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Evolve Review

by William Schwartz

Turtle Rock Studios, creators of one of the best new games of the last-generation in the original Left 4 Dead, has another ambitious project on their hands with Evolve.  Call it want you want, but popular consensus on the multiplayer in Left 4 Dead is that it was pretty amazing.  Four player controlled zombies with special abilities and a army of angry common infected versus four humans looking for a way to the next safe house — Left 4 Dead had some very interesting mechanics to the competitive gameplay.  For all that it did right, it always made players work together on both sides of the table.  Evolve doesn’t quite take Left 4 Dead to the next level, but it’s a game that focuses on the same kinds of teamwork.

Evolve is an asymmetric multiplayer experience.  So what is that exactly?  Well it means that not every player is playing the same game essentially.  In Evolve, you have two teams.  On one side, you have a team of four Hunters, and on the other, you have a Monster.  The Hunters are playing with their own set of rules. Each player must take an assigned role and use class-specific items that help their team bring down the Monster.  Each player has a very specific role if the team is to have any chance of taking down their massive enemy.  The Monster, on the other hand, has his own set of objectives and rules, weapons, and power-ups, and can “Evolve” into a powerful beast if the humans let it run amok.  The asymmetric design of Evolve makes it feel like no other multiplayer game on the market today.

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So why are these Hunters tracking down this Monster in the first place?  Well Evolve is pretty short on story being a game built for online multiplayer and doesn’t have a campaign in the traditional sense, but the long and short of it is that these monsters are attacking human colonies on the planet Shear.  William Cabot has assembled a group of Hunters made up of a number of different personality types, backgrounds, and weapon specialties.  Just how many of these characters you have available to play with depended on whether you pre-ordered the game or not.  A complete third set of Hunters and unique skins for the Monster were only available as Xbox One digital exclusives.  Evolve had one of the most convoluted sets of pre-order incentives, and various editions heading into launch.  While there are definitely some subtleties with the additional characters available, their primary contributions to the team remain the same as the characters that shipped with the vanilla version of the game.

It’s kind of hard to talk about Evolve and not address the elephant in the room.  For a new franchise such as this, it’s odd that so much content is locked off in a pre-order bonus.  If you weren’t part of the pre-launch hype, end up buying Evolve, and want to have all the available content, you’re gonna pay for it.  Furthermore, even if you did decide to buy the digital version and collect on those freebies, you’re missing out somewhere else.  Retailers had different exclusive content, so there was almost no way to get all of it.  There is undoubtedly an egregious plan for downloadable content for Evolve, which right now includes a Season Pass for both Hunters and Monsters, and an lengthy list of already available day one downloadable content in the form of skins to purchase.  Day One DLC and multiplayer skins aren’t anything new, but with so many available on day one, it makes you at least stop to wonder why your $60 doesn’t warrant some of these items. Looking forward, it’s hard to predict if this Season Pass content is going to impact the game in negative ways if you choose not to purchase it.  Evolve is a multiplayer game, and the add-on content has already been announced to add new characters, which in turn have unique abilities.  It’s enough to make you walk away from this game and say “No Thanks” without ever playing a round.  But, we’re not reviewing the downloadable content here, we’re reviewing what Evolve is, and it’s hard not to be impressed. at least initially.

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Evolve is a beautiful game to look at, and a very different type of online game that blends competitive and cooperative multiplayer very well.  It shines brightest when conditions are optimal, and these optimal conditions entail having a group of players together that know how to play the roles of the Hunters and are willing to communicate.  Turtle Rock helps out where they can, and gives players in-game clues by way of audio and visual cues along the way, but players need to understand the dynamic of how the Hunters work together to stay alive and ultimately take down the Monster.

The Hunter team is broken down into four classes:  Assault, Trapper, Medic, and Support.  Each class has numerous characters to choose from (assuming you’ve either purchased them or gotten them as part of your purchase), with different weapons and abilities, but the gist is the same, and their names say it all.  Assault class is the damage dealer in both long and short range encounters.  The Trapper hunts the Monster then deploys a mobile arena which traps it within its confines. Support uses a variety of devices, alongside a cloak ability to give the Hunters a tactical advantage.  The Medic keeps the team alive with healing devices.  It’s pretty straight forward, actually.  Evolve certainly isn’t the first game to use similar class-based characters, and have them help each other out with their unique abilities. Regardless of the game mode, the objective for the Hunters is almost always the same… find and kill the Monster before it becomes too strong.

Hunter Gameplay

The Monster on the other hand is played by a single player, has no team to rely on for support, but is extremely powerful in comparison to the Hunters. There are three Monster varieties in Evolve: The Goliath, Kraken, and Wraith. Goliath is the brute of the group, who has powerful melee strength and the ability to traverse the world quickly by climbing and jumping across the map. The Kraken is a flying monster with it’s own set of unique powerful abilities. The Wraith is stealthy trickster who can warp around the map, throw out decoys, and abduct Hunters. Unless the game mode doesn’t focus on it, these Monsters are always looking to feed and Evolve into stronger versions. This leveling allows players to put additional points into their abilities, which makes them even more stronger and formidable than they start out.

Monster Gameplay

Turtle Rock pits these players against one another in a variety of different modes.  There’s Hunt Mode, which is the bread and butter of Evolve.  A game that tasks the Hunters with tracking and killing the monster before it becomes too strong and can destroy a power relay to end the game.  There’s a smattering of objective based modes, one has you defending towers and is appropriately named “Defend.”  A mode called “Nest” has the Monster going on the offensive, trying to kill the Hunters before they destroy eggs that hatch minions to fight alongside it. In “Rescue”, Hunters must revive and evacuate five survivors before the Monster kills five themself.  Evolve doesn’t have a traditional single player or story mode, but “Evacuation” is as close as they come.  This dynamic “campaign” runs through five missions, which can play out in a number of different ways, depending on the outcome of each round.  Turtle Rock Studios boasts that any single playthrough of this mode can be completely different from another, because of different environmental affects that are added to the map.  For those itching for more story about the fight on Shear, this is where you’ll get it, even if said story changes every time.

Regardless of what mode you play, the constant thread is the battle between Hunters and Monsters, the cat and mouse, hide and seek gameplay.  Anybody that has played the Left 4 Dead series can draw, at the very least, a slight comparison between the feeling of a Monster encounter and that of when one of the hulking Tanks from that game entered the battle.  While Left 4 Dead just asked players to dump round after round of fire into these massive Tanks, Evolve is a little more thoughtful and dynamic, tasking the Hunters to work together using their various gadgets to even the odds.  When all four Hunters work together in Evolve, it’s a beautiful thing.  Each character within each class has different abilities, weapons, and gadgets, but there are commonalities.  The Trapper, for instance, must be ready to lock the Monster into a mobile arena when spotted.  The Medic of the group must use both their healing capabilities and damage boosting items to help the team.   Assault class whittles away at the Monster’s defenses by hitting it with a barrage of short and long range weapons, as well as equipment like mines.  The Support class allows players to flee a fight by using cloak and each character in this class has specific weapons that damage the monster in some way.

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Hunters are constantly tracking the Monster in Evolve.  In turn, depending on the game mode, the Monster is trying to either level up as quickly and quietly as possible, or complete its objectives.  Hunters follow the Monster’s footprints that it leaves throughout the environment.  As it moves from area to area feeding on local wildlife or planning an assault, the Monster leaves other markers that it was recently there.  Carcasses and birds alert players to the Monster’s presence, and audio design allows for you to hear the general direction of the beast, as well as visual indicators that pop up when the Monster has left a trail to follow. Monster players can be as stealthy or brazen as they choose, and the different Monster types are designed to reward brute force or more tactful play.  Playing as the Monster in Evolve, you’re constantly looking to avoid getting trapped into encounters that put you at a disadvantage.

When a fight does erupt in Evolve, the gloves come off, and the game plays like an incredible boss battle encounter. Since Hunters can throw an arena down in any area, these fights have unlimited scenario possibilities in which the terrain itself gives either the Hunters or Monster an advantage.  Regardless of the location a fight takes place, Hunter players should ideally be buffing their teammates, hindering the monster, and dealing damage.  While the Monster must keep track of who’s who.  Is the healer buffing the player they are attacking?  Maybe it should work on the healer first.  Is there a shield on the healer?  Maybe the Monster’s efforts would better be spent on attacking the Support?  If the Hunters can take all of the Monster’s energy, the game is over.  No matter what game mode is being played.  If the Monster can kill the entire Hunter squad, the game ends for them.  It’s not always that cut and dry however.  Many fights are shortlived, with one side realizing they are over-matched, and forced to regroup.  The sheer number of combinations of possible Hunter groups really gives Evolve a dynamic feel, and the three Monster classes are all so different that any match, in any game mode, has a possibility of playing out quite differently than the one before it.

This was one thing that was kind of worrying about a game that seemed fairly one dimensional during its alpha and beta tests.  Is there enough content here to keep players engaged, and even if there is enough content, will it get old?  During my time with Evolve I didn’t see it.  Progression, Unlocks, and mastering each character in Evolve seems like it would take many matches to complete.  Pair that with a group of friends who are up to communicate and cooperate, and Evolve most certainly can keep you coming back for more.  It IS online multiplayer or bust in Evolve, if you’re not interested in this competitive aspect of the game, Evolve isn’t for you.  There’s a solo mode, which basically has you playing the competitive modes against bots, and while it’s a decent training ground, it’s clearly not the way Evolve was intended to be played.

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Evolve is a different type of game, but like other rinse and repeat multiplayer experiences it has to have something to keep you coming back.  Turtle Rock clearly put a lot of thought into the experience system for the game, giving you the same rewarding sense of progression as you’ll find in something like Call of Duty.  Maybe even more so.  Mastering each Hunter or Monster comes by way of completing specific objectives for weapons or abilities.  Complete these character mastery challenges and you’ll unlock new characters to use or perks for your character, that can significantly change the way you use them. Evolve constantly nudges you into playing well, and after action screens let you know if you’re on par with the rest of the community when it comes to using weapons the way they should be used.  If there’s one gripe here, it’s that the progression can feel kind of grindy.  Some challenges seem far-fetched in an online multiplayer environment.

Turtle Rock gets a lot right with Evolve.  They’ve made a unique online experience.  The gameplay feels pretty balanced, and the modes are fun.  The characters of each Hunter class are varied, and the Monsters each add their own wrinkle to a match.  And while Evolve does a lot of things well, there are plenty of things that are simply out of the game’s control due to the reliance on the players who play the game.  For starters, Evolve will only last as long as its community hangs around. If players stop playing Evolve, it’s gonna be hard for this game to hold any value with no single player to fall back on.  And that community is only going to hang around if the game stays fun and fresh.  Unfortunately, a lot of that fun comes from players who communicate and cooperate well.  In a perfect world, everybody has a microphone and is willing to use it.  Xbox Live, PSN, and Steam are not perfect worlds.  These online networks are full of lone wolves and players that don’t want to party up or chat while playing.  It’s still early, but playing without a party of friends in Evolve is hit and miss.  You encounter all types of players.  The ones who don’t play the objective or know how to use their class can tank a team effort fairly quickly.  Bots simply aren’t enough to remedy players dropping out of games in a fit of rage and matchmaking will often throw you into lopsided affairs that aren’t much fun to play.  So will those players stick around is the real question, allowing Evolve to thrive over time?  It’s hard to tell at this point. The hooks are there, and it’s hard to fault a game designed around the premise of communication for the players that don’t do so.

The Verdict

It’s a shame that questionable DLC and pre-order incentives  have been the main topic of conversation for Evolve, because it’s a game that’s a lot of fun to play.  Turtle Rock Studios’ brand of Asymmetrical Multiplayer in Evolve is right up there with the very best that we’ve seen, with a complimentary presentation to match.  For anyone looking for a reprieve from military shooters, Evolve can be an exhilarating change of pace.

"loved"
loved

Evolve

  • Available On: Xbox One, PS4, PC
  • Published By: Take Two Interactive
  • Developed By: Turtle Rock Studios
  • Genre: Shooter
  • US Release Date: February 10th, 2015
  • Reviewed On: Xbox One
  • Quote: "Turtle Rock Studios' brand of Asymmetrical Multiplayer in Evolve is right up there with the very best that we've seen, with a complimentary presentation to match. For anyone looking for a reprieve from military shooters, Evolve can be an exhilarating change of pace. "
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