It’s way, way too easy to make “evolve” puns when thinking about this game. To be honest, I wasn’t sold on the gameplay when I first started as a Level 1 player, jumping headlong into multiplayer because that’s what I’d heard all the hype about, I felt a little…underwhelmed. Matches seemed to take either way too long or not long enough, combat felt disorganized, almost haphazard.
It wasn’t until I spent some time in solo play learning the mechanics of the game that things started making sense. And, lo and behold, once I’d gained a few player levels and started matchmaking with other experienced players in some truly terrifying multiplayer Turtle Rock Studios’ Evolve felt like it had finally “evolved” itself into an entirely different game.
Evolve, known iconically by its 4 symbols v. 1 symbol branding, is a game all about the hunt. Four players, each with drastically different abilities, band together to hunt down a monster, a beast which hunts its own prey and evolves into more powerful forms until its ready to hunt down the humans. Like a souped-up version of hide-and-seek, combat in Evolve has an ebb and flow as the humans try to find their quarry on an oversized map. Each human player serves a different role: the trapper follows the monster, then traps it in a field to allow for easier attack; the assault lays on heavy damage to all foes; the support calls in orbital attack strikes and provides invulnerability to teammates; the medic heals allies and creates weak points for bonus damage on the monster. Each player’s skillset is critical to team survival; losing just one member of the team can drastically tilt the balance of power in the monster’s favor. The monster, with armor, sheer speed, physical strength, and a host of different powers to utilize, makes quick work of any human found in isolation; it’s only by working together that the humans conquer the beast.
If that description sounds intense, then it matches the tone of the gameplay. Though the title borrows a lot of its energy from Valve’s four-player co-op shooter Left 4 Dead, the ability to play as the hunted monster adds another level of depth to the game. As the monster, you’ll start most matches at Stage 1, hunting wild animals to devour so you can “Stage Up,” evolving into a more powerful version of yourself. Each of the players in Left 4 Dead were virtually identical, but Evolve goes the entirely asymmetrical route, giving each player a drastically different experience in each match. While roaming through the rivers, forests, deserts, and various terrain of each map, there’s a feeling of danger at every turn whether it’s from your opponents, or the various wild animals that attack monster and hunter alike. The game presents each team new challenges across its multiple modes, meant to add objectives to each environment.
Each of the game’s four main modes create a slight variation on Evolve’s basic formula to keep the play exciting. The basic mode, Hunt, sends the hunters on a mission to protect a power generator for a set amount of time while the monster roams around the map searching for prey. Once the monster reaches Stage 3, it can attempt to destroy the generator for the win. If either the monster or all four hunters are eliminated at any time during the match, it ends and the other team wins. In Nest mode the Hunters become the aggressors, scouring the map for monster eggs to destroy. In the meantime, the Monster tracks the Hunters and protects its eggs, with the option of hatching them to create minions. Rescue mode pits the Monster against the Hunters in a race to reach survivors and either kill or save them. The fourth mode, Defense, sends a Stage 3 monster and multiple minions up against the team of Hunters in a battle to destroy a human base. Though these modes can be played one at a time, they’re best experienced in Evacuation, Evolve’s composite mode which provides various objectives and bonuses to either side over a five-match set.
Evacuation is the highlight of Evolve’s gameplay. It was hard to get excited about Evolve when playing Quick Play mode with other human players. Fellow Popzara writer Cory Galliher and I used that as our benchmark in our preview, and when playing against other inexperienced players the game lacks energy; some matches would take minutes to load, then end in just a brief couple minutes more after either the monster wiped out an uninformed team, or the team barreled down on an uninformed monster, leading to another couple minutes’ worth of loading screens. Evacuation fixes these issues though; playing a set of 5 matches means that even if one ends quickly, there are other battles to be fought. Evolve also takes some cues from Max Payne 3’s multiplayer: each match has a small story, and the winner gets a bonus to carry into the next match, like additional wild monsters to plague the Hunters, or auto-turrets to attack the Monster. The fifth match is always a Defense map, creating an action-packed finale to the series. Evacuation is the place where Evolve shines the most, and generally only takes around a half-hour to clear.
On the heels of our preview, it’s worth noting that Evolve addresses some of our concerns, while others are still looming issues. For those who are eager to smacktalk their friends while playing as a monster against Hunter buddies, Evolve offers custom match creation and settings so you can talk with the Monster as Hunters and vice-versa, or you can have two people in the same party play on separate teams. Still, Evolve’s unlocking system is ridiculously siloed: you can only unlock content for whatever role you’ve played in the match. If you only play as a Trapper, you’ll never unlock additional characters for any other classes, including the monster. This is probably meant to encourage players to experiment with other classes, but instead it just made me want to continue playing my one favorite class (the Trapper) since it was the only one I had unlocked content with. And let’s not forget about all the DLC: skin packs exclusive to each class’s weaponry, as well as the Monsters and Hunters only available with additional purchase.
My biggest issue with Evolve is that I can’t help but want more of it, and the walls to do so are pretty thick. The 12 Hunters and 3 Monsters included with the base version of the game only unlock with a pretty significant amount of play, and it forces you to play matches with roles you may either dislike or just be downright bad at, even though there are global profile levels, experience, and perks that you get through gameplay in any role. A fourth monster, Behemoth, was available with a pre-order, and can be purchased for $14.99 in the Monster Expansion Pack. The Season Pass, at $24.99, offers additional hunters and skins, and then there was the option for the PC Monster Race version of the game, offering a fifth, PC-exclusive Monster. Gimmicks like these are what give DLC a bad reputation; I’d have hoped that a publisher like 2K, especially after their success with Gearbox Studios’ Borderlands franchise, could have steered Turtle Rock to a monetization system that would feel better to the consumer.
Evolve is a tight thriller of a first-person shooter, integrating multiple gaming influences to make an exciting, scary monster hunting (or human hunting) experience. My recommendation: when starting with Evolve, spend some time playing with each of the classes in Solo Mode before getting online; you’ll level your profile up while gaining the necessary experience to make the game enjoyable. It’s a shame that Turtle Rock put up such intense barriers for players to experience everything it has to offer, because there’s tons to enjoy from all the variety that comes from playing with different characters and monsters. Out of the box, Evolve is still a great time; I just hope that “evolutions” of the franchise respect the player’s time and wallet a little more.