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Evolve - Review
When you hear a description of Evolve you imagine how fun it'll be in your head. Asymmetrical multiplayer. Four hunters, one monster. A fight to the death. It's a brilliant, evocative idea for a game and one that makes you wonder just why no one thought of trying this before now. Then, you play Evolve, and...well...things become a lot less exciting.
Developed by Turtle Rock Studios of Left 4 Dead fame, Evolve is effectively a multiplayer-only arena game. Five players; four hunters, one monster, are dropped onto a map and forced to fight one another. Initially, the hunters have the advantage, not only are there more of them, they're well equipped, with each class bristling with its own array of weapons, and they're hunting a creature that is in all honesty not that dangerous.
However, the monster has one trick up its sleeve; it can evolve. Given enough time and wildlife to eat, the monster player can grow their monster into two additional forms, bestowing it new abilities and increasing its resilience. The first time you play the game this makes for a genuine thrill when playing as the monster, with the first part of a match involving stealth and generally avoiding the other players as much as possible, before hopefully ambushing them and getting your revenge later on once you've powered up.
Unfortunately, straight from the get go there's chinks in Evolve's armour. For starters, the simple learning curve of both characters is dramatically different. Hunters, whilst sporting an array of equipment, play pretty much like any first-person shooter. In contrast, the monster is controlled in third-person and requires an entirely different skill-set in order to win. Throughout my first few hours I was able to notch up plenty of wins with the hunters, regardless of what class I was playing, simply because my opponents were clearly not all that proficient with the beasts.
Likewise, playing as the creature, whilst much more interesting, resulted in plenty of quick, painful deaths as I found myself dying multiple times, even when the opposing team wasn't all that coordinated. There's very little to compare the monster to, whilst hunters are capable of bringing all there FPS-proficiency to the fore, resulting in plenty of lob-sided games.
The knock-on effect of this is that playing as the monster simply doesn't have the feel that it should. Even when you're powered up, the odds regularly seem stacked against you. Fully evolved, you're meant to be playing as the video game equivalent of Godzilla but in most cases it can simply feel clunky, awkward and stressful. Likewise, this makes time spent as a hunter not all that thrilling and possessing a distinct lack of tension; what fun is there killing a lame duck monster that can't handle all four of you?
In theory this could be a bit unfair on Evolve, after all, the game has only just been released, and it's possible, after a few months of playing, that the growing pains ease off and players acclimatise to both styles of play.
For what it's worth, Turtle Rock Studios handles the hunters fairly well, even if they do feel somewhat lacking in imagination. There's four classes of hunters: Assault, Trappers, Support, and Medic. Bar the Trapper, these types of classes are largely familiar to anyone that's played a multiplayer and they play accordingly.
The burly Assault is designed to tank and draw the monster's aggression, possessing a shield that soaks up damage and generally having the strongest weapons. The Support and Medic offer the requisite buffs and heals to the team, with the Support capable of calling down air strikes on the monster and the Medic equipped with a tranquilizer gun to slow the beast down, and a sniper rifle in order to open up weak points. Lastly, the Trapper operates as the "search" class; being the most adept at rooting out the monster and containing it. Along with other items, they're equipped with a portable "energy dome", allowing them to pen the monster into a small section of the map, ensuring all the hunters can bring their firepower towards it.
Hunters also come with jetpacks. Much like last year's Titanfall, Evolve's map design places just as much emphasis on being vertical as it does wide. Cliffs can be clambered upon by hunters and monsters alike, making them (in theory) ripe for setting up ambush points. Similarly levels are dotted with wildlife, a food source for the monster and potential danger for the hunters. Meanwhile, flocks of birds can be disturbed, potentially giving away the location of a stealthy monster player.
All of this sounds interesting, and indeed, for an hour or so it would seem like Evolve has nailed a new kind of multiplayer shooter, but then, repetition kicks in.
Evolve has been so meticulously streamlined and crafted that every match feels exactly the same. All of those incidental map details; the wildlife, looking for footprints and so on, go out the window as the game becomes one mad dash for the hunters and a frustrating, stressful stop-start affair for the monster. Play one match and you've played pretty much everything that Evolve has to offer and it's not always pretty.
There's very little strategy beyond that which is already dictated by your class. Sure, hunters can take three different characters per class, each coming with a unique loadout, and the monster player as three creatures to choose from, but the overall roles have already been defined. There's very little "metagame" in Evolved; the gradual one-upping of each strategy. Instead each match, regardless of players, plays out the same.
This is made worse by other annoying design decisions. For example, whilst the maps are fairly well crafted, some feel too small and cramped for a game that should be as much about hunting and tracking as it should be about fighting. It can be hard for the monster, in some cases, to suitably lose its pursuers. They're also abysmally lit, smothered in inky shadows, something that the developers even seem to be aware of, given that anything important, for either team, is highlighted with ugly glowing neon effects.
There are a few different game modes to choose from but each boils down to the basic hunters versus monster conflict. One involves the hunters rescuing survivors whilst the monster has to simply kill them. In most cases, the match simply resulted in the hunters killing the monster (which also results in a victory) or vice versa, negating the mission objective entirely.
All of this is on top of the game's bungled marketing strategy. Evolve is a svelte game, with only three monster variants and three different loadout sets for each character class. Yet, Turtle Rock have found plenty of time to shovel plenty of DLC online already, with a number of premium skins on offer.
For players that didn't pre-order, there's also plenty of grinding to be done as most of the additional monster/class variants are locked behind experience walls. This is a shallow, lazy way of artificially extending a game's lifespan, with many of the perks on the way being nothing more than the odd "+10% damage upgrade".
In Titanfall players gradually unlocked more and more toys as they levelled up, gently increasing the number of toys they had to play with. It was a good way of not letting new players be overwhelmed whilst also drip-feeding you new things. In contrast, Evolve's rewards feel hollow, and there there's little to aim for as you progress. And that's the pain here, Evolve doesn't seem to trust players to make tactical decisions, and so does all of the strategy for them, essentially.
All of this would perhaps be forgivable if the bare bones of Evolve had been released as a free-to-play title, with all the additional hunters and monsters being paid add-ons/rewards for long-time players willing to grind, similar to Hearthstone's model. Yet, this is a £40/$60 release, and one that then forces a good number of its player base to grind for several hours just in order to try out some of the actual game. It's a poor decision given that this is already a rather slim offering, and suffering from a good amount of repetition.
Evolve is a great idea that sadly hasn't been incredibly well executed. On paper, Turtle Rock Studios seems to have gotten the idea down pretty well, but the end result is a game that's both tedious and in many cases dull. The lack of customisability harms potential strategies, resulting in matches boiling down to the same rote gameplay.
In short bursts, there's perhaps something to get out of Evolve, if only to see how good it could have been, but the second-coming for multiplayer shooters this isn't.
Evolve was released February 10th for Xbox One, PC & PS4.
This review is based on the Xbox One version.
© 2015 LudoLogic