March 2, 2015 by Paul Curtin
After the mistakes that Respawn and EA made with Titanfall at the beginning of 2014, you wouldn’t think that another developer/publisher team would fall into the same trap at the start of 2015. Yet, here we are again with the year’s first highly anticipated “next-gen” game launching to even more controversy… if you weren’t a fan of Titanfall’s multiplayer-only format, then don’t even bother with Evolve, because aside from better visuals, it expects you to pay more for even less.
In Evolve, the brilliant creators of the Left 4 Dead series have returned with a very interesting new concept that pits four players against one monster on a hostile alien planet known as Shear. Ghostbusters, Predator, Aliens, and even the wild Tank battles from Left 4 Dead all instantly come to mind and were surely used to pitch this idea that seemed so promising in early previews… and to Evolve’s credit, when everything is spinning on all cylinders, it actually does deliver on this wild monster-hunting premise and feels genuinely fun to play.
Sadly, while it can be enjoyable at times with a solid group and/or friends, Evolve is the latest example of a full-priced triple-A game unsuccessfully trying to double-dip and cash in on pre-orders, season passes, and microtransactions. Evolve so desperately wants to be a competitive multiplayer game along the lines of popular free-to-play games like Dota 2 and League of Legends, yet 2K’s need to have their cake and eat it too has resulted in a $60 up front cost and an additional $136 in shameless day one cash transactions to unlock everything else not included with the “full” game.
Each match begins with a vulnerable monster needing to stay one step ahead of the hunters by sneaking through the map and feasting on the local wildlife to… you guessed it! Evolve! The team of four charismatic hunters must track the monster down by following an alien dog-like pet named “Daisy” and/or paying attention to the highly immersive sights and sounds of frightened birds, animal remains, and tracks left by the powerful monster who shakes the ground with every heavy step it takes.
Hunting the monster is a thrilling experience at first. Maps are jam-packed with detail on a level rarely seen in other games and volatile wildlife can result in the hunters themselves getting unexpectedly trapped. Playing out as a game of cat and mouse, the hunters must kill the monster before it reaches its most powerful third level, becoming nearly unstoppable and capable of winning by easily wiping out the team of hunters or destroying a single generator on each medium-sized map.
While there are three monsters that can be picked from, only one can actually be used by players when first dropping into competitive play. Unlocking the other two requires gaining additional levels by winning games and completing challenges. This process of unlocking can take a while for less skilled players who aren’t generating experience at a fast enough rate. And this delay in content, when compared to other free-to-play games, can make Evolve seem very slim from the start. By keeping so much locked away from players at the start, the core game feels far more limiting than it actually is and can quickly turn players off.
Those who select the monster as their #1 class choice will begin with the Goliath, a hulking alien beast capable of breathing fire, leaping into the air, pounding the ground, and tossing massive boulders at the hunters. The other two monsters are much more unique with flying abilities and are even more difficult for the hunters to kill. The Kraken can rain down devastating bolts of lightning from the sky while the faster Wraith can cloak, teleport, and even abduct hunters from their group to cause pure chaos.
Each of the monsters are fairly well balanced, but as it stands right now the Wraith seems slightly overpowered and the choice for those who aren’t the best at playing the monster class… however, those who aren’t the best as the monster need to invest a considerable amount of time into playing before they’re even able to unlock the Wraith, and most will give up before that occurs. There’s even a “soon-to-be-released” fourth monster that came as a pre-order bonus or will cost those who are coming late to the party an additional $15. Even more unsettling is that the extra Behemoth monster is NOT included as part of the $25 season pass that consists of only 4 new hunters and 3 new monster skins.
Like any successful competitive team-based game, Turtle Rock has done a great job of balancing Evolve’s two visually uneven teams. Stacking a great monster player up against a team of hunters who know what they’re doing can produce epic pulse-pounding matches that come down to the wire where either side can take home the victory. Watching or being a part of these moments is exhilarating and gives hope to a bright future for professional competitive play — if there’s still anybody playing in a few more months.
But unlike other asymmetrical games, Evolve relies too heavily on each individual member of a team doing its part, and playing with random other people can become too frustrating. Sometimes just having bots on your team is more beneficial than real players who don’t know what they’re doing. If the monster player isn’t good enough to avoid the human hunters early on, then the game will end quickly with the hunters easily taking down the beast. If the hunter team has a single weak link who drops the ball and doesn’t perform his or her role in the moment, then all can easily be lost for the hunters as the monster quickly downs them one by one.
But a quick game isn’t the biggest of Evolve’s pacing problems and longer drawn out games become even more disappointing with little to do other than searching for the monster and collecting powerups along the way by killing other weaker wildlife. If a Trapper cannot effectively lead the team to the monster and contain it, then the hunters can end up aimlessly running around in circles never spotting the monster until it’s too late. Wasting 20 minutes accomplishing nothing because of the Trapper or having the monster annihilate your team because Support can’t keep a shield up on players taking the majority of the damage or dying because the Medic can’t heal or revive players creates a sense of apathy that gives little reason to want to keep returning to play with others again.
Unfortunately, this lack of enthusiasm to play another round only grows with each match played and the hollow experience begins to become more and more apparent over time. With no leveling system for the hunters to gain access to different abilities with upgraded damage during a match, the thrill of the hunt isn’t very thrilling at all. Even after spending a considerable amount of time unlocking all 12 of the unique hunters to experiment with different abilities, the gameplay quickly devolves into a gimmick that has little more than a wave of result screens and stats to keep players coming back for more… and the promise of additional hunters at $7.50 a pop in the near-future isn’t much to get excited about.
There is a “campaign” that tries to shake things up by introducing a couple more exciting Evacuation modes that allow the hunters to play more aggressively by destroying creature nests and rescuing survivors, but even these modes still fall victim to Evolve’s lack of substance on its beautiful but boring maps. Turtle Rock has touted thousands and thousands of different ways in which Evacuation can change up gameplay with different balancing mechanics and variables like orbital strikes, teleporters, and more… but these changes aren’t drastic enough, don’t fix the game’s core problems, and aren’t anywhere near as rewarding and exciting as the tense moments created by the A.I. director in Left 4 Dead .
Last year’s Titanfall caught a lot of flak for its lack of a coherent story that was poorly interwoven into gameplay… but it still featured different introductions related to objectives, narrative during gameplay, and chaotic epilogues set to epic music that made gameplay enjoyable. Evolve features none of that.
Instead, the unique hunters will mutter some interesting dialog between one another before and during matches, but after playing a few games you’ll begin hearing the same stories over and over again that do little to distract you from how boring running around can be. All you’ll get after a match are loading screens, followed by dull cutscenes that last only a few seconds with no dialog and no context, followed by more loading screens. The “ending” is only slightly different whether the hunters or monster win the final battle, and both versions will leave you wondering, “Wait… that’s it??”
The only thing lazier than the campaign’s cutscenes and conclusions are the microtransactions that don’t show players models of exactly what they’re purchasing or even try to justify their cost. There are pages and pages of new skins for monsters, hunters, and weapons that do nothing but slightly change colors and can range anywhere from $1.99 to $6.99 each. Two dollars just to change the color of one of my hunter’s weapons from black to blue? Have you no shame, 2K?!
Evolve is a great gimmick that the developers at Turtle Rock have built a solid and balanced asymmetrical experience around. Sadly, the lack of objectives during the 4 vs. 1 gameplay quickly wears thin when not playing with an experienced team, and the weak progression system and heavy amount of microtranactions are all that’s left to try and stretch the hollow experience into something worth investing more time in. Evolve could very well still become a great competitive game for those who stick around, but with how little it has to offer up front and how much more other popular free-to-play games already have, it’s hard to justify paying full price for such a limiting experience where the player base is likely to dissolve even more quickly than last year’s Titanfall. Evolve gets 3 out of 5 stars (Good).
- Visually superior to most games on the market
- Balanced asymmetrical multiplayer experience
- Short bursts of exhilarating combat
- Solid shooter mechanics with unique weapons
- Bad-ass monsters and charismatic hunters
- The hunt isn’t very thrilling
- Teamwork relies too heavily on each individual member
- Misuse of the season pass, microtransactions, and pre-order bonuses
- Lazy campaign with poor production values and a terrible “ending”