“The night air is cool and sweet against the heat and weight of our mobile jetpack units as we traverse the alien landscape of the planet Shear… We as hunters know that we have only one goal to complete: the utter elimination of the malevolent alien monsters that roam the landscape, destroying all that they cross… In the distance, we see a circling of carrion birds, and we prime our weapons, we all know what is out there in the distance, waiting, watching, preparing… Suddenly, we hear an ear-splitting roar, and we all come to the same decision… the hunters are now being hunted!”
The easiest way to describe Evolve is that it is a cat and mouse game in which the mouse methodically eats the cheese and grows to the point where it then eats the cat. It is a delicate dance that constantly changes depending on the situation you are in: a typical round can go from the hunters bearing down all they have onto the monster, to the monster suddenly getting the upper hand and systematically taking out the hunters one by one; leaving nothing but utter chaos in its wake, and all in the time it takes for you to make a cup of tea.
Evolve has a kind of multiplayer rhythm akin to Titanfall that differs slightly from map and mode, but, generally speaking, provides the most compressed multiplayer FPS seen to date. For the four classes of hunters, Evolve is all about the thrill and rush of the hunt for the monster – or depending on the map mode a different objective type – with sparse moments given to joke or catch your breath. The pace that Evolve instils is one of utter urgency, and that is what defines the game. And, what said, it can also make it feel a lot more short lasting than other multiplayer shooters; leaving you with a kind of longing gap. While Evolve’s four-versus-one setup is exactly the sort of asymmetrical gameplay we need in the genre, I find myself rarely walking away from it with thrilling stories that I can wait to tell everyone about, something the likes of similar games like Left 4 Dead 2 did.
Even though Evolve is the spiritual successor to the Left 4 Dead series, it is a truly fleshed-out competitive game that proves to be the most asymmetrical entry in its genre. For example, Evolve’s four different classes of hunters (three hunter types per class, with more planned as paid DLC) form a unique spectrum of different and interesting mechanics. Let’s have a quick breakdown of some of the unique classes that exist in Evolve: Val is a combat class medic that uses her medic gun to provide life-sustaining healing and a tranquilliser gun that not only slows down the monster but tracks it for a short time. Maggie is a Trapper who specializes in tracking down the monster and using her mobile arena to encase the monster in a forcefield that forces it to fight. Hyde is an assault class that makes use of getting up close and personal with the monster by using a minigun and flamethrower. Overall, the ability varieties of the hunters are vast but not spread along hundreds of different characters.
And along the same lines, each of the classes unique weapons have their specific skill shots and manoeuvres that require you to master in order to maximise fully that classes potential. Turtle Rock loves to make use of the “easy to learn, hard to master” virtue across most of the Evolve experience which benefits the game immensely. Movement is pretty much as straightforward as it can be in an FPS game with the exception of a few of the monsters that handle like an overweight truck, but, overall, movement has its own level of skill management that benefits the gameplay mechanics quite nicely.
On both sides of the coin, monsters and hunters alike have a focus on cooldown management that I find appealing. When playing as a Hunter, the jetpacks always feel starved, and you will always need to know when is the best time to spend or save the energy required to navigate the terrain quickly and efficiently. The Monsters have their share of difficult but fun movement styles that require you as a player to master. The Goliath quickly became my favourite to play with as I enjoyed making use of versatile abilities to both navigate and assault the hunters; either it be charging to escape at breakneck pace or leaping down to smash the hunter from above like a ballistic missile from above. The challenge was always there to make use of your abilities to suit the situation you were in.
This being said, though, if there is anything that feels unbalanced, it’s that the hunters jetpack can somewhat feel a bit underpowered and could do with the tweaking needed to provide a more level field of play. On the monsters side, a few of the next tier monsters like the wraith could do with a bit of damage reduction to even up the playing field.
Evolve’s greatest gameplay strength comes from its Evacuation game mode, where a group will play five successive rounds on a mix of maps and modes. While this format does not address the short-lasting nature that I critiqued at the beginning of this review, it does provide a level of player teamwork and create equal opportunities for a combat for either side of the playing field, even if the specific events of a match rarely leave an impression on you.
Other than the traditional Hunt mode, the three other modes that are present within Evacuation (all which can be played individually), do a somewhat okay job of stimulating different playing styles and combat strategies. Nest is quite possibly one of the more interesting modes as it is where the Hunters have to destroy six monster eggs that are scattered across the map. I personally enjoyed the fact that the Hunters have to make a decision on when, and how much, to split up in order to break the eggs more quickly – a maneuverer that makes the team as a whole more vulnerable but more efficient.
Despite the simplicity of it all, Nest, Defend, and Rescue have some good tactical plays. The monster can decide to sacrifice an Egg in Nest to turn it into an AI-controlled Goliath Monster, or, alternatively, the monster can decide to attack the colonist early in a Rescue match to create some early on havoc at the expense of precious levelling up time. In saying this, though, there are moments when all of these modes feel mundane and repetitive. The objectives of each mode don’t generate fun when in isolation, the fun truly begins when the monster is stirring up trouble and trying to eliminate you in creative ways.
Evolve leans heavily on it’s matchmaking system. It takes acrobatic and coordinated Hunters to keep up with the pace that a fast, experienced monster delivers. On the other hand, it also takes a level of cleverness as the monster to challenge the Hunters to use every trick in their arsenal. Most of the solo matches that I have been in have provided a satisfactory level of tough matches that brought the “edge of your seat” gameplay that I deeply desired. I must also admit that I did sometimes have an unenjoyable time when I was queued with players of mixed skill levels. Though, this isn’t really the fault of the matchmaking system as Evolve’s balance is set so that a Hunter’s team is only as strong as its least agile member; akin to a weakest link chain. Luckily, this is addressed in Evacuation game modes that have a mechanism that balances the match over time; which is something that the skirmish mode lacks. It is unclear at this time if the buffs influence damage output, speed or HP, and to what degree, but never the less, it is cumulative: continue to lose, and you will get stronger.
My feelings about Evolve’s maps couldn’t be more mixed. There are a total of 16 maps at launch, with more to come, and some only playable on certain game modes. Individually, they are well designed with spacious areas populated by rocky outcrops and rivers that hide a monster’s footprints, as well as a mixture of docile and deadly wildlife that will attack the Hunters on sight and provide the food required for the monster to regain armour and energy to evolve to the next tier of strength. Surprisingly, though, the maps can be quite repetitive and I struggle to think of a moment where being placed on a particular map required me to change my tactics. The maps may provide excellent obstacle courses for the Hunters and the monster to chase, fly and navigate over, but, overall, they all share the same general shape and overgrown texture, and the few map-specific features within them don’t prompt different playstyles. In my opinion, this is something that will erode Evolve’s replay value over time.
When a human player decides to leave a match, or if you decide to play alone, the AI that fills the shoes of Evolve’s Hunters and monsters is flawed, but, thankfully, not to the level that will get you killed from stupidity. The greatest shortcoming for the AI Hunters is their limited autonomy skills. Go and rescue one survivor in a Rescue match, and the AI will happily trudge along and not bother to seek out other survivors; essentially creating a pointless conga line. The bots may be fine at the basics: traversing the rocky landscape, healing and doing damage to the monsters. This is particularly true for the monsters side, where the AI lacks the creativity to take advantage of Evolve’s weird abilities and weapons, and, of course, instead ends up doing safe, predictable things in most scenarios. Although, in saying this, functional bots are impressive enough, considering the scale and variety present in Evolve.
While it may be hard to digest Evolve’s beauty while you are out combating the natives of Shear, the game has plenty of fine details that are happening on-screen even while you are getting pummeled into a fine paste by a hulking Goliath. Firstly, Evolve sounds amazingly good. One only needs to pause for a moment and simply enjoy the amount of detail that went into the ambiance of the game. From the deep rumble of a Goliath’s every step as it navigates the rocky outcrops, to the fission hum of your jet-pack as you are soaring through the sky, Turtle Rock paid close attention to the sounds that make up the world of Evolve. Secondly, the graphics are simply delight to take in as the game excels the most when there is a lot happening at once. Overall, the engine is very capable of rendering each particle detail of a shotgun blast or the lightning strike of a Kraken. The one downside to this is that while the characters and monsters look highly detailed the rest of the world can look the same repetitive shade of grey stone, which, after a while, can grow very repetitive and unappealing to look at.
The true beauty of the presentation of Evolve, though, is the subtle details that flesh out the world, in particular, the Hunters. The Hunters preen and pose on the title screen and when idle; emoting a somewhat animated flare that makes each one memorable. The character dialog is also something that is plentiful, well written and timely delivered. From playful pre-match teasing to bold mid-match monster-taunting, each character has a clever backstory that is well weaved throughout the dialog, and slowly gets uncovered as the game progresses.
There is still one major controversy that needs to be addressed here, and this is with the inclusion of pay to play DLC packs that somewhat appear to tarnish the “what could have been” flawless system of Evolve. In my experience, I have found that apart from one of the DLC packs, all of them appear to be purely aesthetic changes to the skins of the Hunters and Monsters. And while this is arguably shameful tactic to generate revenue, I personally feel the best way to combat that is to simply not buy it. After all, it provides no impact on the gameplay or mechanics apart from making it look slightly different on-screen. Although, with that being said, there is one particular DLC that needs to be addressed, and that is the season pass (present in the in-game store). The main problem is that it unlocks access to four new hunters (one from each class) when they become available. Depending on what these new hunters bring to the table, they could seriously introduce a shirt in the scales of power that could ruin an otherwise balanced game.
Evolve places emphasis on skilful movement and coordinated teamwork that is unique to the genre, which is further supported by hunters and monsters that incorporate some of the most elegant yet simple mechanics I’ve seen in some time. In addition, it also doesn’t hurt that Evolve is a graphical delight with some very impressive particle effects. However, in saying this, what I am most concerned about the longevity of the game. At first glance, Turtle Rock’s four vs. one formula sports plenty of novelty, but without new, unique maps to bolster its replay value or mod support, I worry that Evolve’s paid DLC, and eventual planned free map releases will hamper an otherwise enjoyable experience.