Evolve Review: The Shallow End of the Gene Pool

With Evolve, developer Turtlerock studios have promised something special, a reinvention of the traditional, competitive first person shooter into a asynchronous MOBA hybrid as four human hunters battle it out in unforgiving, wild environments against excessively large, ferocious, alien monsters. It wasn’t an especially hard sell, the prospect of intelligent, teamwork orientated gameplay between hunter and monster found immediate appeal and the visual spectacle of these encounters is immediately apparent even from the games early trailers. However, streamlining all these features into a compelling, competitive experience is perhaps more difficult than describing their intentions, and as such this review addresses exactly how successful Turtlerock have been in crafting their vision into an enjoyable video game. 

As you drop into your first Hunt, there’s a dramatic tension unfolding between you and your crew mates. All aware there’s something out there, lurking, becoming stronger, evolving and and preparing itself to feast on your flesh. Evolve creates engaging atmosphere that’s remarkably powerful within your first few drops into the wilderness. The games visual presentation does the experience many favours too, Shear (the planet these encounters take place on) is overgrown and often dark. There’s a persistent sense that the creature could be hiding around any corner, skulking in the shadows, waiting to pounce on hunters that leave the group. It’s an overall atmosphere that keeps you on your toes, and the experience interesting.

Hunting the the monster has a single single crucial objective; to kill it before it kills you. In order to succeed you must locate, trap and then defeat your foe and while there’s variation in the means you can go about this, this is the basic overview of each match. Finding the monster is always the initial priority, trapping is required to sustain damage on him, and eventually defeating him wins the match for the Hunters. In order to achieve these ends the Hunters have a wide variety of tools at their disposal which are distributed through four classes; trapper, medic, assault and support. For the most part these titles alone clearly denote the classes role, trapper must hunt and trap the monster in her energy field, medic heals the team, assault deals the bulk of the damage, serving as the tip of the spear, and support can place down supporting airstrikes or shields. These are the core roles but there’s also variation depending on which particular variant of a class you’re choosing to play as at one time. For instance one trapper has a pet dinosaur that locates the monster, while another trapper has sonar spikes that he needs to place around the map to detect movement. These classes and their corresponding abilities all add a good deal of variety to the gameplay and make team synergy a crucial factor in your success. In fact each individual role each plays an essential role in your teams ability to defeat the monster, and in a sense, herein spawns the beginning of Evolve’s problems.

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As for the monster the hunters are required to kill, the player selects one of three; Kraken, Wraith or Golliath. Each have their own set of ability’s but naturally as the hunters only face one monster at any one time there’s no additional depth stemming from team-interaction. The monsters role is respectively simpler, he must run and feed in order to become stronger, up until he feels ready to defeat the hunters or becomes trapped by them. If it sounds simple that’s because it is. While there are some additional nuances to the monster roll such as using your senses (x-ray vision) to survey the nearby environment, and selecting prey to feed upon, for the most part it’s merely a matter of feeding while avoiding the hunters and this strategy is generally disappointingly invariant from one match to the next.

The problem with this mechanic is that the monsters role is considerably less complex to that of the hunters. In order to be successful the hunters must employ a total of 12 abilities across 4 team members, with effective interaction of these abilities and classes required for the Hunters to succeed. In comparison, the monster is independent, with a respectively simpler role. The monster must feed and run, fighting is secondary to this for the majority of the match and when it does eventually occur, finds itself terribly forgiving. For comparisons sake, if the monster misses one of his powers it generally has little consequence, while if the trapper misses his trap it means the monster is very likely to escape, and results in the monster escalating in level, snowballing into a loss for the hunters.

Hunter classes are all dependent on one another and while fundamentally that makes sense, the monsters role could have been increased in complexity so as to cultivate similar learning curves across the two teams. Instead, the monsters outcome is defined by simplistic strategy from a unitary player while the hunters outcome is defined by respectively more complex strategy from a group of players. To use a metaphor, the hunters must function as a considerably more complex machine, and with more cogs comes increased opportunity for unexpected failure. If a cog falls from this machine then it grinds to a halt just as your team does if the medic or trapper die in Evolve. This can make your individual role feel meaningless, as your own proficiency ultimately doesn’t have much impact if it isn’t supported by your team. For instance you could be the absolute worlds best Assault, yet if your Trapper is dead and waiting on a two minute respawn, there’s next to nothing you can do until the trapper returns to guide you. While its natural for a team based game to be dependent on teamwork, that’s usually coupled by potential efficacy as an individual too. In traditional team based games, if a squad member dies you can all pull together to compensate that role, however the class roles in Evolve are each functionally circumscribed essential and enough that this isn’t possible. If you lose your trapper you lose the match.

In addition, stacked against the hunters are various environmental hurdles. Shear is a hostile planet to both monster and hunter, but the distinction here is that the monster is considerably less likely to be harmed by the planets wildlife. Once attacked a mere swipe of ones claws deals with the threat, while in comparison the hunters often require co-ordinated assistance to overcome some of Shears larger foes, and these instances subsequently require considerably more time than the monster requires for the same adversary. This then simply becomes another factor that combines to make Evolve feel unbalanced, favouring the monster. While potentially each team (monster and hunter) may have a balanced matchup, the differential learning curves of each side make these balanced matches very difficult to find.

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Evolve really only works as a enjoyable experience when you have a very capable, co-ordinated team of hunters against an equally capable monster, with the latter being considerably easier to orchestrate than the former. This then becomes a problem for two large portions of the game, public lobbies and AI. In public lobbies coordination is a scarcity, and the chances of your team naturally selecting classes that work well together – for instance the medics tracking dart works well with the supports rail gun – are unlikely to occur merely by chance, and orchestrating more complex strategies with online players such as choosing which smaller teams you should all split off into when searching for the monster is very unlikely to occur.

A theoretical merit to this design is that when a win is achieved by the hunters, it’s all the more rewarding due to the respectively more difficult task that they needed to accomplish. Unfortunately however, the disparity between the balance of each faction makes it unclear if one should feel rewarded at all. If a monster loses it’s typically because they were bad at playing the character. They fundamentally failed to execute appropriate strategies within an environment and gametype that places favour on them. Yet when the hunters lose, it’s merely because the monster has the upper hand from the outset. Neither of these outcomes when considered in their context have much potential to be rewarding, and from the monsters perspective it can quickly become boring to win because of how respectively easy these wins are achieved.

Despite aforementioned possibility to orchestrate a more enjoyable, balanced match with the correct group of players, even if you manage to find a good group of players to balance out the matches, the game offers perks that confound this experience. Perks drop from specific monsters in the environment, but finding these is the result of random generation. This then, is problematic as many of the perks skew the games balance. For instance the monster can obtain a health regeneration perk, which can immediately turn the tide on a failing monsters performance, eroding at the progress that the hunters may have made on his health bar over a near 10 minute period of time. This perk alone single handedly defeats the purpose of the long, gruelling battles against the monster, as it means unless killed in an individual encounter, he will merely regenerate his health, and the resulting match becomes frustrating and unbalanced. The fact that these perks are randomly distributed onto wildlife is another issue as this subsequently means that losses can be incurred merely as a result of a dice roll. This is counter-intuitive to the idea of team work and coordination prevailing, and undermines any potential the game had of creating a competitive atmosphere.

AI is another problem as they are fundamentally and functionally flawed. Simply put, the AI haven’t been effectively taught to understand and play the game. Turtlerock have circumvented the need to teach them by merely assigning them to follow the matches host player. Once following, they will shoot at enemies and use their powers as you would expect, but it’s not until you want to play medic, or attempt to use the support drone that this becomes a problem. Use an ability such as the support drone and this AI that naturally follow the matches host will merely sit still, next to the guy using the drone. This is a critical problem, making this ability and subsequent class fundamentally useless, the UAV is intended to spot the monster so your team may chase it, the latter a task that can’t be accomplished when the AI won’t move from your side. The monster AI is equally poor, often becoming stuck in a particular routine, and generally playing extraordinarily inefficiently. On more than one occasion we had opportunity to win by timeout only to realise the monsters AI had ‘broken’, forcing us to find and shoot it to kick-start it again. It’s disappointing that these issues made it into the games final build, especially when these multiplayer modes are all the game has to offer.

Most of this applies to the Hunt gametype however. The games additional modes, nest, rescue and defend at the very least offer some variation to the predictable outcomes of Hunt. Unfortunately, these modes each feel respectively less refined than hunt itself, and fundamentally offer a similar experience. Nest and Rescue require the hunters go out and complete various objectives before the monster completes there’s, the time runs out, or they kill the hunters, while Defend requires the hunters to defend various generators from an onslaught of the monster and his minions. The former two modes offer mere means of focusing the action, while the latter is perhaps the most interesting of the three requiring strategic decisions to attack to be made by the monsters. However despite potential, Defend sadly finds its gameplay repetitive and shallow as there’s little control of the defensive, or offensive strategy for either monster, or hunter. In addition, many of the hunter abilities aren’t ideally suited to modes outside hunt, with tracking abilities specifically better suited to locating or trapping the monster in the absence of a unified central objective. This then makes the Trapper class – who is orientated around these tracking abilities – feel respectively less useful than other team members in any mode aside Hunt, a problem then as one team member has to play this almost redundant role in every match.

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In addition to the gametypes Evolve makes an effort to extend lifespan with a series of unlockables for each class. Unfortunately however, this unlockable system is largely superfluous, predominantly serving as a cheap means of artificially extending the games potential lifespan. Rather than perks or additional weapons – substantial, tangible, meaningful content that the player could unlock by progressing through the game – after the initial 12 class unlocks the player will find themselves grinding for extensive periods of time merely to unlock an additional 10% damage, or another superficial addition to your proficiency. These unlocks don’t feel rewarding as most of which don’t present themselves in any evident way within gameplay and more of a problem, they make the game less accessible and balanced when playing with newer players.

A final criticism can be labelled onto the games controls. While the game features a pretty typical FPS controller layout, Evolve does not feel as responsive as it perhaps could be; with aiming feeling sluggish as if you’re incurring an albeit very brief delay between your inputs and what actually occurs on screen. This is an issue that affects the hunters and their performance much more so than the monster as their abilities and firearms require far greater precision. Upon closer inspection it’s evident that this issue only appears present on the console versions of the game, and has been observed by other users, but this merely adds to the reasons why Evolve isn’t quite the game it should have been, and stacks even more favour towards the games monster classes.

Good

  • Captivating and engaging atmosphere cultivated by appropriate visual and auditory presentation
  • Features an adequate number of maps and multiplayer modes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bad

  • Learning curves and complexity of hunter and monster roles are lopsided, leaving matches unbalanced
  • Wildlife perks confound the experience and leave room to spoil potentially enjoyable, balanced matches
  • Unlockables are arbitrary and cheap, merely serving to artificially pad the games lifespan while making it less accessible for newer players
  • Over dependence on team synergy can make matches frustrating, as your individual role can feel insignificant
  • Monsters and their gameplay lack depth, winning often comes easily but without tact or cunning, lacking a sense of reward
  • AI is fundamentally flawed; hunter AI is useless without direct guidance while the monster can becomes entirely stuck, or loop patterns of nonsensical behaviour
  • Controls on the console versions of the game lack appropriate responsivity
  • Lack of singleplayer mode leaves the flawed asynchronous multiplayer gameplay with no potential saving grace

Ultimately, when everything aligns just perfectly there’s potential for players to have a good time with Evolve, it’s unfortunate then that this is a incredibly rare scenario. Evolve categorically fails to achieve its intentions of creating an engaging, competitive, or balanced, asynchronous multiplayer experience, with most matches feeling lopsided. The respectively increased complexity required for hunter victories makes gameplay feel unbalanced, while your individual role is liable to feel insignificant and at times entirely meaningless. To make matters more dire are aspects such as perks and unlockables which find themselves as bafflingly counter-intuitive to positive competitive multiplayer design. Evolve fundamentally fails to execute its vision and alongside which seemingly misunderstanding crucial design principles that would have made a promising concept into an entertaining video game. As it stands, Evolve is a nice idea that’s failed by its execution, and without a dedicatedly singleplayer campaign the game has no potential saving grace.

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Author: Jozef Kulik

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