A lot has already been said about Evolve and its lean towards DLC, and as both a gamer, and a critic, I’ve been just as hesitant as everyone else when it comes to the finished product. DLC has gotten out of hand, plain and simple, with Evolve becoming a clear example of this, and no form of excuse and spin will convince me that publishers are after anything else but money. “We want to give gamers more choice.” Hmmm.
That said, we have to look at Evolve on its own merits, and see if there’s a great game hiding underneath that DLC grindstone. Let’s get a crane, lift up the weight, and delve into the soft underbelly of this hunting shooter.
Evolve is one of those rare things in the gaming industry, a unique shooter. Sure, it’s not entirely original, and many of the mechanics here have been seen in some shape or form before, but the sum of its parts makes for a new and refreshing co-op shooter, one with a heavy tactical approach, one that gets deeper the more you play.
Four hunters, each with a different role to play, must hunt a dangerous, evolving creature (well, mutating, there’s little evolution here) on an alien planet full of wildlife. This wildlife can also be dangerous, so the hunters have to keep their wits about them whilst tracking down their prey.
The monster, on the other hand, controlled by a lone player, must hunt this wildlife in order to grow stronger, and level up to its final, third stage form. At this point, it’s more than enough to take down four hunters. It’s this game of cat and mouse, hide and seek, that forms the majority of Evolve‘s gameplay, and the two sides are vastly different in both style and skills.
The hunters are made up of four types. There’s the assault, trapper, medic, and support. The assault is the main damage dealer, with skills and equipment focused on dealing as much damage to the monster as possible in a short time. He’s a tank, able to both dish out and take more damage.
The trapper’s role is to track down the monster and when found, trap it. The main tool here is the portable arena, a large laser dome that traps the monster inside for a limited time, allowing the hunters to take it on without it scurrying off to lick its wounds.
The medic, as you may expect, is the healer, equipped with a handy healing gun which is used to keep the team alive. They’re also equipped with a sniper rifle that can damage a monster and create weak spots.
Finally is the support. This class can buff the team members, and perform other roles, such as making the monster more visible, and even calling in air-strikes. Support can also deal out a large amount of damage, although not as much as assault.
All of these roles and skills also vary from character to character, and every one in each class is a little different. There are three of each class, making a total of 12 hunters out of the box (with more via DLC), and each has different abilities and equipment. You start with only one of each class, and unlock more as you progress with levelling up each hunter.
The monster is a very different, ahem, beast. As a lone wolf of a sort, the monster is both the underdog, and the outright favourite, depending on how fast it can level up, and how well it uses the environment.
Players of the monster need to be both aggressive and stealthy. The monster has no revives like the hunters, and so has to be careful. Luckily, it’s also very powerful, and when used with skill, can destroy a hunter team in no time (although this isn’t easy with a good team, which I’ll get to later).
Starting at level one, the monster has to feed to build up armour, as well as the evolve meter. Once the meter is full, an evolve can be triggered, advancing the monster to the next level. Once at level 3, the monster is at full strength, and becomes a walking (or flying) tower of power.
There are three monsters at launch, with more to come via DLC. Each is very different, with the Goliath, the game’s cover monster, being a hulking biped, able to smash enemies, throw rocks and breathe fire, making for a close combat specialist. The Kraken walks on all fours, faster than the Goliath, can hover, and is able to utilise a range of lightning attacks, making it perfect for long range assaults. Finally we have the Wraith. Able to fly, this is a stealthy monster that’s able to use decoys, and a devastating barrage attack.
Like the hunters, each monster is very different, and to utilise them correctly, different tactics need to be used. A Goliath, for example, can take more damage, and so is best used up close and personal, doing as much damage as possible without letting the hunters regroup or heal. The Wraith, on the other hand, is a hit and run beast, best used to sneak up on hunters, employing decoys to distract them.
Monsters are controlled via a third person mode, and all have a stealthy mode, which is used to make less noise and to stalk wildlife.
On the hunt
Evolve has a number of different game types revolving around the central hunting mechanic, with the Hunt mode being the mainstay of the title. This is the most basic mode of the game, and sees four hunters track and take down the monster. If the hunters kill the monster, they win. If the monster kills them all, or destroys the level objective, it wins.
Arriving on the scene, the hunters pick up the scent of the creature, which is made easier by the trapper. Initially, this is because default trapper, Maggie, has a pet Trapjaw (a lizard-like dog) who can track the monster. Following glowing tracks, the team must follow and locate the monster before if feeds enough to evolve. Such things as birds being disturbed, or animal carcases strewn around can reveal the monster’s location or direction of travel, helping speed things up.
Once the monster is located, the hunters have to deal as much damage as they can, and stop the monster from escaping. The faster it’s killed, the easier the task will be. If the confrontation is strung out, and it escapes, it may rebuild its armour, or even evolve, and fights becomes much more difficult.
It’s the most straightforward mode, but also one that showcases the game’s unique gameplay the most. At first the game seems very simple, and also overly frantic. When you first play it, you’ll be equally sedated by the quiet times when tracking the beast, and overwhelmed by the sheer speed and hectic nature of fighting it. It’s a jarring mixture of tempo, and at first I don’t doubt many will be a little unimpressed. It goes from slow countryside walk to in your face action so fast, you’ve got little to no time to get used to the whole thing, but with time, and a few matches, you do settle, and become much more in control, able to adapt easier.
Tracking is the most important element in many ways, though. Learning how to track the beast, and more importantly, how to anticipate its movement so you cut it off instead of chasing it for the entire match until it levels up to its final form, is paramount. This is difficult at first, and takes some time to get used to, but eventually, you begin to see signs of the monster before the game’s prompts even appear, and you can correctly second guess your loyal tracker dog, finding a quicker route to intercept your quarry.
Likewise, fighting the beast takes some practise, and although you’ll begin by begin thrown around like a rag doll (partly thanks to friendly fire from air strikes), once you master your chosen character’s skills, and learn how to use the lay of the land to get a better position, you’ll be able to do more damage and stay alive. In fact , you soon pick up new methods of approach, and begin to utilise new tactics in battle. The myriad of tactics and approaches you can take in combat in Evolve is one of its stronger points.
What’s more, with a good team working together, all playing their part, the monster has a serious task ahead of it. And this, in many ways, is where one of Evolve’s major issues comes to light.
Asymmetrical, or unbalanced?
Evolve, like most games of this type, is better with friends. Although the game is perfectly playable solo with bots (and it’s surprisingly enjoyable, with good bot AI), it’s when playing as a team where it shines, if you’re a hunter.
With a good team of players, all mastering their class, it’s almost overkill, and the lone player in control of the monster is often easily overwhelmed, at least, that’s in my experience. Although the monster is far from underpowered, and Turtle Rock has tried to balance everything, the varied abilities of the hunters in human hands can be far more deadly, especially if the monster is tracked down quickly. Sure, expert monster players may have the edge, but I’ve yet to see a total whitewash from a monster’s point of view when playing online.
Now, this is by design, of course, and the monster should be easier to kill when lower level, but even a level three monster can have a tough time, and in some matches, regardless of whether I was the monster, or a hunter, it felt like the monster wasn’t really as beastly as it looked. What’s more, as a lone player, you have no human allies, so it’s a rather strange multiplayer experience, and a lonely one. For best results, change roles each match, even if you prefer the monster over the hunters. Online-centirc games always change, so this situation may well not be the case in future. It’s very clear that hunters are the fan favourite, so the monster may just need more time, and some player TLC.
Thankfully, the hunt mode isn’t the only one on offer, and there are more game types which give the monster some welcome back up. This includes Nest, in which hunters need to destroy six monster eggs to win the round. The monster has to defend them, and can also hatch them, creating an AI minion, evening up the odds a little.
Rescue sees the hunters trying to rescue five survivors and lead them to the evacuation point, whilst the monster has to kill them, and then there’s Defend. Here the hunters must defend a series of objectives from monster and minion attack. If they hold out for the timeer to tick down, or kill the monster, they win. If the monster and its minions destroy the final objective, or kill all hunters, it wins. It’s a simple mode, but is also interesting, as it changes many of the hunter roles, and rather than using skills for attack or hunting, they’re used for defence instead. The trapper’s spear traps, for example, become a way to slow down the attack, whilst the support air strike can be used on an objective, to keep monsters away.
All of these modes make for a decent amount of variety, and they also combine to form the game’s mini-campaign mode, Evacuation.
We… are… leaving!
Evacuation is the game’s highlight mode, as it’s fought over five stages, including all of the game modes featured. The course of the mode is changed depending on the outcome of each fight, and the winner of each round gains an advantage in the next mission. So, if the hunters successfully defend a distillery, for example, in the next round, scent-masking gas will be spread over the area, making it harder for the monster to detect them. On the other hand, should the distillery be destroyed, the chemicals will leak into the water source, making the wildlife in the next mission more aggressive.
Some of these events are minor, and seemingly make little difference, but others are noticeably important, such as teleporters that can get hunters out of trouble, or buffs for the monster, giving its minions extra armour.
The goal of the mode is to win the final confrontation, which is always a defend mission where the hunters must protect the evacuation ship as it refuels. This mission is made easier for the side that’s won the previous matches, just like previous outings. Depending on the number of people rescued (decided by previous wins and losses), the winners also get bonus EXP after the last round.
It’s a very interesting set up, and as the game has no real story mode, this is the closest you’ll get to a campaign. As it’s different every time, though, it’s always fun. Sadly, it’s also hard to get into a decent match online with random people, as many seem to quit out early, as a whole five-round run can take well over 30 minutes. Playing with friends is the only real way to get the most out of this mode.
Turtle Rock has managed to cobble together a successful asymmetrical shooter, and although not the most balanced, it’s still great fun for the most part. Simply levelling up and unlocking new characters and buffs is addictive, and unlike many, I think this levelling and unlocking is about right. It takes a long time to unlock all characters, yes, but it’s a goal, and one that you enjoy playing through.
There are plenty of issues with the game too, though, with the monster being one of my major gripes. Simply put, it’s just not as much fun as the hunters. This is really strange, as playing a huge, death-dealing monster should be the highlight, especially as we’ve tons of other games where we play as people with guns. Well, not so. Although the monster is enjoyable at times, it never really approaches the same level of enjoyment you get playing as the hunters and working as a team. What’s more, the third person camera removes much of the immersion, and also plays badly. The POV is a fish bowl-like affair, and one that’s horrible to look at in my opinion. It’s just nasty. I’d much prefer to play the monster in first person like the hunters, both for immersion and a better camera view.
The hunters have issues too, in particular I found the jetpack to be a little obnoxious. It runs out so fast you’re constantly going for jumps only to realise you’re out of juice and have to wait for a recharge. It also makes fast movement painful, as four or five bursts is all you get. The jetpack climbing is also clunky and awkward, and I feel this needs to be reworked to make it more intuitive and easier to pull off. It can be augmented with perks, but these don’t make a huge difference.
Then there’s the stability. Rest assured, Evolve is certainly no Ubisoft bug-fest, but it has its fair share of glitches and graphical randomness. I’ve seen through the world, got stuck in a wall (only to be killed), been thrown through mountains, and the game has crashed out on me (once when my team and I were about to win an evacuation run 5-0, grrrrrr). Load times are also plenty and prolonged, even after the 3GB day one patch.
Finally, we have the DLC. Yes, it had to rear its head, but not in the way you may think. Although I’m not going to defend the DLC tactic, and the ridiculous amount at launch, not to mention the little you actually get for the season pass, I will say that I actually applaud Turtle Rock in part. That’s if it keeps its promise.
Instead of charging £15 for a handful of maps every so often, the team has said DLC maps will be free. Instead, we’ll pay for extra hunters, monsters and aesthetics like skins. Now, I’d like more characters, but given the choice of paying for these, or maps, I’d take free maps any day. Not only does this offer plenty of new content for free, but it means everyone can play any map, without being segregated if they can’t afford it, unlike many other games. Nice.
The game also ships with quite a bit of content, and although it’s not the biggest game in the world, the 12 maps, 12 hunters, and three monsters, with the selection of game modes and need to unlock most of the characters makes for a lot of content to plough through. The Evacuation mode also helps keep each large map fresh, and the changes due to wins or losses can make each play very differently.
Less DLC and more initial content would still be welcome, though, that’s undeniable, and free maps or no, this is a full price game which already has DLC costing almost three times the game’s price at launch. That’s just plain greedy.
The bottom line is that Evolve, although not perfect, is a good game saddled with the stigma of DLC, and this is a shame. Turtle Rock has actually done a great job, and although it may not have the appeal, or instant likeability of Left 4 Dead, Evolve is a deeper, far meatier shooter where the strength is the enforcing of team play, and a rich and varied tactical approach. It’s not the easiest game to pick up and play, and many may never quite warm to it, but for those who persevere, Evolve is one of the most promising multiplayer shooters I’ve seen for a while. With some refinement, and less dependence on DLC, it could be great.
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