Elephant in the room first: through one of the worst marketing campaigns in gaming history Evolve has become a highly controversial game. While the base game is a fun little asymmetrical multiplayer game from Turtle Rock, the makers of Left 4 Dead, 2K’s marketing has painted it as a vessel to sell DLC. Moreover, the spread of different conflicting purchase options available takes the sound idea of “don’t confuse the consumer” and shoots it into space, including more than one special edition depending on your system and store, many different DLC packs, an expensive “Season Pass” that seems to only add skins and a few new Hunters, and that’s even before you install the game. To make it clear though, while I think the way 2K have handled all this is abysmal I will not be docking points off the score for it unless I feel the base game is noticeably lacking those DLC items. Let’s see.
Evolved or Extinct?
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For those that don’t know, Evolve is an asymmetrical multiplayer game where four players hunt a giant monster controlled by a fifth player. While there are several different modes the main goal is to either kill all the Hunters or kill the Monster, depending on what side you’re on. The Monster additionally has to feed on local wildlife in order to both increase its armour and to fill a bar that eventually allows it to “evolve” (hence the title) to a more powerful form. Once it reaches Stage 3 its at full power and can either choose to destroy a power generator or turn the tables on the Hunters.
That’s the main ‘Hunt’ one-off Skirmish mode in a nutshell, but there’s also Evacuation which is a string of five maps with different objectives in each. In addition to ‘Hunt’ there’s three other straight modes here. ‘Nest’, where there’s a string of Monster Eggs around the map which the Monster can hatch to spawn a AI-controlled mini-Monster whereas the Hunters have to destroy them all. ‘Rescue’ where the Hunters have to find and evacuate survivors and the Monster has to kill them. Finally there’s ‘Defend’ where a Stage 3 Monster and a group of minions has to take down a series of structures within a time limit while the Hunters defend them. There’s also offline single-player versions of all these, but they really shouldn’t be taken as any more than practice as playing with bots really isn’t recommended as the AI in the game veers between helpful and totally useless.
The deep breath before the plunge
It’s all good but immediately there are a couple of flaws. First off, I could be screwing up entirely but I cannot see a way to play a one-off Evolve Skirmish game of any mode except ‘Hunt’. You can play ‘Nest’, ‘Rescue’ and ‘Defend’ in Evacuation but not separately. I’m going to keep on looking because this seems crazy to me, but right now the only options are Hunt and Evacuation unless you set up a Custom Friends-only game. Secondly, this really isn’t enough. The modes are all nice but as mentioned they’re kind of just hidden in the Evacuation “campaign”, and as for the ‘Hunt’…
I had a simple goal for myself with this review. I would keep playing Evolve, obviously with breaks for food, social life, other work and that, and see how long it took me to get bored with Evolve’s regular ‘Hunt’ mode. The answer was three days. I played all the different roles including the Monster, and bear in mind I’d played a lot of the game pre-release, and when I’d played it previously I was really enjoying it, but now? I’d rather boot up the multiplayer of Mass Effect 3 or Left 4 Dead 2 than Evolve. That’s a rather major problem for a game that’s been out less than a week. Granted it’s a personal thing, but here’s my reasoning.
The gameplay of Evolve is straightforward but with plenty of room for strategy and growth. An unskilled Hunter could track the monster in all the wrong ways, miss with the mobile Arena (a vital part of play), or not support your fellow players properly, and an unskilled Monster could make far too much noise, linger too long in one area, or not target the Medic or Support guys when attacking. Once players start getting more skilled things get way more tactical and cat-and-mouse-like, with the monster often at a disadvantage but it just takes a few Hunter slip-ups to put them back in the game. This is the fun part of Evolve.
The Kraken is great fun, and just owns 'Defend'
However, unfortunately you quickly discover that there is only a set amount of things that can happen. Yes the Monster can be a very good player who evades really well, but I soon realised that the same things go on every time. Even if players really start thinking tactically everyone’s still just running about a map making the same moves each match. You could argue that’s the same in every multiplayer game, but the difference with Evolve is that there’s no real amounts of skill here. You can work out what everything does fairly quickly, and while there’s a fair amount of getting better at classes there’s only a small amount of variety to play in.
Even the other modes are deeply flawed. ‘Rescue’ can be tough on Hunters as the survivors are all incredibly dumb, ‘Defend’ is fun but far too easy to win as the Kraken with his powerful long-distance attacks, and ‘Nest’ it’s very difficult to win as the Monster because it forces you confront the Hunters before you’re ready and they can wipe you out (unless they’re crap of course). And ‘Hunt’ just gets dull too fast. I haven’t even mentioned yet about the fact that all the maps blend into one another and all feel pretty identical, with the exception of ‘Barracks’ which is just badly designed. Furthermore there are a few maddening things outside the game that frustrate far too often, like poor Matchmaking that can put you with a bunch of idiots who got to a high rank through single-player, being thrown into a game into the middle of a match (even in Evacuation), and not actually getting to choose what game you get to join. In short, play with friends if possible.
In the end I found myself playing for unlocks and upgrades rather than because I was having a good time and wanted to play more. New Hunters, Monsters and Perks can change things enough to be interesting at least, and Monsters in particular are vastly different from one another. The Goliath is a clumsy brute, the Kraken is a floating death machine who moves swiftly around the map, and the Wraith is a sneaky git. Even so, you still use the same tactics with them and against them, but they offer enough difference for a while to make things exciting again. For a while. It’s maddening that we have to pay for further unlocks though.
No, you can't play Hunters in third-person, I'm just dead because the Medic and Support didn't help me again. Sigh
Ah yes, before I finish off I want to talk about the DLC and whether it hurts the game. First off, there is a Store button on the main menu and everything there is vastly overpriced. £5.79/$6.99 for not-very-good Monster skins? A £19.99/$24.99 Season Pass that doesn’t include any of the DLC listed on the Evolve DLC page or any future DLC like the new Monsters? While this is all disgusting and highly confusing, fortunately you can play base Evolve without any of that and both don’t feel you’re missing anything and still have plenty to unlock. However, I’ll change my tune when the new Monsters start turning up for £20 each. And seriously, it has the worst excuse for a Season Pass I’ve ever seen - and that includes Aliens: Colonial Marines.
Evolve can be a very fun game, but it’s also a very limiting one. Once you get past the initial learning curve matches quickly start blending into one, and that’s not just because the maps feel identical. Even the joy of hunting and thinking tactically gets diluted when you’re actually pulling the same moves every time, to the point where I questioned whether I was playing for fun or just to unlock new s**t. Furthermore a host of matchmaking difficulties, not to mention not being able to choose the Mode, class or game you want to play, make playing online more frustrating than it needs to be. And don’t even get me started on the DLC. Get friends together or good all-round players and Evolve can be a blast, but anything less than that and you’ll be bored in far too short a time. In short: not quite the evolution in multiplayer gaming we hoped for.
TOP GAME MOMENT
As a Hunter, spotting your prey across the map and cutting across to intercept them. As a Monster, getting to Stage 3 and turning from the hunted to the hunter.
Being forced to think tactically to outwit and outplay your opponents is great fun, especially with friends.
Constant unlocks keep things interesting and at least keeps you playing.
Ridiculous issues abound, like poor matchmaking, dumb bots, not having a lot of choice when heading online, and of course the DLC might make things awkward later.
It all gets repetitive and boring too fast, and if you're not a fan of unlocks you'll be frustrated by how long it takes to get everything, especially monsters.