One of the most awarded games of the 2014 gaming show and conference season, Evolve is finally out. With its asymmetrical gameplay, a shooter that mixes competitive and cooperation elements, Turtle Rock Studios’ newest baby has at first sight the perfect recipe to become 2015 first real hit. Now that the hunt started, we can finally answer this question: is this new concept a success?
Turtle Rock Studios is a name that is known for a little project that started back in the early 2000s, one backed by Valve, the iconic Left 4 Dead series. These talented developers, ready to evolve into something bigger (another pun) have been inspired by their previous success and started working on Evolve. The idea was born from the Left 4 Dead clash between the four survivors and the zombie Tank who – if you played the game – can be sometimes full of surprises filled with intense bravery and total carnage. However, the concept has evolved so much since Evolve’s base eventually became something else, and if I may say so, a rather better concept. But before going into details, let me give you a quick idea of what the game’s story is based on.
The idea was born from the Left 4 Dead clash between the four survivors and the zombie Tank
The game is mainly set on Shear, a planet colonized by human for its resources. If the local wildlife was previously contained, monstrous creatures have recently emerged, threatening civilians and infrastructures. Given that diplomacy does not seem to be a solution to a multi-ton beast who thinks of savagely rampaging and eating colonists, William Cabot brings together veteran soldiers and mercenaries who are seeking a new adventure, which probably are the only crazy enough people to face these creatures. And that’s the basic and simple scenario of Evolve.
In practice though, things get deeper. There are four distinct classes of hunters, each with its three characters. The Assault class is undoubtedly the one focus on the offensive with weapons for high damage and a shield that can make him invincible for a few seconds. The Medic class is a classic that can revive its allies and boost their health. The Support can help the combat by protecting others with shields and buffs, but also cause quite substantial damage to the monster. Finally, the Trapper is one that mainly orchestrate the hunt for the beast, by tracking it and even constrain it. Four classes, with each of its characters having three exclusive attacks, yet still a fourth common skill. For example, the trapper has the indispensable mobile arena, which can lock down the monster in a caged dome for one minute.
The basic principle of this game is a 4v1 hunt, four hunters against one monster (at least on paper). Two hunters cannot choose the same class, the team is inevitably heterogeneous, each confined to his own role with the obligation to fully coordinate the operation. If the purpose of the team is different depending on the game mode, the stalking phase of the beast represent the single most important and original thing in Evolve. And so, released via airship in a huge map, Hunters will have to follow the footsteps of the monster, and study all the elements that reflect its passage or presence. Footprints, scared birds flying away, fallen trees, dead animals: all these are indications given for attentive hunters, tools available to you that will make a difference in the hunt. And with this, you guessed it, the trapper becomes a very important role in these stages. Maggie, for example, has a creature named Daisy, that could be considered like an alien dog. Daisy works completely independent, tracking the monster with its sense of smell. On the other part, Griffin (another hunter) can blow its horns on the map to reveal the presence of monster in the area.
Initially, the tracking phases are rather exciting and there is a little shot of adrenaline within the first few times you end up finding the monster. Unfortunately, in the longer term, things can get quite, and that is pretty much because there is more danger on the map than a single monster. If the available map at launch do not differ enough from each other in terms of gameplay, and some are more vertical than others (you will love that jetpack), the differences are minimal and tactics barely change. The other problem is probably the local wildlife, which are constantly a problem for hunters during the hunt. In practice, you will kill these local critters in 90% of the cases, but from time to time, an enormous Scaradune will appear out of nowhere or a carnivorous plant will swallow you whole. But if you play in groups, a compulsory requirement in Evolve, you have no reason to worry. On the other hand, it is hard to be really scared by these critters when you have a jetpack.
The basic principle of this game is a 4v1 hunt, four hunters against one monster
If all goes well, and sometimes with a bit of luck, you should eventually find yourself facing the monster. Arguably, the most intense moments of the game, these fights may seem, at first glance, an chaotic mess where everyone shoots in all directions to bring the beast down. Yet there is a sense of priorities to understand: If your Medic, the only class that can heal is taking damage, things are obviously not good. So you have to rely on very good communication to protect the weaker allies, and slow the monster, with harpoons or tranquilizer guns. Whatever happens, your goal is to do maximum damage in the minimum time.
The other fun aspect of Evolve is that you can also play the monster, which virtually changes everything. By default this class is made for solo players, and gives a different view on the battlefield, switching an FPS layout to a third person shooter layout. Of course, if these changes are already different, the most important one is the change of gameplay, which has nothing to do with the Hunters, both in handling and in end goal. By base, there’s three basic monster (four if you count the season pass’ Behemoth): the Goliath, is reminiscent of Left 4 Dead’s Tank on certain aspects. It can blow fire and throw huge rocks on his opponents. The Kraken, is more of a remote player, able to fly and use projectiles that can have area of effect. As for the Wraith, stealth and speed are his strength, thanks to its ability to create an illusions and become invisible: a true master of deceit. However, to understand how to play a monster, I must explain why the game is called Evolve. Indeed, the core purpose of the monster is simply to get stronger by feeding on local creatures that make up the fauna of planet Shear, and go through three stages of evolution. Whenever you evolve (safely done away from hunters), you can boost your skills – or unlock – one among the four available. So if you prefer to use the Fire Breath, to burn down hunters in group, you can max it all up rather than putting points into a skill that you will use less like rock throw.
Of course, not everything is so simple. In the first stage of your evolution, avoiding Hunters is definitely the best idea. So you will need to be discreet and not alert them to your presence, by feeding in random locations, clear out your tracks by passing through rivers, and watch out not to scare birds. Eating your preys also allows the recovery of a natural shield and only a portion of your health bar that you can recover. In one sentence: play smart. Rest assured, you are helped by your enhance mobility, whatever happens, you have an advantage over the Hunters despite their jetpack.
Sometimes an escape is undoubtedly the best solution. Better to be a coward than dead, I guess.
Obviously, as stealthy and cautious as you are, combat phases are inevitable (if desired depending on the situation). As a monster, in 95% of cases, your priority is simple: kill the Medic, which is no big secret in class bass games. Despite your four different abilities, the strategy leaves little room to choose from: a zone of attack if the hunters are stacked together, targeted attacks and pure hard melee to kill characters one by one then. However, keep an eye on your health, and sometimes an escape is undoubtedly the best solution. Better to be a coward than dead, I guess.
So far, the game may seem a little simple, but that is probably because I have not talked about the game modes. The main one, Hunting mode, has the Hunters trying to find and hunt down the monster before it reaches stage 3 of its evolution. If the latter does, he will try to destroy a specific point on the map that the Hunters must then defend. Apart from this, there is the Rescue, Nest and Defend mode, which are a good alternative if you don’t want to play online, with the rest of the characters are controlled by bots. Rescue is all about reviving and potect injured colonist on the map, with the goal to either kill 5 of them as a monster, or aiding their escape as hunters. The second one has you protecting the nest six eggs as a monster, and the hunter need to destroy within 10 minutes. Finally, in Defend, a monster is fully evolved to level 3, and hunters must protect two power generators before they get destroyed.
If it is possible to play these parts alone, Evolve also offers a slightly scripted mode called Evacuation, which connects all modes in five missions. If the first is hunt mode and the last in defend mode by default, the other three are chosen by the vote of players. The benefit of this method is that a victory on either side in a game gives you an advantage for the next map. While the gameplay remains unchanged, Evacuation mode gives a change to your game, in addition to a very consistent experience bonus if you win.
Speaking of experience, there’s some things to talk about here. By gaining levels in the gam, you get new bonuses that you can choose before each game, ranging from faster climbing to improved defenses for example. Note that you can also acquire temporary bonus by killing “elites” monsters (usually albino versions of known creatures). Playing games also allows you to unlock additional monsters and hunters for each class by effectively mastering the skills of the characters that you already have. Because if you have 12 characters in total, you only have access to four early in the game, one per class. It’s one smart way to extend the “shelf life” of the game. The important thing is that the success of these small goals also gives you a definitive micro-bonus, far from negligible when obtained. Other objectives earns you medals, for which you mostly will be able to brag about. And of course another way to attract attention is the ability to buy new skins available – at a staggering price – in your platform shop for some monsters color variation, which I’m very sad to say are barely noticeable.
Nevertheless, Evolve is a quality title that can really be worth it and that should appeal to a large number of players. If the base is a cat-and-mouse chase that seems repetitive, Turtle Rock Studios’s game remains original and refreshing. A kind of risk-taking that we can only congratulate them for. However, you must understand one core thing: Even more than Left 4 Dead in its time, Evolve is a game that “must” be played between friends, at least for those who opt for the Hunters. Not only communication is paramount, since each hunter holds a specific role, a bad player or an AI bot can ruin a game, something that happens occasionally when playing with random strangers. If you want to play alone, I can only advise you to pick the monster. Sure, it is possible to play solo with bots, but in all sincerity, their inability to use real tactics makes the experience rather pathetic, despite the ability to take control of any hunter on the fly with the D-Pad.
In the end, Evolve is perhaps not the revolution of multiplayer shooter, but it’s a true Evolution of a studio that was known mainly for its original game Left 4 Dead, and shows the maturity of their developers that now proved themselves to do things on their own.
Evolve was reviewed using an Xbox One digital copy of the game purchased by the reviewer. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC via Steam. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• A solo and cooperative experience
• Amazing to play with friends
• A more thoughtful gameplay than most action games
• Each of the 12 characters has its own unique abilities
• Epic battle times
• The Evacuation maps
• The verticality in many maps
• Highly detailed environments
• Character design quality
• Stalking phases can be too long and unattractive
• Local wildlife is not as varied as I wanted it to be
• Apart from one or two exceptions, the 12 offered maps do not really have that much gameplay variations
• Matchmaking can take a while to kick off
• Little interest in solo mode despite the diversity
• A few balance issues to resolve with some monsters
• The price of the DLC (skins pack most of the time)
Evolve succeeds at what it aimed to achieve: an asymmetric gameplay that pits two teams with completely different profiles. By offering tracking phases that separate Evolve from a pure action game, Turtle Rock Studios took a risk that paid off. However, not everything is that perfect, and the parties are unfortunately very uneven in intensity, probably the fault of environments and more erased wildlife that I would have liked. Here’s to hoping that some future balances will change the game to that level, and thank god for the studio to offer future maps for free.