My heart feels like it’s going explode inside my chest. I’m bounding as fast as I can away from the hunters on my trail, but they’re still hitting me, tagging me, slowing me down. I take a quick turn, hit the sneak button, and decide to hide in the nearest bush. The hunters cruise past me, oblivious to my assassin-like aptitude. So I head back in the other direction, feeling pretty pleased with myself. Then I spot him, the Trapper that’s clearly having difficulties navigating the environment; we have an awkward, perfectly still, moment of realisation. He then drops the mobile arena, my heart figuratively drops out of my mouth, and the fight is well and truly on. Evolve is a game of moments; of brief, but magnificent, gut-wrenching and mind-boggling points in time that make you scream in either joy or anguish. Every game is an emotional rollercoaster, and every game is a new challenge.
It’s the relatively short, usually around 15 minute games that really sell Evolve. In many ways, the title feels like a fantastic mix of heavy duty MMO fighting and short but sweet mobile gaming. That’s an odd comparison to make, I know, as most would argue those two worlds could never collide (and shouldn’t). Yet what makes Evolve stand apart from the merciless onslaught of other first-person shooters is a willingness to try something new, to move away from the familiar ground, even if that movement is, in the end, quite subtle. Of course, it’s the 4v1 core concept that provides this unusual aspect, and one I’m sure you’re aware of unless you live in hole in the ground. Four hunters are dropped into a hostile landscape, tasked with tracking, trapping and taking down a horrendously hostile monster controlled by another player. The caveat, of course, is that the hunters should score their prize before the prize turns on them.
Initially, and indeed for quite a lengthy period of time, the novelty of this unusual setup is enrapturing. Games have a tangible momentum, but how that momentum pans out is largely down to how the hunters make use of their tools. Indeed, playing as the hunters is a fantastic experience; from the exciting drop into the map to the point where you either conquer the beast or are taken down by it, there’s plenty to do, and a lot to manage. Tracking the monster down is no mean feat, and in many ways the best hunter teams are those that can keep hot on a monster’s tail and rely on the Trapper to do his or her job right. It is, quite simply, a thrilling feeling as you slowly hone in on your ginormous prey. But then, that part of the hunt can also be frustrating if the monster remains hidden, but it’s never dull, as you work as a team to sweep the landscape and pray you come across it.
That’s all just one part of a game in Evolve, as the tone and feel changes dramatically once a fight breaks out; from a nerve-wracking game of hide and seek to all out warfare. The fights in Evolve are what liken the game to MMOs, as players focus on their particular specialties: be it doing damage, hindering movement, healing fellow hunters or supporting and thereby helping with all three. Obviously it’s less complex than an MMO, but it’s still something of an unusual system for a big, chunky FPS title that’s looking to garner mass appeal (and boy has it). Still, it works. I’d argue that the fights are less interesting than the actual hunting (although, to be fair, I generally play as the trapper), but they’re certainly short, sweet moments of madness. Well, ideally you’ll want it to be some form of organised chaos, as it’s playing to your class’ strengths that’s both most effective and most enjoyable.
Fighting as a hunter is brilliant; you’ll feel vulnerable and probably pretty terrified when the Monster is gunning for you, but useful and powerful when you’ve got it trapped and low on health. When a team is working together the game revs on all cylinders and Turtle Rock’s ability to produce satisfying, weighty gameplay is on full display. It’s invigorating stuff, and while it’s initially fun just because of the pure madness of it all, it eventually becomes a game of intense strategy and (dare I say) cunning. A game of Evolve with exclusively high-level players is a joy to behold. Everyone has their own clever little tricks, including the Monster player of course, so it all boils down to a game of wits. That’s not to say it won’t eventually end in a huge brawl, but even that final bout will invariably involve a fair amount of smart thinking and intelligent plays.
As you play the game more and more, you’ll probably find yourself settling into one particular role. Which in some ways is a bit of shame actually, as all of the classes require very different play styles, and offer new ways to approach a game. I also touched on another slight issue earlier; the fact that the game is great when you’ve got a team that works together - because when the team is a little wonky, the fun can sure be spoiled. Evolve can be horribly frustrating at moments, like if you’ve got an Assault that does no damage or a Trapper who just won’t use his Monster-trapping mobile arena. It’s all part and parcel of the online experience, yes, but that’s not a point that rectifies the fact that every role in Evolve is crucial. Which, I suppose, is a Catch 22 for Turtle Rock, as it’s that consistent importance that makes teamwork so fun, but also what causes epic failure when just one person doesn’t pull their weight. This is true for a lot of games, but it is horrendously obvious in Evolve and it doesn’t help that the AI Hunters are a real mixed bag.
Oh, there’s the Monster too. Yes, I’d be happy playing Evolve just as the hunters all of the time, but playing as either the Goliath, Kraken or Wraith is an equally enthralling game. It’s also delightfully scary. The hunt that’s so enjoyable as the humans (and one robot) is a very different experience when you are the hunted. It’s tense stuff as you move slowly across the map, trying not to spook birds, but also feast on the local wildlife. Getting trapped at level 1 (of 3) can be a death sentence, so avoiding the hunters is a priority. Entering a game as the monster can often feel more like a more colourful game of Slender than a proper FPS, but that all changes when you finally get on the offensive. Fighting as the Monster is another heart-racing challenge, and one that tests your ability to manage the activities of your hunters as well as the powers with which you can beat them.
All of this is wrapped up in a rather typical modern online-FPS formula. You’ve got the dreary, but functional, unlock system that lets you improve your gear, unlock new characters (at the beginning of the game at least) and allow you to customise certain elements of your game. Then there’s the semi-story mode that includes a bunch of different, but not that great, game modes. To be fair Evacuation, as the story mode is titled, is pretty good and lets parties have a fun succession of games that all link to one another. It takes about an hour to complete, but it’s almost endlessly replayable and well put together. Topping off all of this is a decent custom game creator that gives friends the opportunity to hunt one another down. You may have noticed that a lot of this extra content is tailored more towards those who have a group of friends to play with, and you’d be right for thinking that. Evolve is infinitely better when playing alongside a regular group of friends, to the point where I couldn’t properly enjoy the game without them.
If I have one serious complaint to levy on Evolve, it’s the maps on which the drama takes place. As with most players, I tend to learn the maps in multiplayer games like the back of my hand. I remember positions of advantage, disadvantage, I remember tactics that work in specific places. In Evolve, this proves a little tricky because just about every single location is so, so similar. Obviously they’re tiered and designed in a certain way so to fit the gameplay style, but somehow this has led to a decent number of maps that all feel the same, and are generally pretty indistinguishable. There are a few exceptions, but most of the maps are just rocky jungle areas with cliffs, rivers and some buildings. There’s very little variety, and it’s something that hinders the game on the whole. DLC will probably remedy this, but that’s a phrase I loathe to use.
Which brings me neatly to the elephant (Goliath?) in the room: DLC. I couldn’t justify writing this review without mentioning the simple fact that Evolve, at times, feels like half a game. Sad to say, that’s probably the case. Turtle Rock has remarked before on the fact that Evolve is a game built for DLC, which is fine in theory, but it would be much more acceptable if the game was brimming with content. It’s not. There’s a decent amount to do, and the lucky (or intentional) thing for Turtle Rock is that the gameplay is good enough to hold your interest for many, many hours. Yet it’s difficult to shake the feeling that there could have been so much more, and the knowledge that there will indeed be more that I have to pay for just dulls the whole experience a little. It’s a nagging feeling at the back of the mind. Personally, I’d rather see some significant expansions follow release, but I fear it’ll be small, but pricey, DLC packs from here on out.
These negatives are admittedly small compared to the huge positive that is simply playing Evolve. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever played a game that’s thrilled me so consistently. My housemates have been complaining all week about shrieking sounds coming from my room, and any game that evokes that kind of strong emotion from me deserves some recognition. I’ve had a lot of fun playing the game; it’s well-balanced, satisfying and wonderfully tense at times. Some elements of the game don’t quite match up to the core concept, the maps and the progression system in particular, but it’s not enough to hinder the appeal. I hate myself for saying it, but I can see why Turtle Rock has taken the super-DLC route for Evolve. They’re going to have a lot of hooked gamers by the end of February, and more than a few that’ll be willing to part with yet more cash. That, I think it’s safe to say, will be the most important measure of Evolve’s success.
Evolve Stage 2 (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
I’ve had a lot of fun playing Evolve; it’s well-balanced, satisfying and wonderfully tense at times. Some elements of the game don’t quite match up to the core concept, the maps and the progression system in particular, but it’s not enough to hinder the appeal. I hate myself for saying it, but I can see why Turtle Rock has taken the super-DLC route for Evolve. They’re going to have a lot of hooked gamers by the end of February, and more than a few that’ll be willing to part with yet more cash. That, I think it’s safe to say, will be the most important measure of Evolve’s success.