Pitched as “a four-on-one experience”, unveiled in February 2014 and then released a year later, Evolve is an asymmetrical multiplayer game developed by Turtle Rock Studios (Left 4 Dead).
Four Hunters must work together to kill the fifth player (the Monster) before he or she can evolve, become stronger and kill the Hunters or meet other predefined, though less gruesome objectives.
Despite Evolve being officially unveiled through Game Informer in 2014, awareness of a new Turtle Rock title existed years beforehand (2011). I remember one or two high profile interviews and a series of rumours surrounding coming from THQ at the time.
In 2012 it was then unofficially confirmed (and the name revealed) as result of THQ filing for bankruptcy and having to sell the publishing rights.
It’s hard to say what effect any of this had on the finished game but I suspect the financial uncertainty and the changing of hands (to publisher 2K) must have played a part in informing what the finished product ended up being.
Prior to my hour with Evolve, I was aware of the development history and also aware of the backlash from critics and gamers alike regarding the game’s aggressive approach to DLC. It would be naïve for me to say that I went in unbiased but I did dive in to Evolve confident in the overarching concept and hopeful that I might find enjoyment within it.
Before engaging in any online play I was presented with a short minute and a half tutorial/introduction video for one of the monsters, the Goliath. This briefly explained the mechanics and abilities associated with this monster but then immediately after launched into a gameplay tutorial showcasing the same concepts in practice.
At this stage I ran into my first surprise with the game and that being that the monster sections are played in a third person view, a fact which I was unaware of because I hadn’t watched any gameplay videos.
Of the two tutorials, the gameplay tutorial is the strongest and very much warranted as there is a lot to take on board at first. At the time it baffled me why the video and the gameplay tutorial both existed, something I’d come to find out later.
Upon finishing the Goliath training section (which took a little over sixteen minutes) I was presented with a screen depicting XP progression (based on time completion) and then another screen letting me either repeat the tutorial (for a better time and more XP), engage in a Hunter tutorial (as the Assault class character Markov) or skip to the main menu.
I opted to learn about my first Hunter which launched immediately into another video predictably followed by a gameplay tutorial focussing on the first person traversal, combat and abilities – I would say that this tutorial is less essential, especially for pre-existing fans of the FPS genre, though seeing it through does brief the player on useful combat abilities (which vary between characters) and some story exposition. This tutorial took me just under eight minutes to complete.
So far clocking in at twenty-four minutes with Evolve, I felt that I had a good idea of what the game is from a presentation standpoint as well as a good feel for the mechanics. What I felt I was missing however was the context in which these things come together, therefore the offline option seemed the wrong way to get this experience, the choice was clear.
I chose to enter online play, a cutscene initiated to give context as to why the Hunters are pursuing the monsters which I found interesting to watch but couldn’t shake the feeling that it would have been better suited to a single player campaign, my initial reaction was that it stopped me from getting on and playing the game but then again I could probably have skipped through it and had I thought of that at the time, I would have.
By the time my first match began I had already spent thirty-six minutes with Evolve, across the remaining time I managed to fit in three matches, two as the only monster I had unlocked (the Goliath) and one as the starting Support Hunter, Hank.
Playing the Goliath I found myself locked in an uninteresting gameplay loop in order to survive, I would leap away at the start of the match, find a nice secluded spot to hide, scout how close the Hunters are and if there is an opportunity to snack on some wildlife take it.
Once certain that the threat is minimal I would skulking about the environment, conservatively finding food and then move on through the level, a process which would prove mostly uneventful bar a couple of brief run-ins with the Hunter posse that where I would throw a rock or two at them and then run away to find my next meal and then eventually, evolve.
Once strong enough I would lure the other players by attacking a structure on the map they are supposed to defend and then launch my assault on them when they arrive. This tactic had a 50/50 success rate.
Playing as Hank I was treated to one of the introduction videos (this time without a gameplay tutorial) and it made perfect sense, it was my first time playing the character and I needed to be briefed on his particular skillset. Definitely not redundant.
Disappointingly my first match as a Hunter was over in minutes, the group were quickly overpowered thanks to the Wraith monster’s devastating abduction powers which enabled the beast to grab me and then pummel me (and later my comrades) to death.
As I read back on my hour long experience with Evolve, I feel as though describing the moment-to-moment gameplay of the monster comes across as more interesting than the act of actually playing it.
The truth is that the whole time I felt as though I wanted to be doing something else, the systems were a chore, they were unenjoyable and other monsters being gated by the XP unlock mechanic means that I would have to further grind through matches to get to content more interesting to me.
I didn’t get enough time with the Hunters to fully form an opinion but what I do believe is that playing as the four will only be fun in a party that communicates and understands each other’s role in combat.
Evolve will surely find its community and that there will be those who evangelise the experience it offers but disappointingly – and based only on my single hour with it – I haven’t found myself itching to return to the surface of planet Shear.