Evolve is here, but is it an evolution for multiplayer?
The game is about a team of four Hunters who drop onto the planet of Shear after some witty space marine banter and head out to save some colonists. Only they’re not alone, somewhere nearby a monster lurks, biding its time…
The game in its simplest form unspools in the Hunt mode – the four human characters head out to catch and kill the beast. The monstrous one gets a head start and can evolve into more powerful forms if it eats local wildlife. Get to level three and they can turn the tables and destroy a local base, winning the round.
Players can take on the role of either Hunters or hunted in an asymmetrical multiplayer experience, one that owes more than a little to the developers previous title Left 4 Dead. Get dead as a Hunter and you might just get the chance to spawn as the monster next time.
Evolve is a game with a very simple concept but one with many more complexities than I was honestly expecting. The massive difference between the core gameplay as man or beast would have been enough for some developers but Turtle Rock Studios have taken each element and given it an extra bit of spice.
Take the human player classes: Trapper helps keep the monster contained while Assault beats the crap out of it. Medics heal their team and Support gives his team mates a stat boost. But as you progress, you’ll unlock more characters who belong to these classes but have their own specific weapons, abilities and personality quirks.
There’s a huge amount of depth present in that aspect of the game and it’s something which you really have to consider as you’re choosing your teammates. Naturally, you’ll also find certain players are drawn to specific characters. As an inveterate support player (and a bit of a fraidy cat) I like Val’s combination of healing gun and sniping skills. Plus, she’s a bit of a badass.
Sticking with the characters for a moment, I was also surprised by how much work has gone into the single player portion of the game. The storyline if entertaining enough (if deeply familiar) and the characters all well written and performed, even if its all just an excuse to get you murdering monsters.
On the more beastly side of the equation, things are certainly different. You live and die alone as a monster in Evolve, running for cover during the opening minute of a Hunt match as you search for food until you can go all Gizmo and enter your new form. You’ll get to punch and smash and devour and shock and mostly pulverise your prey once you do get a little more powerful – or you could just hang around at the start and see how you fare against weapons at level one. Sometimes it even works.
The solitary game can be quite jarring after several rounds with a team and honestly the idea of playing as the monster is often more interesting than the reality. Right now as people are still getting the teeth into the game, the monster still wins at least two thirds of the time with a decent amount of bashing. Some tactical thinking is required to survive as the beast but I never felt like the towering freak the game wanted to present me as.
Evolve’s Hunt matches are generally very short affairs, rarely lasting longer than 10 minutes, and they can also be quite frustrating. The roles of the various player types are so specific and meticulously designed that it’s easy to founder if you’re unfamiliar with the rhythms of the game. And if you’re not pulling your weight as Assault, things get dicey very quickly. If you’re out of your depth, your team soon will be too.
I’d strongly recommend the single player aspect as a training ground to begin with but the only real way to learn is to jump into matches, preferably with a group of people you know who will actually use their microphones. Communication is key as the Hunters. Without it you’re going to be a stain in an attractive rainforest.
Built on CryEngine 3, Evolve is also a very attractive game. The character models are detailed and stylised, without the chunkiness characteristic of Unreal engine titles and the environments are lush and varied. I’ve rarely seen a game which looks as organic as Evolve, and that also holds true for the towering monsters in game.
If you ever do tire of the marquee Hunt mode, there are a few other options. Defend makes you try to stop the invasion of three bases, in Rescue you must save human survivors before the monster stomps on them and Nest is a frantic race to destroy eggs while the Monster defends.
Then there’s Evacuation which is the most involved of the multiplayer modes and sees you playing out a mini-narrative across five maps. The state of play changes depending on your success or failure in each stage, generally making for frantic finale play.
Evolve is one of the most carefully balanced and designed games I’ve played in years, a testament to the work Turtle Rock has done in taking these diverse characters and throwing them into an extra-terrestrial meat grinder. As with many multiplayer games, the best moments require time and effort to achieve – putting together a decent team and massaging their skills into one or two preferred characters.
For some players, this learning and feeling-out process will be too time-consuming but for those who persevere there are some real co-op riches to be found within. And just as many moments where everything turns into an instant shitstorm. But that’s the insanity of playing against actual humans, especially monstrous ones.
[this game was reviewed on Xbox One]