The planet is overrun by strange monsters. Humanity needs to be saved, but it will take five days until we can evacuate. It’s up to you, a motley band of hunters to find and kill the monster to ensure as many people survive as possible. It’s up to you to save the world. Unfortunately, most of you aren’t interested in that.
Evolve is a tightly built asymmetrical multiplayer game, but what does that mean? The idea is actually fantastic – four distinct hunters must go against a player-controlled boss monster. Each hunter must play to his or her specific class, and even among the classes there are differences. With alternatives for the Medic, Trapper, Support and Assault hunters, the game should provide plenty of variety for each role, ensuring that no player ever gets bored. Add to that the range of monsters and ideal hunters to use against them, and it becomes a glorious combination of tactics, teamwork, strategy and plenty of action.
Jumping in with a group of friends, the game feels mostly balanced as you cooperate to take down your massive foe. With a medic to keep players alive, support to buff the other players, tracker to find and contain the monster and assault to deal the heavy damage, it feels like your group of friends are really teaming up. Unlike previous multiplayer games, you just can’t do it without the whole group. But together, you can unite and take down an intelligent and powerful enemy – what could be better?
Unfortunately, that’s not what the game actually entails most of the time. Unless you have a team of friends who you know you will enjoy playing with and who are happy to play in the various roles, it becomes a bit of a mess. Random match players simply don’t communicate most of the time – barely any random match players that I played with even bothered to have headsets plugged in. Those were often the better ones, unfortunately, as those with headsets would often scream orders at the various roles without knowing what they were even talking about. Sure, it’s standard fare in online gaming, but for a game that requires intricate and constant cooperation and communication, it makes the game untenable.
It’s not just the communication that causes an issue, the grind of the game causes even more trouble. In order to level up your hunter and unlock new ones, you need to reach certain milestone with each ability. Not only does this make the game feel like a grind, it ends up undermining cooperation. Why would the randomly matched medic choose to heal you if her Medgun is already maxed out? Instead, she will focus on tranq darting the enemy so that she can level up – who cares about actually playing to her role?
The grind is equally frustrating as the monster. It’s not just about winning a certain number of matches, or leveling up your character progression. I ended up taking on entire maps with only one skill upgraded in the hopes that I could max it out and finally unlock further progression. Yes, that’s right, if your Fire Breath reaches that first milestone but your Charge ability still needs upgrading, you won’t be able to gather any more experience for your Fire Breath skill – using it becomes a waste of time. You know, unless you like using the skill and playing the game. Depending on the skill and cooperation of the hunters pursuing you, even playing as the monster can feel slow – it’s exciting when you are striving to evolve while being hunted down, but if your hunters are lost and confused, it takes away from any tension or climax that you might feel as the hunted boss.
The only thing that’s truly poorly designed is the progression grind. It’s a meta-game that undermines the core gameplay instead of enhancing it. Rather than encouraging players to play more and try varied strategies, it forces players to act against their preferred modes of gameplay and be penalized for having favoured abilities or techniques.
The design of the game is superb. Beyond the core gameplay which is stellar when it actually works, the maps are beautifully rendered with a range of unique wildlife and level design. The best part is the audio, though – as the Hunters, you can hear when the monster is stomping around nearby, or even just breathing. The controller rumbles with his footsteps and the immersion is fantastic. The monster and character designs are also unique and detailed, showing the love and care that went into each one.
However, loading that experience isn’t quick. After everyone has accepted their roles and characters, it’s time to jump into a game. Unfortunately, the load times are ridiculously long – long enough to get a drink, use the bathroom and have a conversation with a friend or loved one before you actually need to get playing. Added to this is the drop ship animation, where hunters are shown preparing to enter the map and having casual banter so that we can actually understand that they have unique personalities. The reason for this may be to give the monster a head start, but it ends up making the game feel dragged out and slow. You even need to repeat this if your hunters die and grab the dropship back into the game – watch that countdown clock tick by before players can re-join the game, but add an extra 10-15 seconds due to drop ship animation.
While load times could be acceptable if it were for the entire range of missions in evacuation mode, it actually just takes that amount of time before each and every map. This makes the five back-to-back missions feel interminable and causes hunters and monsters alike to feel like there is a loss of momentum and excitement to the game.
Under ideal circumstances, Evolve is an absolutely fantastic game. It’s fun, it’s unique and it allows a wonderful combination of cooperative and competitive multiplayer all in one package. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world of ideal circumstances. All it takes is for one player to not be working well as part of the team and the whole thing falls apart. And even if everyone plays well together, I’m just not sure how long that excitement will be maintained – how many times can you kill the monster (or be killed by the monster) before you’re over it? I worry that Evolve simply won’t have the longevity people are hoping for. Turtle Rock gave us a beautiful gem of a game, but they simply didn’t count on the reality of most gamers. If even the smallest element doesn’t align well, Evolve becomes an un-evolved mess.
Last Updated: February 12, 2015