Evolve Review – On the Hunt (PS4)
Evolve has been a long time coming. Back in 2011, when THQ was still in business, the game first came into existence. Then THQ went under. As with any bankruptcy, the sale of one company’s assets to another can always leave long-term effects. While Evolve didn’t face any sort of development hell like, say, Duke Nukem Forever, people can’t be blamed for hesitatingly picking Evolve up, especially in light of the game’s controversial DLC plans. We’re here to alleviate those fears, as this monster is one you might actually like.
We Own These Planets
Evolve takes place in the far future, when humankind conquers and terraforms new planets like Samsung releases new phones. One of the most lucrative planets, Shear, has come under attack by an unknown and fearsome enemy. A group of ragtag Hunters have been commissioned by former “planet tamer” William Cabot to get the situation under control. With an array of weapons, gadgets and sarcasm at their disposal, the Hunters have to prove themselves constantly against an untamed wilderness that may kill them before they even get their first glimpse of the monster.
As far as the story goes, that’s about all there is to Evolve. Different characters have different personalities, but there’s mostly jokes about poor-tasting meats and hungry pets. Coming from the team that brought us Left 4 Dead, I was expecting a bit more exposition than what is on display here. Expect to hear the same banter between characters several times during any length of time. Honestly, with how long the game has been in development, you’d think there’d be a lot more voiceover work.
Don’t Run, Jetpack
A first-person shooter is only as good as its controls. Evolve takes some getting used to. For starters, there is no sprint button. Your only option is to use the jetpack with a quick double-tap of the X button to boost away. You can only perform this move with enough fuel in your jetpack tank, of course. I don’t know about you, but if I had to get away from a huge monster, I’d be sprinting while my jetpack recharged, not jogging. Considering that the L3 button doesn’t actually do anything, the lack of a sprint button is confusing. Your weapons and gadgets are also mapped all over the controller. Generally, your main weapon is set to Triangle, which I don’t think anyone will like. Why not use L1 to bring up a familiar radial menu, thus freeing up the Triangle button for something more useful? Aiming is fairly consistent across the board, though all weapons feel equally heavy despite some being nothing more than a souped-up harpoon launcher or portable medkit.
Evolve has four main game modes: Hunt, Defend, Nest, and Rescue. You can play single matches of any of these modes, and one match immediately leads into another at completion unless you quit back to the main menu. Hunt, the game’s main attraction, features up to four players in a squad taking on a player-controlled Monster (there is also co-op, which sees the AI controlling the Monster). If the Monster player can evolve their character to Level 3 by feeding on the local wildlife and the occasional downed Hunter, the other Hunters will be in for a hell of a fight. Otherwise, you’ll generally see the Hunters win a majority of these matches, judging from my experience. Defend and Nest are opposing versions of each other. In Defend, the Hunters protect something of value, like a power generator, and try to prevent the Monsters from wreaking havoc. Nest tasks the Monster with defending a handful of eggs from the Hunters. In a slight twist, the Monster can crack open an egg to spawn a minion, at the cost of giving the Hunter team a point towards victory. This aspect of the match makes no sense — if the eggs are ready to spawn minions, why not crack them all open? Finally, Rescue pits the Hunters trying to save wounded people against the Monster trying to eat them all up. In layman’s terms: Hunt is Team Deathmatch, Defend and Nest are defense missions, and Rescue is an escort mission. These game modes, taken at face value, don’t feel particularly inspired.
Evacuate All Hope
However, tying it all together is the Evacuation game mode. This is Evolve‘s mini-campaign, which spans five days across five matches. Depending on the outcome of each match, the environment will change. If, say, on day two the Monster succeeds in destroying the Hunters’ power generator in a Defend match, then on day three the environment will contain toxic clouds of gas which can and will hurt the Hunters. On the flipside, if then on day three the Hunters are able to defend their refueling dropship, then it will assist in spotting the location of the Monster on day four. Since there are only four game modes to pick from, expect to play one of them at least twice through the five missions that encompass the Evacuation mode. The semi-reactive environment is a welcome addition of variety, because if the maps were static Evolve would get boring pretty quickly. In my playthrough, I also experienced several endgame glitches, one of which crashed the game out to the PS4’s main menu. Nothing is more frustrating than playing an hour-long session only to be rewarded with a crash and wondering if your last hour of playing was wasted in terms of character progression.
I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone who’s been following the game, but Evolve is a multiplayer gamer’s game. You can technically go it alone, and there is even offline single player. But the meat of Evolve takes place online. I believe that at this point, anyone purchasing Evolve will already know this. Playing in a group of friends, each sporting a headset of some kind, will increase your odds of winning matches ten-fold. You can plan ahead of time so much better than a disparate group of strangers struggling to take down the Monster. But if you get into a random group of people without headsets, or who don’t stay in a group, you’re gonna be screwed. Any slightly competent Monster player will absolutely devastate the Hunters. On the other hand, an inexperienced Monster player will find themselves frustrated against a coordinated team. There’s some balancing issues in the Hunt mode, though the Evacuation mode does try to alleviate things between matches, yet it doesn’t explain how.
DLC is the Real Beast
As for the DLC that has been making the rounds as of late…Yes, it is here in spades. Yes, to purchase all of it would cost more than the game itself. Yes, it’s easy to imagine that a lot of it was ready before the game went gold. If it’s any consolation, any new maps that release in the future will be free for everybody. Most players will probably take a free map over some fancy new colors any day. How many new maps will be created remains to be seen. What’s more, if you are placed into a match where premium characters are, if someone quits out and an AI bot takes over their character, you (and other players) can take over the premium character, free of charge. Turtle Rock Studios might be using this DLC scheme as a way to coup what has undoubtedly been a much higher development cost than initially expected. But there is no getting around the fact that some gamers have taken offense to this version of DLC, and with good reason. You can unlock three new characters per Hunter class, and two new Monsters as you play. But each new character is typically such an improvement on the ones before them, that you have little incentive to play as the older characters. The Wraith Monster in particular is so incredibly powerful that it’s hard to imagine anything stronger, or playing in any other form once it is unlocked.
We’re still in the early days of Evolve. There are still free characters, weapons and abilities to unlock for most of us. While the lack of a real story mode may upset some, most people who purchase this game are doing so for the multiplayer, plain and simple. On that front, Evolve impresses when things go as planned. Get a group together, work as a cohesive unit, and have fun blasting those ugly aliens to hell and back. Or play as a Monster, alone but oh so badass. Evolve has a hint of greatness, but a lack of content at launch and a jarring amount of premium launch and planned DLC hold it back. What we have here is an evolution of the Left 4 Dead formula, not a revolution.
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