The team’s on edge. The planet Shear, mankind’s most valuable asset in deep space, is on the brink. Four days into our five-day expedition, the number of casualties is colossal. The Monsters are winning, and we’ve reached the point of no return. We’ll die here, but only in a blaze of glory. We won’t go down without a fight. Complete evacuation is futile, but we must save what we can. This is Evolve, and the battle is our destiny.
As I delve deep into the pits of a dying world, I realise that this is unlike any battle I’ve fought in before. I’ve battled with my comrades in the past, but these foes aren’t brain-dead zombies: they’re evolving, mutating monsters, and the world is changing with them. I’m wielding a mini-gun, and my trusty flamethrower has my back for that unexpected attack. Next to me is Lazarus, a skilled medic I trust with my life. Hank protects us with his powerful shield, while Maggie knows exactly how to trap the beast best to our advantage. You couldn’t ask for a better team.
It’s a balanced, effective team, one that knows where to go and why. In our four-day Evacuation, we’ve gone on the Hunt for gnarly beasts from another world, blasted away the eggs of a Nest, raced in to Rescue colonists, and battled against a horde to Defend a refueling station. These fights have left lasting scars on a battered world. I’ve got a few scars too, but you know what? I’ve loved every damn minute of it!
Clearing The Deck
The mission in Evolve is simple: four of you will team up, packing the latest high-tech weaponry and resources, and head to the colonised planet of Shear to repel an attack by malevolent alien Monsters, while hopefully saving a few thousand colonists along the way.
By now you surely know the drill: a fifth player will join the fold as the ghastly monster, ravaging through the land and eating its inhabitants, decimating the planet’s most important assets. This four-on-one battle is rarely as one-sided as it sounds, and thankfully Evolve envisions a superbly balanced array of modes in a purposefully designed asymmetrical environment.
”Evacuation”, the game’s multi-stage campaign (think Left 4 Dead), breaks up Evolve’s four game modes — Hunt, Defend, Nest and Rescue — into a five-mission quest to save as many colonists as possible. It works surprisingly well as a random playlist, particularly as a co-op outing with four of your friends.
The structure here stands out: all five of you will vote for one of two mode and map combinations,and you’ll never play the same mode twice in a row. This of course keeps the gameplay fresh and the battles invigorating, because simply playing “Hunt” over and over again, despite its simplistic purity in effectively showcasing the best of what Evolve has to offer, means you’ll miss out on a lot of what makes the other modes so great. In Evacuation, the goal is to successfully move from region to region and stamp out the Monster presence, or, as the Monster, essentially cause as much havoc as possible to maximise colonist casualties. Mixing up the objectives here adds a lot of weight to the underlying goal of the Hunters in Evolve.
”Nest”, for example, makes for a significant shift away from the simple nature of “Hunt”, in that you need to destroy six Monster eggs within ten minutes, as opposed to simply hunting the Monster. Playing this match a number of times, I found the immediate reaction from my teammates was to all rush to the same egg, only for the Monster to eventually catch up and rip us to shreds. Unlike in other modes, splitting up and focusing on different areas of the map actually makes for a far more effective approach at beating the Monster at its own game, using our numbers to spread the battlefield and attack simultaneously at different points.
Evacuation also blends the five missions into a dynamic shift in map design, balancing consequential decisions by both the Hunters and the Monster with the mode’s “just there” story. If a Monster destroys a certain facility, for example, the environment can become contaminated, which will prove troublesome for the Hunters. With 12 maps and two possible environmental changes per map — which of course change depending on who won the match and how — you can rest assured that your Evacuation experiences will remain fresh for a long, long time.
Top Of The Class
Each of the four classes has three characters, each with their own weapons and abilities. In the Assault class, for example, Markov wields an electric assault rifle and lightning gun, while Hyde packs a powerful minigun alongside a great flamethrower.
What really stands out for me in Evolve and particularly in Evacuation is how well it encourages you to change and alter how each class approaches a certain battle. Rarely do I shift between classes in multiplayer games, but in certain modes I felt more compelled to play as a certain character. In “Hunt”, I’d rather go as Assault or Trapper, because the two work so well in tandem, kind of like two Ghostbusters tying up a ghost and trapping it. Support’s turrets work a treat in both Hunt and Defend, while Medic is great for the latter in protecting your teammates. Rarely has a game made me feel so open to trying new classes and alternating from mode to mode. I’d normally stick with Assault, but it doesn’t make sense to rush for the class in either Nest or Rescue, because the other classes are far more important.
Of course, certain classes dictate a certain amount of skill, and playing with randoms as opposed to friends can be disastrous. The Trapper and Support classes, for example, are best served during battle with well-timed and placed traps and shields, and so initiating them at random times when the other two players aren’t ready certainly won’t make for very efficient team play.
Still, there’s a well-balanced and enjoyable array of classes and weapons here, and Evolve does a really good job of making each class feel genuinely important to the battle. Thankfully, Evolve isn’t always about the run-and-gun style, and more often than not the experience is far more satisfying when you’re playing as a useful Medic or Support player, one that actively gives your most damaging teammates the ability to attack the Monster as effectively as possible.
Playing through these modes alone, you’ll be teamed up with AI-controlled hunters. It’s a lot like Titanfall‘s campaign in that sense — even when playing with friends — but the problem here is that the AI is either super aggressive or completely useless. This is to be expected with a co-op shooter, right? We got the same sort of single-player experience with Left 4 Dead, where playing alone meant taking the risk, hoping the AI could make up for the lacking tactical approach otherwise offered by human players. Evolve is fun alone in a mindless sort of way, lacking that team connection that makes the co-op experience thrive. You’ll be missing out on a lot if you never playing this online.
Evolve and Conquer
Playing as the Monster in Evolve presents a unique multiplayer experience, which makes for a special kind of competitive outing. You’ll start as a Level 1 monster in three of the four modes, having to feed on the environment and smaller monsters to increase the evolve meter and eventually grow into a bigger, more powerful monster with more abilities.
The challenge here is to balance this slow evolution with the task at hand. Playing in Hunt, for example, means you’re constantly being hunted, and so you’ll need to limit tracks and evolve swiftly and out of sight. In Nest, the battle is in your favour because you’re not the target, but you still have a limited amount of time to strengthen your abilities and attack the Hunters before they destroy all of the eggs. In Rescue, you’re again against the clock, while in Defend, it’s all about your ability to be as destructive as possible.
There’s no doubting that the Monsters in Evolve present a fresh new take on the co-op shooter, and it’s pleasing to see such a balanced experience despite the odds being in the Hunters favour.
But it’s with this unique flavour that Evolve sometimes falls flat. Matches sometimes go minutes without any action, and it’s understandable that Turtle Rock has wanted to create that “hunting” feel. But the game still holds your hand, and sometimes you’ll spend half of the mode looking for the Monster. Some modes in my experience went the full length without a single encounter, which in many ways is a win for the player controlling the beast, but a disappointing no-show for the Hunters. These are extremely rare, however.
Yet when there is action, it’s fierce and tense. Any good Monster player will know how to balance a swift evolution with well-timed stealth attacks, while a good team of Hunters will work together to trap and attack in harsh waves of firepower. As it goes in Evolve, the better you work as a team, the faster you’ll level up your Hunters, and the smarter you are as a Monster, the more efficient a killer you’ll be. “Evolution” in a nutshell, right?
Is all of this worth the price of admission? The core Evolve experience brings 12 maps, four modes, 12 hunters and three monsters. The DLC is confusing as hell, and to get the fourth monster and new Hunters, you’re looking at an extra $50 without a pre-order; although free new maps is a neat incentive to invest early. The content’s there, and while the pricing mechanisms are frustrating, it’s worth the price of admission if you have five friends regularly playing, and scored the pre-order content — otherwise the fourth monster adds another $20 to your bill. Value will ultimately depend on how much time you’ll commit to Evolve and if you have friends to play with. But without a genuine solo mode, and content locked behind a further paywall at launch, it’s not as clearcut as most multiplayer games.
Post-Launch Impressions: Evolve still stands up structurally as a pretty great co-op shooter, but that experience depends a lot on who you’re actually playing with, and of course on the online infrastructure that drives it.
With Left 4 Dead, we saw a staunchly cooperative affair that wasn’t anywhere near as exhilarating when played alone, and bounced between functioning and frustrating when played with randoms online. Evolvefalls in the same boat.
Playing for three hours on the game’s now-public matchmaking servers, and I encountered what are now all-too-common issues for online-centric games: crashes, server issues and unbalanced matchmaking.
When I was able to play through a complete five-mission Evacuation mode, my experience was mixed: playing as the Assault class, I tried to explain to the Trapper that they needed to trap the monster as soon as we saw him, and to the Medic that they needed to focus their attention on their teammates. Neither listened, and the experience broke down.
That’s not entirely Evolve‘s fault: the learning curve is not so steep that the average gamer can’t figure out that being a damn Medic means you need to heal your teammates, or that being a Trapper means you need to, like, you know, trap the Monster.
The problem is that Evolve‘s cooperative structure dictates a certain type of community dynamic: one that must appreciate and understand the benefits and roles of each class, with no exceptions. The Monster is in a different class all together, because it offers a purely individualistic and competitive approach, focused on a far more personable experience: there’s no team play whatsoever.
I don’t think this should have an affect on the score, however: as a strictly cooperative game, Evolve‘s offering is only as good as its players. Because of that, I think that in 3-6 months time, Evolve will be a much better experience. Once those leeches are kicked out and the experience is able to, *ahem*, evolve into what it’s truly supposed to be, there’s so much potential here on a purely randomised matchmaking front.
Until then, matchmaking is just a risk.
The Final Verdict
There’s still time to evaluate Evolve on a matchmaking front, and so our final score could change once public servers go online. Having played alongside friends, the game excels with planned tactics and when communication is tight. But what will Evolve be purely as a matchmaking experience with random players? Can it hold up? We don’t know this yet. What we do know is that as a pure co-op shooter — or as a single-player rampage simulator — Evolve stands up as one of the genre’s best.