Evolve - Introduction
I’ve watched the reaction to Evolve with great interest. I think it’s fair to say Press and public opinion on the game is mixed and while I expected that from my original hands-on impressions of the game last year, I’m left questioning as to whether people actually like team games and instead, prefer a game that has classes and team mechanics but one where users can triumph simply by playing for themselves. You see, Evolve is one of the few multiplayer games on the market that actually requires genuine team work. Unlike Battlefield or Left 4 Dead where everyone can be a hero, Evolve sees four Hunters of varying classes take on one of three giant Monsters. Without the Hunters working together in complete unison, they’re at a huge disadvantage. If they choose to work together, however, the playing field is leveled and the Monster becomes prey.
As a concept, Evolve is incredibly simple: four Hunters attempting to kill the Monster and the Monster (whether AI or Player controlled) is seeking evolution to gain strength and ultimately destroy its pursuers and the map objective. What makes Evolve stand out from the crowd is not only the fact that Turtle Rock studio have taken a risk with such a simple game mode, but also developed a game that forces players to work together. Thankfully I think they’ve pulled it off and for a variety of reasons, many of the Press and members of the public are wildly wrong on Evolve. I’ll explain why.
Evolve - Positive Marks
It seems that in today’s gaming culture a large quantity of players want to be able to log in and accomplish something - anything - by themselves. They want to know that when they boot up Battlefield or Call Of Duty they can achieve something by themselves without necessarily relying on others. Even games such as Left 4 Dead or Team Fortress 2 which market themselves as “Team” games don’t really require it because should you choose to hop onto a server by yourself, you can not only carry your team if you happen to be particularly skilled but likely complete objectives to the point of map success. Evolve does away with all that and rightly puts teamwork at the forefront of its entire being. For the Hunters to succeed they have to work together to such a degree that failure to do so will almost always guarantee their deaths.
While the depth of each Hunter on offer isn’t immediately obvious, it only really becomes apparent just how reliant you are on your fellow ruffians when you begin to go toe to toe with a Monster. Of the four Hunter classes available, all of them fill archetypes players will likely be used to: Trapper, Medic, Support and Assault. All of these classes have a specific use that when woven into the others, becomes a tight net of utility.
While some of the roles are predictable and painfully stereotyped, the Trapper and Medic are the two which I felt were the most original. As arguably the most important class, the Trapper has the ability to track and use a variety of tools to snare or locate the Monster. Whether it’s Maggie and her trusty Snapjaw, Daisy, or Abe and his tracking darts, each of the three Trappers plays drastically different but all are pivotal in your teams ability to locate the Monster quickly. Maggie is arguably the easiest to play as Daisy will lead you and your team relentlessly in the general direction of the Monster as it sniffs out the beast. Abe relies on landing a tracking dart and Griffin utilises Sound Spikes that provide audio clues as to where the Monster is. Combined with the Mobile Arena, a class skill that all three share, the Trapper has all the skills necessary to keep the hunt pressure on the Monster.
Where the Medic is concerned, their utility extends to something much more than simply healing and reviving. Val, the first Medic you can play, has access to a tranquiliser gun that slows the Monster and highlights it temporarily on the map, while she can also use her Sniper Rifle to paint weakspots on the Monster so that other Hunters can deal double damage to it if they strike those locations. Alongside this she has a Healing Burst that provides a health boost to those around her and a Med Gun for a continuous stream of healing. What I love so much about hers and the other Medic designs is the fact that they’re a great deal more than a heal-bot. The Med Gun is only really viable for mitigating small amounts of health and cannot be used solely to keep a player alive while they’re being attacked by the Monster. On top of that, the Healing Burst has a hefty cooldown meaning that you have to not only balance who you heal and when, but also maintain the tranquilizer dart on the Monster at all times, whilst still applying weak spots. It becomes a challenging but rewarding play experience to cycle through your skills as you juggle your teams health pool and the debuffs on the Monster.
The two remaining Medic Hunters, Lazarus and Caira, take a very different path to that of Val. Although they still provide healing, Lazarus has no Med Gun and he has no Tranquilizer Rifle. Instead, he can stealth for a short time and when fellow Hunters are killed he can bring them back from the dead. Lastly, Caira has a Grenade Launcher that can heal and harm. Combined with an Acceleration Field, she might lack the burst healing of Val or Lazarus but she makes up for it in sustain. All three of the Medic Hunters are wonderfully designed and I would go as far as to say surpass those in any other first person shooter on the market.
For the Assault and Support classes, the brilliant class design continues. Assault, unsurprisingly, acts as the primary damage dealer out of all the Hunters and all three do it in very different ways. Markov, your walking Russian stereotype, like all Assault Hunters has access to a Personal Shield that mitigates all damage, as well as a Lightning Gun for maximum pain without the need to reload. Combined with his Arc Mines he’s capable of dealing enormous damage to the Monster and thanks to his class ability, he can remove some pressure from Support. Hyde, my favourite of the three Assault classes, utilises a Flamethrower, Minigun and Toxic Grenades to deal damage over time or control the Monsters movement. Lastly, James Parnell sits somewhere between the two. He can utilise a Rocket Launcher for ranged attacks and a Combat Shotgun when things get up-close and personal. When he uses his Super Soldier ability he not only jump higher but also fires his weapons and moves faster than humanly possible, dealing significantly more damage.
Lastly, Support falls somewhere in between Assault and Medic and acts as a hybrid of utility and damage to complete the team. Their class ability is an area of effect Stealth that be used to sneak up to a Monster or to flee when a fight turns sour. Hank has access to an Energy Shield that provides temporary immunity to the ally he’s targetting while he can also call in an Orbital Barrage for enormous damage. Bucket can utilise a flying UAV that can be used to track the Monster and Flying Sentries that he can place down that deal damage directly to anyone who comes near them. Finally there’s Cabot who has a Rail Cannon capable of firing through walls, Dust Tagging which drops an air burst of radioactive dust, highlighting every living thing in a 60-meter radius for twenty seconds.
You’d think with such an arsenal to locate the Monster that the Hunters would be at a huge advantage and while Daisy certainly creates early pressure for the team, there’s a variety of extra layers to maps which work in the Monster and Hunters favour. The first is that stealth plays a large part of Evolve and unlike the Hunters, the Monster is able to sneak and mask their footprints. Utilising sneak might slow your movement but it hides your footprints from Daisy (though she will attempt to sniff you out at your last known location) and also allows you to quietly bypass Abe’s Sound Spikes. Combined with the use of water to further hide your footprints and mask your scent, the Monster isn’t easily found if they make clever use of stealth. Despite being an enormous, I’ve managed many times to sneak around all four Hunters as they struggled to see me in the dark waterways.
Interestingly, there’s a couple more factors on each map that play a large part of Evolve’s meta game. Roaming the landscapes are a variety of wildlife that help or hinder. Some of the rare creatures (known as Whites) provide temporary buffs that the Hunters and Monster can utilise. Killing the creature allows you to absorb the buff and you’ll receive anything from increased speed, to higher damage or even an odour that prevents nearby wildlife coming near you. There’s a big risk/reward factor to this system because as Hunters, the buffs are invaluable but you know that if you kill the creature not only can the Monster then eat it to strengthen up, but it’ll also obtain the same buff you have: creating free corpses that the Monster can quickly capitalize on will only allow it to Evolve quicker if it stumbles across them.
Besides the creatures that provides buffs, there’s plenty that are hell-bent on attacking both Hunters and Monsters on sight. For the most part none of the Creatures in Evolve are a real worry for the Monster but many will cause Hunters a great deal of problems. In most of the waterways there are huge snapjaw-like turtles known as Tyrants that will quickly attack anyone who goes near them. One of my favourite things to do is to lead Hunters through these locations so that when one is incapacitated by The Tyrant I can either flee, safe in the knowledge the Hunters will desperately try to rescue their team mate, or work alongside The Tyrant to quickly kill the three remaining players while they’re distracted. It’s incredibly satisfying to pull off maneuvers like this and there’s a variety of creatures that you can utilise in this way.
Amongst the wildlife there’s a scattering of birds across the map. These nuisance creatures are small and easily startled and if you don’t happen to be sneaking when you pass them, they’ll fly into the air and trigger an alert on the map that the Hunters can see. The result being that you quickly need to flee but at the same time, you also don’t want to startle more birds or reveal your footprints by not sneaking. It’s here that Evolve really lifts off. While it’s certainly fun as the Monster to hunt wildlife to eat and evolve, safe in the knowledge that you’ve successfully evaded capture, frantically escaping from Hunters as they’re hot on your trail leaves your heart racing and the blood pumping. Countless times I’ve accidently started some birds, had the Hunters on me on seconds, only to escape and scare some more birds in my haste. When you do eventually escape and catch your breath, it’s incredibly satisfying. From a Hunter perspective, it might result in a few choice words to your team mates but it still provides a nod of approval at the Monster players skill.
As for the Monsters, they’re beautifully designed and wonderful to control. Not only do you feel enormous and incredibly powerful by the time you reach Stage 3 Evolution, but every skill is brilliant designed around a specific template. The Goliath is a hulking melee brute that can withstand huge punishment. The Kraken an aerial nuisance who not only deals large damage, but is capable of causing a headache for the Hunters as it takes to the skies. Lastly, the Wraith treads the middle ground as a melee-assassin that can stealth and harass at frightening speed.
All these layers to Evolve, especially the interplay between the variety of Hunters and Monsters isn’t immediately apparent. There’s a great deal of variables to every single match depending on which Hunters you choose, which Monster you’re facing and which map you’re on. The interplay between specific Hunters is brilliant and if your team are working together, there’s a synergy I’ve rarely seen before. Watching Hank power-up his Energy Shield to protect a Hunter under attack, while Val quickly does the same with her Med Gun, is only touching the surface of the defensive tactics available against the Monster when it eventually attacks.
One of my favourite moments was when my fellow Hunters and I were facing against a particularly skilled Goliath player. We ended up utilising Cabot’s Cloaking Device to approach him while he was eating, before Abe kept him tracked and slowed with his Dart Pistol and Stasis Grenades. When he attempted to flee we used Cabot’s Rail Cannon to keep damage on him and Caira’s Acceleration Field to prevent him running too far. It worked out wonderfully and we quickly brought him down - all helped by the excellent voice communications that comes packaged with the game.
If there’s two more things I wanted to praise as being “positive” it would have to be the audio and the visual design behind the locations and creatures. Where the audio is concerned, the game sounds wonderful. From the creatures effects to your assault rifle chewing through ammunition, it all sounds epic. Best of all, you can genuinely listen for the creature as it walks around the map. Even if you aren’t directly near them, you can pinpoint a fallen tree nearby or their footsteps and move to the right location. As for the visual design of the alien worlds and their creatures, I’d have to say they’re the best I’ve seen since Abe’s Odyssey. The map’s you play on all look incredible and even though most of them are set at night, it doesn’t stop them from being atmospheric or intricately designed. There’s a real cohesion to how the creatures interact with each other and how they’re all artistically designed. They feel original and unlike say, Avatar, where James Cameron simply added additional legs to everything, here the creatures feel strange, plausible and entirely original all at the same time. Perhaps the Mammoth Bird is Turtle Rock’s nod to Abe Oddysey’s Slig.
Evolve - Average or Neutral Marks
I’ve already written a great deal about the things I love in Evolve but as far as “neutral marks” go, there’s a few things that the game could have improved on. The first is that if you land yourself on a team where players don’t use voice communication and simply follow each other, games can quickly become stale and the Monster will be incredibly hard to find. I suspect much of the player dissatisfaction of Evolve stems from the fact that people assume the Monster will come to them, or that the Monster will be easily found. It doesn’t work like that and it shouldn’t. Turtle Rock have provided players with an abundance of tools to locate the Monster and it’s up to them to use them cleverly. You need to split-up, you need to predict movement, you need to use smart locations on where to place tracking devices and you need to be quick at not only hounding the Monster, but cornering it when you’ve found it. I rarely see “pug” players do this and that’s where the game falls apart. Get 4 players who know what they’re doing however and the game is elevated to one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve ever had.
The second thing is that the unlock system is relatively simplistic and the fact you can’t always guarantee you’ll play as your favourite class likely to annoy some. I personally dislike playing Assault and Support but the system generally does a good job at pairing you with the class you prefer the most. As for the unlock system, there’s little to it besides using your classes weapons against the Monster. I’d have liked to have seen some sort of progression system that lead directly to weapon modifications and skins that wasn’t completed just by shooting.
Thirdly, although there’s plenty of game modes in Evolve, Hunt is still the main draw. The rest of the modes are fine but none of them really provide the thrill that Hunt offers. I think Turtle Rock would have been better absorbing Nest and Rescue into the single Hunt mode.
Lastly, the single player portion of Evolve acts similarly to Brink’s or Titanfall's in the sense that it provides a loose story across a multitude of maps. Your result on that maps determines how the subsequent map plays out. It’s fairly engaging if a little sterile and I think serves only to tease us as to the potential Evolve had as a true single player game with a multiplayer component.
Evolve - Below Average or Negative Marks
If there’s one other thing that’s bothering me about Evolve and this is the big one, it’s the fact that the game of cat and mouse could have been so much more. At Stage 3 Evolution the Monster is capable of interacting with an Objective on the map to end the round. For example, if you destroy a power relay you’ll win even if the Hunters are all still alive. The problem I have with this is that the one time I’ve reached the point where the Objective can be completed, it’s infinitely easier to just kill the Hunters than it is to destroy the Objective. I once kicked the living daylights out of the power relay on Aviary but because one of the Hunters was still alive and firing a single bullet at me from miles away, the game prevents you from dealing damage to it if you’re being hit. As a result, I chased the Hunter and killed him which resulted in me winning the match.
What Turtle Rock should have done is added multiple objectives on each map for both the Monster and the Hunters. The story behind Evolve is that the Hunters are sent to the planet to protect colonies from these Monsters and yet you never feel as though you are doing this. Instead, each map should have had a series of objectives tied into this overarching theme. For example, the Monster might need to destroy the Power Relay, the Medical Centre and captives across three separate locations, while the Hunters would have to fortify the Power Relay, restore power to the Medical Centre and free the captives. These objectives would add yet another layer to the games play as the Hunters would be forced to split and the Monster forced to come out in the open. The game sometimes needs a conflict like this that the Hunt mode simply doesn’t provide.
Finally, I’d have to say that Evolve’s convoluted Digital Edition structure is an expensive and confusing mess. $99.99 for the Monster Race edition is a lot of money and I’m not sure as a multiplayer game with a single player component you can largely ignore, it’s value for money. Sticking to the Standard Edition is much more sensible in the fact of all the free to play competition.
Conclusion and Final Score
Evolve is unquestionably one of the best multiplayer games to arrive in the last few years. It’s best played with friends or random players who at least use microphones because the game comes alive through coordinated play. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like to play as part of a team and wants to be a swiss army knife capable of doing everything Evolve really won’t be for you. If however you enjoy working as part of a team, Evolve offers a challenging and deep play experience. It could have been perfect if Turtle Rock had simply believed in the fact that players are capable of not only hunting a Monster but also completing side objectives at the same time.