By Ian Boone. Load File plays video games because you no longer have the time, you poor fool. This time Ian is out to bag a biggun’ in Evolve, out for PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4.
The tenet of “kill or be killed” has never been more absolute than in Evolve. Man and monster will scrape through match after tense match where mutual coexistence is a losing scenario. There can only be so many predators at the top of the food chain, and the question of what is prey is totally relative.
Turtle Rock gave us a taste of their brand of asymmetrical gameplay with the multiplayer mode of the Left 4 Dead games, where one team of well armed human characters tried to survive against exotic zombie mutations. After being spewed upon by Belchers or crushed by Tanks, it was awesome to switch sides and terrorize humans as the special Infected. Whether you sprayed ammo or inky clouds of nuisance, Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 both gave separate but equal good times.
Evolve takes this philosophy much, much further. Every round pits four exotic big game Hunters against a giant Monster. While the Monster has strength, endurance, and destructive powers to use, the Hunters have the numeric advantage and specialized tools to even the odds. No matter which side is played, Evolve will always feel like a different experience.
WHO IS THE TRUE MONSTER?
Evolve provides a simple backdrop to a plethora of scenarios. The colonies of planet Shear are being terrorized by mysterious alien Monsters, and an evacuation order has been sent out. Twelve Hunters have been contracted to cull these terrible beasts and help defend life and property during the bedlam.
The evacuation order is carried out over a five-day (or five-round) period in a mode fittingly titled “Evacuation.” The player can choose to be the Monster of the round, or play as one of the four Hunter roles available: Assault, Trapper, Support, or Medic. Each round can have a different objective, but every round will make an impact on the next depending on the victor. If the Monster succeeds, more food could become available, or they might get an AI controlled minion in the next match. If the Hunters bag their trophy, they might have colonial militia backing them up in the future.
If time doesn’t allow Bwana an extended safari, launch an individual custom match.
This can be played one round at a time, and it offers a lot of variations to play around with. Damage balance can be adjusted, perks turned off… Even all the map effects from Evacuation can be activated.
Being the Monster gives a small head-start that will require expeditious usage. Hunters will spawn shortly after; and powerful though a Monster may be, it won’t be much of a match so early in the game. Maps teem with wildlife to fight and devour in order to fuel growth. After a certain amount is consumed, Monsters morph into a stronger form and gain points that can be spent on beefing up you new-found abilities. Once Stage 3 hits, the Monster is a biblical End-time beast, super-powered and damn-near impossible to put down.
Once the round begins for the Hunters, each should start to play to their roles. Trappers have to get the lead out early and begin finding the Monster with various methods (like a tracking hound or proximity sound sensors). Once a Monster is found, the Trapper is also responsible for dropping a mobile arena that will confine the beast and instigate a fight. Assault lays down heavy firepower, the Medic tries to keep the team on their feet, and the Support lends a variety of tactical advantages in both fighting and tracking the Monster.
There are four different objectives that can be achieved during a round: Hunt, Nest, Defend, or Rescue. Hunt and Nest puts the Monster slightly on the defensive as it evades extermination and protects its brood. Defend and Rescue put the Hunters in the undesirable position of having to either protect sites from waves of Monsters or attempting to save colonists from the hungry maws of super-predators.
Victory or defeat will award experience and unlock more options for play. Each class of Hunter has two unlockable characters, each with differing equipment loadouts from the first, and there are also two more types of Monster opened up through play. Progress can feel slow on the unlock grind, as certain milestones have to be achieved: For example, the starting Medic has to tranquilize the Monster many times with a rifle for her to achieve the first rank. This has to be done before open combat begins, and that isn’t always a controllable factor. It’s a heavy-handed way to force players to play their chosen roles to the fullest, but I can see the Hunter’s merit. They are specialists, and should be playing to their specialty from within in the group.
This doesn’t work as well for Monsters, who work alone and may not even utilize all their powers. The Goliath’s Charge is quite worthless in many situations, giving away the Monster’s position in a crashing gait that deals light damage and merely knocks its targets around. A stupid amount of damage has to be dealt before it perks up, but once it does the next Monster opens right up. There were many matches where I never spent a point on an ability at all, choosing instead to hurl huge boulders or expel some fire-breathing might. I want to be a Monster, not a trophy on the wall.
Standing between these mortal enemies is the feral landscape of Shear. The flora and fauna can be friend and (mostly) foe: Most crumples under a Monster’s blows, but quite a few creatures can pose an actual threat. Hunters have a much rougher slog through the growth, and getting swallowed whole happens pretty often. There’s no direct penalty for taking a more aggressive stance towards these lesser critters for Hunters, but Monsters appreciate the free food and distraction.
With the biosphere resisting player efforts, the terrain can be a pain in the ass as well. The terrain of each map is mostly uneven and wild, meaning that traversing it can take a bit of an effort for even the jet-pack equipped Hunters. Monsters can jump and climb across most of map with ease, but hauling tail will give away a trail of tracks, broken trees, and frightened birds.
If Evolve is going to be enjoyed to fullest, online is a must. But so is coordination: Stage 2 Monsters can be devastating if a Hunter’s tactics are not properly executed; a Trapper must drop the dome at the right moment, or the Monster escapes; cloaking provided by Support will allow the Medic to spearhead attacks with Tranquilizer Darts, and there’s even more minutiae that will need to be sussed out online. I’m not saying that this needs to happen for most campaigns, as we all know how rare it is when 1) the other guy in the lobby has a mic and 2) he isn’t using it to graphically describe your sister/mother. But sometimes you’ll luck out, and with a group of friends corralled into a session this could be one of the greatest buddy games of all time.
Playing a Monster against online opponents can be equal parts gratifying and terrifying. Once the fight begins, the little opposing shits will do everything in their power to swarm and blast and ensnare you. In this scenario, picking off anyone but Assault becomes top priority. But the best defense is to lie as low as possible while feeding. Seeing the fear swell on the faces of ambushed Hunters is highly amusing, but you can’t rush it.
Online multiplayer gives Evolve great replayability, but even lowly peasants can enjoy the company of simple AI bots to play any role. The Monster AI is decent enough, playing well to the role of the solo killing machine. But a bot-controlled Hunter tends to play simplistically; they stick by the player and hardly spread out, spamming abilities and ignoring cries for revives.
NO OPEN SEASON IS FOREVER
All that is Evolve – at least as far as gameplay and technical performance is concerned – is great. It can deliver constant action with so many variables, from two different points of view. Turtle Rock claims over 800,000 different possible scenarios with what is available at Evolve‘s launch.
With that said, it leaves me feeling a little short-changed on the usual cost of entry. The lack of a real campaign (Evacuation always has something different to offer, but it doesn’t give much in the way of story) means there’s little to peck at after getting all the hunters unlocked (you can rank up weak character-specific buffs, skins, and logos). The skins are hardly perceptible color variants and serve only as wasted flair, but it hurts to see so many being sold as extra downloadable content at launch. (They couldn’t be available in-game?)
Turtle Rock will release four more unknown Hunters as future paid content, and they promise to keep all incoming maps at the low price of free. But how long-term the sustainability of this game will mostly depend on how long it will take to become repetitive to the community.
At its heart, Evolve will always be a contest of ecological adversaries, and it mostly succeeds in doing so: there’s a lot of twists and turns that occur in every session, and it boasts a multiplayer that positively recalls Left 4 Dead, one that confidently stands outside that game’s general norm. If you feel the overall nature of Evolve appears simplistic – or worse, rote – don’t worry. There’s always that twelfth playthrough of Skyrim waiting for you.