out. There is a similar feeling of accomplishment when winning as the hunters, owed mainly to a strong emphasis on cooperation and how rare it is in a random online match.
In story, Evolve suffers from the Titanfall problem; it is a purely multiplayer game that tries to deliver background organically through gameplay. The issue is that the game seems to have little patience for its own story, limiting it to 30 second snippets before the mission and minimal in game banter. The plot as I understand it is that there is a planet called Shear with a great deal of incredibly hostile wildlife. A man named Cabot has gathered ~12 (depending on how much DLC you eventually buy) hunters to kill these monsters and save the colonists. Each of these hunters have exactly one personality trait; Markov is Russian and likes fighting, Maggie is no-nonsense and has a pet monster, Lazarus is insane, Bucket is a robot, Hank is country and likes cigars, Caira is a peppy scientist etcetera, etcetera.
There's nothing wrong with a game being light on narrative, even intentionally leaving things vague but what little story Evolve has comes across lazy. The intros for some missions will have a named character who we never see or learn anything about, other locations and planets are mentioned off hand and never spoken of again and the in-game banter becomes repetitive almost immediately. I swear if I hear how Maggie got her pet trapjaw one more time, I may break something.
There is a fair amount of variety in the environments: desert, jungle, swamp, forest, snow, industrial (hey macarena!) but nothing that made me stop and stare. A large part of hunter gameplay is tracking the monster and much of the game's aesthetic can make that difficult: whether it is too dark, overly generic or just muddy-looking. The character design is interesting, but the classes seem to pigeon-hole the characters. For example, every assault character looks to be about 500 pounds, all medics are slight of build, all support are squat and the trappers are completely average. Again this isn't a problem, but it comes off as lazy design especially when all the Assault hunters look like palette swaps.
Evolve's levelling system is a mixed bag. 8 of the 12 hunters are locked from the start, requiring weapon challenges to unlock them. Simple things like do X damage with assault rifle, heal Y damage with medigun. The gating of a large chunk of the game is somewhat annoying but its real negative impact is felt in gameplay. Because you need to finish 3 weapon challenges to get the next character, many people are more concerned with what they need than what the team needs. The worst I've seen is a challenge that requires 7 stealth-revives, leading to the absurd situation of your medic actively wanting team members to die. The characters in each class do provide a variety of play style, allowing you to mix it up even within your favorite class, but the unlocking shouldn't sacrifice gameplay.
Evolve is an ambitious game to be sure, the elements at work are original and interesting but it feels like so many of Evolve's great ideas came out half baked.
- Hunting down a dangerous monster sounds great until you spend 75% of a 20 minute game running aimlessly in circles.
- Easily identifiable classes like Team Fortress 2 sounds smart, but because there are 12 characters it feels like corner-cutting design.
- A story that doesn't hold your hand is wonderful, unless the story doesn't have a hand to hold, or arms or legs for that matter.
This game was purchased by the reviewer and reviewed on the Playstation 4
You can purchase Evolve on Amazon here
Evolve is fun when it works but has a habit of being hurt by its own ambition. Play with friends to get the best out of this game.