Evolve is the next big game from the studio that brought us the iconic Left4Dead series, perhaps arguably the best zombie and co-op games series to date. Although it shares a few core similarities, Evolve is an otherwise unique breed all of its own. There really is nothing else quite like it – as such it’s rather short-sighted to shoe-horn it into a specific category.
In a nutshell it is a 4-player class-driven first-person shooter combined with a solo 3rd person monster-munch stealth game. Evolve is literally a 4v1 multiplayer arena-based shooter, where the human Hunter squad consist of vitally important classes, and the lone player-controlled Monster must evade and feast on the wild-life in order to survive and evolve – thus the Hunters ultimately become the hunted.
Hunt is the main game mode on offer, indicated by the fact that it’s the only single mode to have a dedicated playlist alongside Evacuation. Hunt is what Evolve is really centred around; 4 Hunters tracking down and killing 1 Monster. The Monster’s goal is to feed on the wild-life to evolve to Stage 3, max out all abilities and go on a rampage – more often than not simply killing all the Hunters, or alternatively destroying an objective marked on the map – the Power Relay. The objective-based modes are however far more appealing for games that get you right in the action.
What’s so fascinating about Evolve is how the formula just flips mid-game. It certainly sounds cliché but ‘the Hunters becoming the hunted’ really does sum it up rather well.
The whole squad needs to click, everyone fulfilling their roles and no-one running off going solo – in other words, only play in a party for the only experience truly worthy of your time. The game forces you to remain as a single cohesive unit or ye all be damned. If you haven’t managed to chip away at the Monster’s health during Stage 1 or 2, then you’re in for a real struggle – especially if that Monster has taken time to regain armour after evolving to the third tier. That’s what so fascinating, it’s taking the pick from all the unlocked characters, and try as you might to as quickly as possible track down, trap and do as much damage to the Monster as you can, and keep at it – because chances are you all will become the hunted, and that’s fine, provided you’ve already chopped a significant portion off the monsters health. You may just have a fighting chance.
Evolve features ‘Evacuation’ – to call this a campaign isn’t so much a reach, but a giant monster leap. It rather serves both figuratively and literally as a mutating playlist. Hunt is the signature mode, whereas Nest, Rescue and Defend are the objective-based modes which can also feature minions, more like mini-monsters that can be spawned to help the player-controlled big boss Monster. All the modes are playable across 12 launch maps, spanning 5-days, which we’ll just call 5-matches – where players can subsequently vote on the proceeding mode and map. Evacuation brings something unique to the table in that the next match becomes altered in some way depending on whether the Monster or Hunters won the previous match.
The Hunters consist of 4-classes, all of which are mandatory, there’s no option to go the same role as someone else. Trapper, Medic, Support and Assault are in every match and each serves a vital role. The Trapper’s primary objective is to quickly track down the monster and deploy a dome, a mobile arena, to trap the monster inside for the squad to attempt to do significant damage to the monster for a limited time. The Medic’s role as you have cleverly worked out is to heal and keep your squad healthy. Support is especially crucial with the ability to shield key members such as the Medic and Trapper, whom are both vital to remain on their feet to keep the mobile arena up and the team healthy throughout.
While the game grants access to one character per class, there are a total of three characters for each class, each of which can be unlocked after jumping through some tedious hoops. It’s a frustrating aspect to the game initially, as it makes the overall package feel far more limited than it ultimately is. Each character, despite the expected look and dialogue differences, does also have some unique abilities all of their own that differ from the others. You may find you have to chip away as the Support man Hank if you are eyeing up Bucket’s automated turrets and UAV drone abilities, with similar grinding applying to each class.
Each character has their own unique weapons, primary and secondary abilities, whether it be invisibility, speed boost, bringing team-mates back from the dead, pulling off Bucket’s robotic-head and using it as a UAV drone to track-down and mark the monster, or follow Maggie’s companion-dog-thing Daisy who will trail in the monster’s foot-steps, though she better serves as an extra hand for player-revive duties in the heat of battle as many Monster players will overlook her.
There’s a total of 3 monsters, though much like the Hunters there’s barriers in place forcing you to grind out a few things before you can unlock the second, and then the same again for the third. Each of the monsters have 4 unique abilities, and a total of 3 slots to equip and increase their abilities overall effectiveness.
First up is the Goliath, which is somewhat reminiscent to Left4Dead’s Tank, especially with the Rock Throw ability, although he looks more akin to Godzilla with fire-breathing being a particular highlight, among other abilities best suited for quick evasion.
Kraken is perhaps the most intriguing monster on offer, allowing you to glide across the maps with great ease thus avoiding leaving many tracks. Banshee Mines prove a favourite for messing with Hunters when they are right on your heels, as is the more sinister Lightning Strike which requires some precision but is hugely effective once maxed out – and once you’re in flight high above your enemies. Perhaps the most basic and most effective of all is Kraken’s simple melee attack with his long tentacles doing decent damage while keeping Hunters and wildlife at a distance.
This brings us to the sadistic bitch – the Wraith. Once finally unlocked, it’s extremely satisfying to play as the Wraith, though it did leave me feeling a little guilty, on pretty much every occasion. Though many a victory will be assured, it’s bitter-sweet given how popular the Wraith is, and how often you will succumb to her. Needless to say the Wraith is particularly overpowered in comparison to her siblings. All the monsters have additional abilities at their disposal for means of evasion, but the Wraith being able to teleport, in addition to spawning a temporary duplicate of herself which not only distracts but can damage the Hunters, it’s certainly a bit much to contend with.
It’s daunting enough when you come across a player who has figured out that they can actually sneak (crouch with B) and leave no tracks at all, never mind the teleporting and decoys.
Keeping up with, or better yet, one step ahead of the monster can be a daunting, tedious task. Evolve’s biggest problem, at least initially, is that you only have access to one basic Hunter in each class. Now the starting ones are all certainly good and valid for use even after you unlock all the characters, but it’s picking the characters with abilities who play off one another well that works a treat.
Having to rely on Maggie’s dino-dog Daisy solely to track down the monster is like some form of unspoken video-game torture. Keeping your eye out for distracted bird alerts, and finding tracks with the aid of Daisy is all well and good, but you’ll always be trailing behind. Better to pop up the map and try and cut the monster off with the assumption of his direction, or better yet use another useful ability of different character in addition to Daisy as an aid. Bucket’s UAV head-less drone is extremely handy for moving around the map and getting a lock on the monster, which is far more effective than the whole team running back and to like headless chickens. Splitting up is rarely a viable option either, as there are far too many wildlife traps where you can get caught by other creatures and end-up incapacitated, and ultimately dead.
All the maps feel rather generic, which is likely deliberate to better accommodate the various ways in which monsters get around – and that’s presumably why the upcoming maps are said to be free. It’s the visual delights in the weather and vast amounts of sinister wild-life that really bring the environments to life though, that and the ensuing fireworks display when everyone is trapped under the dome. More impressively the game maintains a solid and consistent frame-rate even under incredible strain.
Evolve is clearly in demand of your attention with its stunning visuals. As you begin to cut down the monster’s health its thickened-scaly skin starts to peel off showcasing some grotesque bright-red flesh throughout the remainder of the match. Although really the first time the hairs stood up on my arm was for what I like to call ‘the Jurassic Park shakes’, as the monster evolves his foot-steps become far more apparent, and if it’s close-by, and you still have no clue of its exact location; there’s really nothing like your screen shaking with every step the monster takes, the rumble in your pad, and the thud down on your ears.
Something smells, fishy?
Playing with bots means they always spot the monster despite being relatively well hidden and furthermore the bots seemingly don’t know how to miss – perhaps it’s better that they are not completely useless, but just like playing with random players it’s always a mixed bag.
Playing as the monster, being stealthy and getting to Stage 3 with full health and armour intact – that makes you incredibly powerful. Your reward for this is being able to deliver devastating damage and having the ability with great ease to demolish the entire Hunter team for the victory. What is not fun, is if that team decides to quit and the game ends – not even leaving you with the possibility to lay waste to the bots. There have also been some instances, for whatever reason upon death where you can not take over another bot squad-mate (forcing you to watch the bots for 90-secs or so before you parachute back in), and other times where that has worked fine as you would expect.
Matchmaking wait times can also be rather lengthy, with matches starting with bots, or players joining mid-game. The wait times are rather odd and somewhat concerning given that whilst there’s multiple game modes, only Hunt and Evacuation have their own dedicated playlists.
With multiplayer shooters, the majority play it safe and deliver an expected experience with highs and very few lows – with the ease to jump in and out on a whim, with or without friends and regardless deliver a consistent gameplay experience. That’s not Evolve – TurtleRock have not gone with the conventional, and ultimately they’ve delivered on their strengths exceptionally well in spite of that leaving room for tedium to sink in.
The choices made make for a far more visceral gameplay experience for friends – a whole party, but that dynamic just does not work under any other circumstance. It’s often said that all multiplayer and co-op based games are better with friends, while many are serviceable without, Evolve is simply tedious in absence of partners, yet it’s easily this generation’s best multiplayer party game that’s unlike anything else. It’s heavily reliant on the squad and leaves very little room for user error. If you have a group of 4-5 friends to sprint into the jungle with regularly, whom are always on-call, then Evolve is well worth the money. Sadly that is not likely to be the case for the majority of players.
Score – 7/10
Review code supplied by Team Xbox.