EVOLVE – REVIEW
Xbox One, PS4, PC
Turtle Rock studios have hit the ground running ever since the release of their Left 4 Dead series. And Australian controversy aside, they were hugely successful both critically, commercially with gamers for their frenetic co-op action and creative use of multiplayer. With the announcement of Evolve, Turtle Rock have now pushed this gameplay design to new heights by introducing a deeply satisfying multiplayer hunt or be hunted gameplay mechanic.
Evolve’s action centres on the slimmest of plots by tasking a team of four human hunters to track down and kill an alien monster on an alien planet (Shear). This is introduced to the gamer by a cool menu cut-scene and some minor character banter before each mission, but little else.
Evolve’s gameplay is slick, hectic and very, very clever. If tasked as one of the four hunters, players must track down the monster and kill it. Each team comprises one of four hunter classes: assault, trapper, medic and support. Each class has a different purpose and special abilities to master. The assault class has the most powerful guns and can throw mines, whereas the medic heals characters or snipes a target onto the monster, making it more vulnerable to damage. The support character can provide temporary invulnerability or invisibility, whereas the trapper must trap the monster within an energy dome in order to kill it. Each power is highly useful on its own, but works best as part of a tight team of players. The monster is no easy foe so it’s important that players know their hunter role well. It will take players several matches as each before they work the differences out (I decided to stick to the assault and support roles. The trapper feels the pressure the most and the medic, well I was pretty much crap at that.)
The monster is a whole different beast (groan – Ed). So far there are three on offer the Godzilla like melee-beast ‘Goliath’, the ultra-scary flying Cthulu-like monstrosity ‘Kraken’ and the H.R. Gigerish stealth-attacking ‘Wraith’. These beasts can fight and move quickly with unique abilities and attacks to for gamers to get their head around. As the beast players must eat wildlife in order to level up their armour and abilities to then either kill the hunters or destroy the power relay and end the game session. Each of the three levels offers better armour and upgrades as the beast literally evolves.
Game modes include the core mode of ‘hunt’, where the hunters must kill the monster or as monster can kill the hunters of level up and take out the power relay. ‘Nest’ involves destroying or protecting monster eggs within a set time limit. ‘Rescue’ demands saving colonists before the monster kills them and ‘Defend’, my favourite, has you defend a couple of power generators from a level three monster and its helpers. Whether monster or hunter, the movement is fast and fluid. Monsters can jump and climb quickly, or use stealth for general sneakiness. Hunters have jetpacks to quickly traverse the terrain, to dodge and to gain a quick speed boost. The hunter team also comprises a “dog” to help track the beast, and the occasional alarmed flock of birds or glowing footprints to also show the way. Each game session is peppered between the quiet determined chase, and splashes of over the top violence as the dome trap comes down.
Evolve on Xbox One looks great. Each level is a beautifully rendered jungle alive with hostile flora and fauna. The various maps offer escarpments and buildings to jetpack around or climb over. When hunting the monster, these twists and turns create a heady sense of anticipation, wondering whether a beast will be stalking the open ground or hiding behind a tight bottle-neck. Rivers are especially dangerous to the hunters as they are home to deadly wildlife and slow the party down (hell, I even got eaten by a plant). Killing wildlife on both sides gives perks and buffs. As the monster gamers will need to eat to level up. As hunters tactical players may wish to deprive the monster of potential meals.
Pllaying this game is simply fun. It mixture of harried hunting and explosive encounters makes each game session feel different and rewarding. Playing great sessions and terrible sessions all teach players something and do a great job of helping people improve. Very good AI Bots are used if a game can’t be found (there is nothing wrong with the off-line solo mode at all), but human players in monster form are a special beast indeed.
The biggest gripe, (and only gripe really), is that a narrative campaign is non existent. The more the game is played, the more players will want context as to why they are performing these acts. The monsters are awesome beasties, but like the human hunters, they just are with no rhyme or reason as to their actual existence. Due to the one mission starting cut-scene being repeated ad nauseam at the beginning of each match (the banter does change slightly) it is easy resent it. This is a missed opportunity for such a richly designed game to not even contain much lore. It is easy to compare my multiplayer experience to other games such as Gears of War 3, which had excellent multiplayer and the outstanding horde mode too, but had the backbone of the campaign to give single player sessions some much needed drama.
Make no mistake, Evolve is an excellent shooter, an outstanding one in fact. It’s tactical and intense and lets you grind to your heart’s content, but without a plot or context it does feels like empty (though delicious) calories.
Peter began gaming with a Commodore 64 then moved to PC when VGA was all the rage. He still likes inverted controls when playing consoles to the frustration of everyone else. Peter has previously written and podcasted about games for Blackpanel.com.au.