Version played: Xbox One.
Available on: PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One.
Turtle Rock Studios’ monster hunting game, Evolve, has been the subject of a lot of criticism both pre- and post-launch. The majority of this criticism is focused on Evolve’s downloadable content (DLC) plans, which are at best overly complicated, and at worst a cynical cash grab. However, none of these post-release purchases are obligatory. True, it does feel like things have been taken out of the game in order to be sold separately later, but Evolve is not the first, and won’t be the last game where this criticism feels justified. Regardless of what you will or won’t buy once you own the game, however, the key question remains: is Evolve worth buying in the first place?
There’s no short answer to that question, as Evolve is characterised by long sections that will have you on the verge on boredom, intercut with moments of pure genius. Published by 2K Games and developed by Turtle Rock Studios, the team behind the Left 4 Dead games, Evolve is a squad-based first-person shooter with asymmetrical multiplayer that sees four human-controlled Hunters go head-to-head against a single human-controlled Monster on the planet Shear.
There are four classes of Hunter available with each fulfilling a specific role: the Assault player dishes out the damage, the Support player shields the others, the Medic heals the team, and the Tracker finds and traps the Monster. On the other side there are three Monsters to choose from (before that DLC arrives anyway): Goliath, a fire-breathing, rock throwing Godzilla wannabe; Kraken, a lightening-wielding tentacled monstrosity; and Wraith, who relies on stealth and speed, but is more vulnerable than the other two Monsters.
The main mode in Evolve is Hunt. In Hunt the Monster needs to reach its third stage of evolution by eating enough food (other animals within the map) to allow it to become strong enough to destroy the power relay. The Hunters’ job is to stop the Monster before it’s able to do this. The Monster can kill the Hunters at any point to win the match, or the Hunters can kill the Monster before it gets the chance to evolve, beating it when it’s most vulnerable, if they can find it. If, for any reason, you don’t have enough players in your multiplayer server, then a bot will fill in for anyone missing.
Other modes include Nest, where the Monster must protect eggs across the map from being destroyed by the Hunters, Rescue, where the Hunters must rescue colonists before the Monster kills them, and Defend whereby Hunters must protect a ship refueling station from an attacking Monster. All of these game types can be played as Skirmishes, or in Evacuation mode. Evacuation mode puts five matches together to be played in a sort of multiplayer story that culminates in a Defend match. This is as much story as you get in Evolve as it is a multiplayer game through and through. Yes, there is a single-player option in the game’s main menu, but this offers nothing different to the online modes and simply acts as a training ground; it’s not a story mode in any way, shape or form. Online gaming is what Evolve is all about.
There are a dozen maps on offer in Evolve at release, although it’s hard to ignore the lack of variety in their design. More are due to be added through free DLC later, and hopefully these maps will show off a little bit more creative flair. Jetpacks help the Hunters get around the map quickly, whilst Monsters are capable climbers, which helps ensure that the action takes place vertically and horizontally across the maps. There are also different skins for the Hunter classes, which change the abilities they have. For example one Tracker has a dog-like animal that helps track the Monster, whilst another has pins that pick up the sounds the Monster makes, helping you locate it. Hunters also have unique abilities, such as personal shields or active camouflage, and in-game modifiers can make these more, or less effective. Monsters similarly have upgradeable skills, with evolution allowing players to assign skill points to power up the Monster’s abilities. This level of variety within classes, combined with these upgradeable abilities, add a layer of tactical depth to Evolve’s gameplay, and this really shines through when you find a Hunter class, or Monster setup, that really works for you and your play style.
Despite all of this, Evolve sometimes fails to be much fun. There is a lot of time spent waiting around, both within the game’s matchmaking menus, and within the maps themselves. Finding the Monster can take a very long time and running aimlessly around the map gets tiring quickly. Add to that failed matchmaking and server disconnects and the whole experience can become very frustrating. When skirmishes do break out, Evolve has a tendency to come alive, but it can also be overly chaotic and the actions of both the Hunters and Monsters lack impact. This is because Evolve favours speed and movement over making your attacks feel powerful, but unfortunately this just doesn’t work in the game’s favour overall. When you attack a Hunter as a Monster it just doesn’t feel that powerful, whilst the weapons of the Hunters feel weak and unsatisfying.
It also feels like Turtle Rock Studios have had to make compromises along the way with Evolve. The potential for more interesting match variants is obvious. There could have been Monster versus Monster matches, or matches that teamed Hunters with Monsters against a common enemy. A more structured story than “go to this planet and kill all the monsters” would have been nice too, even if it was only included just to add a small narrative thread to tie multiplayer matches together, or to make that single-player option a little less pointless.
In terms of graphics and performance, Evolve ticks all the right boxes, without ever excelling in any areas. The frame-rate is solid for the most part, only suffering in the most intense fights, and the graphics look good enough without necessarily being as shiny and nice as you might expect from a next-gen title. I guess there’s only so high-def the colours browns and greys can get mind you, and Evolve is all about its bland, dull, earthy colours. As previosuly mentioned online connectivity isn’t quite as stable as you might want, but disconnects are fairly rare, although long matchmaking waits are currently common. There are some rather nasty lag pauses happening whenever anyone connects or disconnects from a game though, and there is a strange stuttering bug that seems to rabrandomly occur when HUD messages pop-up on the screen. I’ve also had the game crash back to the Xbox One dashboard too. None these bugs are game-breaking, but they are annoying, and so hopefully these will be patched out soon. Most importantly, the connectivity issues need to stabilised asap as this is vital for an online game.
Whatever you think of Evolve’s DLC plans there are more important issues at stake for this game. Ultimately Evolve seems like the sort of game that will develop a small but loyal fan-base, and deservedly so; it is a good game, but it doesn’t quite do enough to deliver that big blockbuster monster hunting experience that people were expecting. With practice, patience, and good team tactics, playing as the Hunters can be very rewarding, whilst evolving and attacking as the Monster is often a unique and enjoyable experience. Yet the a lack of innovation in the game’s modes and level design, the irritating and frustrating bugs and connectivity issues, and the sheer amount of time spent doing nothing in Evolve, detract significantly from the overall experience.
When the gameplay works Evolve shows flashes of brilliance, but too often everything fails to click together and Evolve struggles to be anything more than average. It’s not a must buy then, but it is the sort of game that you should try, because you will either think it’s alright, trade it in, and then forget about it forever, or you will fall in love with it.
Images from http://www.evolvegame.com