Evolve Review: Is This The New Left 4 Dead?
It’s a wonder that Evolve ever made it past the conceptual stages of development and into full production. Hunt – Evolve’s marquee game mode – is essentially, fundamentally broken. The concept itself is remarkably simple to wrap your head around; it gives you the opportunity to team up with three other players on a monster hunt, or the option to control the beast itself and cause chaos on the fictional planet of Shear. Hunt represents the promise of Evolve, whilst simultaneously demonstrating how a handful of befuddling design decisions fail to capitalise on its potential.
In a perfect world, the chase should be better than the catch. Evolve, by its very nature, was destined to be exciting and unpredictable. But the truth is, the rhythm of its signature Hunt mode is forever the same, and largely unsatisfying. You’ll struggle to break this rhythm, regardless of whether you’re embodying one of the 12 Hunters or 3 monsters on offer in the base game experience.
As a Hunter, it’s all about teamwork. Each of the four classes are required to buff and complement one another to appropriately track, locate and slay the monster. Assault players are the frontline damage dealers; Trackers find and lock down the target; Medics are responsible for keeping players alive; and Support deal out massive AOE damage while offering short-burst protection to team mates. That’s the idea, anyway. It becomes abundantly clear, very early on, that no matter how well you work together as a unit, more often than not, you’re going to find yourself lost in the woods with nothing to do for uncomfortably long periods of time.
Ah, and then there’s the monster. Despite their size and obvious tenacity, the first few minutes of every game as the monster are spent escaping and evading the pursuing Hunters in order to progress from the puny stage one evolution. Feeding on wildlife around the map will eventually allow you to evolve and grow more powerful, letting you dump skill points into a variety of game altering abilities. Until you reach Stage 3 – the game balance-destroying final state that lets the monster decimate the enemy players or rip apart a power relay for victory – all of your energy will be spent avoiding combat with the Hunters. They’ll be bored traipsing through environments, and you’ll be desperate to evolve as quickly as possible to get to the good stuff.
This is where one of Evolve’s primary problems exists. While the Hunters might occasionally receive environmental hints towards the monster’s location, you’ll always feel like you are one step behind, circling the drain of entertainment. You might occasionally stop to shoot wildlife concealing a group buff, or to let your short-use jetpack recharge, but then you’ll be back to the hunt. Back to walking in circles for five to ten minutes around a beautifully rendered, and well concealed, prison. It can become an immensely mundane exercise in monster hunting.
When you do eventually stumble onto the beast in all of its terrifying glory Evolve, suddenly, unexpectedly springs to life. The Hunters will have next to no time to contain the beast, the Assault and Support classes will need to move in to distract the monster while the Trapper locks down the Mobile Arena – a shimmering barrier that encases a small area inside an impenetrable bubble shield.
Start the clock. As the Mobile Arena traps you within shooting distance of the monster, Evolve becomes a frantic big boss battle: sixty seconds to kill or be killed, and it’s often breathtaking. From here, the Hunters will need to work together to whittle away the monster’s health bar. The appeal should be immediately apparent for the player controlling the monster. The action is quick and heart-pounding, especially when you’re eventually given the opportunity to hulk out, to go a little crazy and inflict maximum damage in a minimal amount of time. Whatever role you play in this battle, you feel immediately powerful and dominant in a way other multiplayer games rarely manage to replicate. Stop the clock.
Once those sixty seconds pass, the smoke settles and the mobile arena will release its hold on the serious good times. If both teams are still standing, the battle either drags on until its eventual conclusion or one side will look to escape; to recuperate and heal up. Then the mundane dance of attention span devastation begins all over again. This is Evolve’s inescapable rhythm. It isn’t uncommon for it to take between five and fifteen minutes before both groups even meet. The relentless walk around planet Shear’s lovely scenery isn’t fun for either parties, yet – for some inexplicable reason – makes up the majority of the game experience.
That said, there’s always a chance that the game will be over in a time shorter than Evolve’s lengthy load screens. Some rounds can see the Hunters stumble onto the monster by chance within seconds – before it has even had the opportunity to evolve. If that happens, it’s basically game over, man. You can try to run, to hide, but you’ll have an indecently difficult time trying to evolve in this state. The game modes and map design don’t allow for a happy medium between a round being dragged out until you’re bored senseless, or it being over before it begins. That’s a problem that can’t be addressed in patches, though it could be in future DLC. This issue stems largely from the lack of objectives for either side in Hunt. The game does offer a handful of subtle variations on the mode – tasking the monster with defending eggs in Nest or the Hunters with extracting survivors in Rescue – but they not only fail to solve the larger problems with Evolve’s core design, but fail to captivate in a way that the concept promises.
If you ignore the black hole of hype that has come to swallow Evolve over the last 12 months, it’s simply a game about four players fighting a monster. It’s a game built around the thrill of a great end-game boss battle. It’s pitching four iterations of David against a Goliath raised by Godzilla. Why Evolve seeks to keep this slice of gameplay heaven so mischievously out of reach for so much of the time you spend on planet Shear is a mystery.
There is fun to be had in small doses, then, but even the core combat feels hollow. The spectacle is there, but the battles lack impact. Mechanically, the gunplay is a marked improvement over Left 4 Dead – but is that really the metric we should be judging Evolve by? In reality, the shooting falls just above PayDay 2 in handling, but way behind the likes of Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Destiny and Titanfall when it comes to responsiveness, punch and feedback. The monsters, while easy enough to control, encounter similar issues as the Hunters. The Goliath often feels floaty and imprecise to control, not to mention ineffectual below its final evolution state. The Kraken and Wraith suffer from similar response issues – sometimes it’s difficult to know if you’re even hitting anything, not that it matters, both are so wildly over-powered that there’s little reason to even run or hide.
Evolve might – on the surface, at least – offer a variety of ways for each class to combat the monster, but the way it comes together //every time// is seemingly identical. It rarely surprises, and once the initial excitement of seeing and defeating the monster subsides, it clearly lacks the depth of design, gameplay hooks and gimmicks to keep you interested. Try as hard as Turtle Rock has, Evolve fails to offer the longevity and accessibility that the ever-popular Left 4 Dead seemed to achieve so effortlessly.
The monsters and hunters will no doubt be balanced in the coming weeks via patches. But that can’t fix the larger problems that plague Turtle Rock’s Xbox One debut title. Don’t come into Evolve expecting a straight-up monster shooter. Instead, come in expecting to spend a lot of time grinding through Hunt mode – and a handful of variations of it – to unlock the full array of Hunters, monsters and abilities. Expect to spend a //hell// of a long time orienteering a digital space. But don’t expect Evolve to change the face of multiplayer gaming in the next-generation, the basic structure simply isn’t strong enough to support it.
Played in the perfect environment – five players in the same room, with five consoles LANed together with red-hot banter flying every step of the way – and Evolve escapes a degree of its mystifying mediocrity. But with the fun only materialising in the fleeting moments of all-out action, Evolve fails to feel like anything more than proof of concept. Hints of what could have been were the appropriate game modes, systems and objectives put into place for a full enjoyable game experience.