I’m probably the world’s worst real-life Hunter when it comes to Evolve.
Turtle Rock’s new 4v1 game has been doing the rounds for quite some time, but through a ridiculous number of circumstances, I’ve never been able to trap it inside a mobile arena in order to play. I had ample opportunity last month with the game’s open beta, but ultimately decided against it. With Evolve’s hype train reaching fever pitch, it can’t fail at this point; I figured it would be better to come into this review with as little exposure as possible.
In the end, I’m in two minds.
I settled in with the crew from The Friendly Fire Show for as many multiplayer rounds as we could handle on Saturday before servers were taken offline – this is a standard pre-release move, so don’t be alarmed. With no multiplayer support, I then played match after match of Evolve’s single-player, bot-filled mode on Sunday.
Evolve is a lot of fun with friends, but almost zero fun with bots. Honestly though, when talking about a primarily online game, that’s to be expected, right?
Early in 2014, gamers were treated to a different multiplayer-heavy shooter that promised so much, but fell short of expectations. At first glance, Evolve is nothing like Titanfall, but as you keep playing, the parallels come fast and furious. Both games take place in a rather bleak, sci-fi future. The pair involve teams of players dropping down to a planet’s surface to fight an enemy. Each game has glorious, glorious jetpacks. Both pretend to have a campaign, but you’re really just playing normal matches strung together with a very flimsy narrative.
Whilst it does have the option for quick matches, the meat of Evolve is in its Evacuation mode, playable by one to five players with bots making up the spaces if necessary. Its premise is rather simple: you’re either in a four-person team trying to save the colonies of Shear, or you’re a monster hell-bent on destroying it all. Evacuation takes place over five matches, with each game a day in the evacuation attempt. If the human team beats down a monster, they get a perk for the next game, or vice versa. As an example, if you help a group of colonists escape from the monster, they’ll help you out in the next match, donning guns and assisting with objectives. If a monster takes down a power facility, its destruction leads to radioactive clouds which poison the Hunters.
Most days in Evacuate, you’ll be able to pick the game type you’d like to play: Hunt, which is a simple humans versus the monster mode; Rescue, in which the human players are trying to save five colonists before the monster can kill them; Defend, where the humans try to defend generators from the monster and finally Nest, which is kind of the reverse of Defend as it’s the monster’s turn to guard its eggs from human players.
In one of Evolve’s tutorial videos — which are absolutely required viewing by the way, as you’ll need all the help you can get with the game’s steep learning curve – the game makes a point to talk about its amazing “replayability”. According to the video, there are over 800,000 variations of maps, modes and win/loss effects to play inside. That sounds impressive, eh?
It’s not. I couldn’t tell you how many maps the game has, as they all blend into one big mass of “here’s a forest, here’s a building and there’s some water”. Map-based perks don’t really affect gameplay in any way I noticed over the 75+ games I took part in on Saturday alone. Hell, even different combinations of Hunters leads to snappy new opening dialogue as you prepare to jump to Shear’s surface, but even those were exhausted after one real-life day of play.
Evolve is a great game, and a treat to experience with friends — but the truth of the matter is, there’s not much to it. Decide if you’re playing with friends or bots. Choose from up to twelve Hunters, spread out over four classes. Or, maybe you’re game enough to be the bad guy, selecting from up to three monsters. Actually, depending on how much money you’ve laid out on release, or how much time you’ve put into unlocking options, your mileage may vary. Then, pick a mode, pick a map and start. Wait way too long for an unskippable cutscene with random Hunter banter to complete. Shoot at things. Continue to be patient as a lengthy post-game summary cycles completes the round. Then repeat.
I am being a tad negative about the whole package, but when it comes to gameplay, Evolve is practically untouchable. Sure, there’s a massive learning curve – made more confusing in single-player as bots seem to be very easy or very hard to fight at their whim — but when you get it, you REALLY get it. Team FFS went from being slaughtered at the hands of Leo’s Goliath only to turn around in the next Evacuation game and utterly destroy Shane’s poor Kraken. Our newfound success was because, as Hunters, we were finally able to turn our dysfunction into something that looked like a cohesive unit, working together. Another factor was Shane using the Kraken for the first time. Evolve is balanced, but not.
As is the point of a class-based shooter, you absolutely need to work as a group, supporting each other with your individual strengths. Each of the three Medics, Trappers, Assault and Support characters have nifty weapons, and while too numerous to get into here, I found there’s not really any one character who’s better than other. It all boils down to having to get to know a character to actually understand how to best use his or her tools. While the effects of class remain constant, some characters are better at point-blank range and others by hanging back as far as possible. That’s even more important with Evolve’s monsters: Goliath is a brute, best suited for fast and aggressive attacks; the Kraken is a ranged fighter and the Wraith, a stealthy, hit-and-run beast.
We decimated poor Shane as the Kraken, but that’s because our four Hunters had been playing together for an hour or two at that point. This is a clear example that Evolve is only balanced if all players are at the same level of experience. You might be able to get by with three seasoned Hunters and a fourth learning the ropes, but that will never be true of someone playing as the monster; you may be an almighty beast, but you’re still on your lonesome. This imbalance extends to Evolve as a whole: single-player is boring as hell and multiplayer has the potential to be amazing, but only if you’re paired with the right players. I can only imagine how all-over-the-shop your experience will be when matched with randoms over Xbox Live.
And this is why I’m in two minds about Evolve.
For what little it offers in terms of variety, Evolve is damn good… under the right circumstances. Four other friends. A stable internet connection. The stars aligning so that Xbox One’s Party chat works without stuffing around. If some of those conditions are not met – especially in single-player – the game becomes repetitive and shallow, quite quickly.
My comparisons to Titanfall haven’t ended, by the way; I was super-jazzed for Respawn’s game in the very same ways I am for Turtle Rock’s today. The problem is, my interest waned almost immediately, simply because of its repetition and friend requirements. I’m very much concerned that the same situation now exists with Evolve. Hell, I’m horribly worried that newcomers will head into the game, get smashed due to its learning curve and decide to return it almost instantly. It’s hard to find a proper entry point into Evolve.
In the end, this one’s really a mixed bag. If you adore multiplayer, belong to a dedicated clan, thrive in competitive Esports-style play or simply turn your nose at the thought of single-player, this one’s for you. Pretending to have a single player mode is a cardinal gaming sin, and one that Evolve is guilty of. This game shouldn’t be played alone, and as such, lone wolves need not apply. If you’ve been swept up in the aforementioned hype train and have already pre-ordered digitally… well, too late either way, eh?
Evolve was reviewed using promotional codes on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher.
With content by Leo Stevenson and multiplayer assistance from Shane Wall.
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