Turtle Rock Studios has earned a lot of goodwill over the years. Left 4 Dead was a revelation, nailing that feeling of essential co-op that went beyond the two players equals twice the fun routine. You and a couple of chums carving a path to the safe room amidst a tide of zombies, swelling and shrinking at the hands of the AI Director . Throw in some special zombies, a smoker here, a boomer there, all forcing players to adapt, to evolve their plans. Throw in the tank special zombie, and you have some of the most tense, fighting tooth and nail moments in gaming, wherein a lone tank on Expert difficulty can destroy an otherwise rock solid team. They should make a game out of that, right?
Evolve is the latest offering from Turtle Rock Studios, and it is aptly named. It is the latest in a line of games which have spun off from other successful games, each making a successful series of their own; Half Life begets Counter Strike begets Left 4 Dead begets Evolve. The first game in what could potentially be a series, Evolve certainly has a legacy to live up to. If only it hadn’t fumbled the ball.
Set on the planet Shear in the far future, Evolve kicks off with a cinematic that does a decent job of providing story context to what is essentially a multiplayer driven game. After humans have colonized the planet, it turns out Shear’s wildlife is not totally cool with this, namely the Monsters. A couple thousand dead colonists later, and the Hunters are brought in to get the rest of them off planet ASAP. The twelve hunters are well characterized, helping out with identifying who’s who in the heat of battle, although some are inevitably less interesting than others; it’s hard to get pumped to play the bland medic Val when your friend has nabbed tough as nails Markov.
Context set, let’s get to some hunting. Smartly, before you jump online, the game asks you to rank all the different roles in order of preference, and will find a match accordingly. This smooth feeling doesn’t carry through to the actual game however, playing as either Monster or Hunter. The initial stages of playing the Monster is great, the sense of being a lone wolf outnumbered, always on the move to live long enough to evolve. Shear is brimming with wildlife, all ready to be scarfed down for your evolution needs; eat enough and you can trigger an evolution, growing in size, health and ability.
Stealth is key; getting bogged down by Hunters early impedes your ability to grow, making it far easier for you to be killed. A Monster must be careful not to scare birds too often for example, as it gives the Hunters a good idea of where you are. The problem with this setup becomes all too apparent within a few games; a lot of the time, especially on the Hunt game mode, it’s in the Monster’s best interest to just run away, as there is little to gain from fighting until they’re fully powered up, which brings us to the Hunters. Prepare to wait. The player controlling the Monster will be doing their best to stay away until they’re fully powered. Hunters can kill wildlife to stop the Monster getting at it, sure, but then why would the Monster then stay in that area if there’s nothing to eat, exacerbating the original problem. This is Evolve’s biggest problem; pacing. Hunters chase and chase and chase, all for naught until the Monster has finished getting ready and emerges from the dressing room looking for a fight. It’s frustrating, and it’s boring.
It’s a shame. Some of the Hunters are packed to the gills with personality and interesting abilities, but it’s difficult to siphon much fun from them. When the Monster does get its attack on, things get messy, and not in a good way. It’s difficult to follow the flow of battle, especially for new players; following the status of team mates and the Monster, all whilst jetpacking around and doing your job as a maelstrom rages around you is too much. Evolve demands a MOBA team style set up, with friends on mics exchanging information and buffs, if you’re to have any fun or success.
In a vacuum, Evolve is a game that had a lot of potential but is let down by a serious pacing problem and overwhelming finales. In the real world, it is a fairly competent shooter saddled with an unsettling approach to DLC, bolting on the MOBA costume DLC model to an already full priced game. Evolve is a mutation in the wrong direction.