I was honestly very excited for a chance to try out Turtle Rock Studios’ Evolve, mostly because I’m a huge fan of their previous offering Left 4 Dead, a game that I poured hundreds of hours into and occasionally dabble in from time to time. The idea of replacing the A.I. director who flung zombies at people for a player who takes control of a grotesque, hulking, dangerous alien behemoth really intrigued me, but I really couldn’t see how it would work without getting some hands-on time with it. Now that I’ve finally tried the Beta on both the PS4 and Xbox One, I can see that the game has potential for some good times, but for how long, I don’t really know. I’m not thoroughly convinced yet.
The problem doesn’t lie with the gameplay, which is solid and works well. The tutorial does a great job at teaching players the ropes, which include stepping into the shoes (or should I say, claws?) of the Goliath, learning how to move around and sneak about stealthily, use its varied and devastating attacks, and eventually evolve into a higher form by eating the local fauna or other players. It all controls very nicely, as getting around the lush, alien jungle is simple and straightforward, and attacking enemies is a matter of combining a standard melee claw attack with recharging special abilities, like tossing large rocks or breathing fire.
The same applies to the four hunter classes, which control similarly but are distinct when it comes down to their special abilities. The Assault class is the tank, who can absorb large amounts of damage with a shield or use mines. The Support can cloak all allies in invisibility and call down powerful air strikes. The Trapper, who has a pet alien wolf/dog, can use special stakes to slow down the Goliath or summon a closed off arena to trap anything inside. The Medic, as expected, keeps the team alive by healing them when health is low. Although the Hunters are slower than the creature they are hunting, they possess jetpacks that let them zip through the stage in order to gain ground or climb large formations, as well as the ability to track the creature by following its footprints (hence the need for the monster to sneak). Shooting the variety of weapons controls like a dream, and although moving about the large, often multi-leveled stages is tricky at first, it quickly becomes second nature.
The problem really lies with balance and how it really plays. On paper, it all works: The Goliath and the other large monsters all have a variety of skills that technically could destroy hunters. The hunters could technically kill a monster if they work together. But when I played, it all felt a bit lopsided, mostly in the Hunters favor.
My reasoning is this: in order to survive as a Monster, you really have to be good at playing as one. Right from the start, all odds are stacked against you. The idea of playing as a powerful beast is immediately nulled when you have to carefully sneak about in order to feed on small fauna, or else risk alerting the hunters by leaving footprints or startling birds that announce your position in the map. Running headfirst into hunters right from the start will only lead to a very quick and embarrassing death (unless they’re very terrible at FPS games), so most of your time is spent playing a game of hide and sneak, sneaking in bits of food here and there while running for your life every couple of seconds, which is not very fun, especially since you’re supposed to be this terrifying creature capable of dealing very painful deaths. Only when you reach level three will you be able to deal the most damage and fight off the hunters, but until then it’s all about hiding around, holding your breath and hoping that those pesky hunters don’t see you trying to grow up.
The hunters have an easier time, as they are the aggressors and control the tempo of the fight from the beginning of the match. They don’t need to eat to evolve or raise their shields, since they’re set right from the start (though they can upgrade weapons by using them often). Unlike the terrified, child monster, their shields recharge and their health can be replenished. And if they do die in combat, as long as one of them survives for two minutes, the fallen team member will be revived, unlike the monster, who only has one life. I’m not saying that the Hunters are immortal and overpowered, as they can be killed if the monster does a good job and manages to separate them and pick them off one by one or they suck as a team, but they do have an advantage over the Monster, because they complement each other so well, while the monster has no one to watch its back and is vulnerable while it tries to evolve.
What this will lead to is casual players avoiding playing as the monster, as it’s difficult to win as unless you know what you’re doing. Most will play as one of the four hunters, and some will be unlucky enough to be forced into the monster roles, forcing them to run in terror, try to eat in peace, and get mauled by overtly aggressive hunters wanting to get the terribly lopsided match done as quickly as possible and earn some experience points. Only good monster players will make these matches challenging and action-packed.
In all honesty I had a lot of fun with the game, even though most of the matches I played were won by the hunters and I’m not really impressed by it. I can’t say how well the game will turn out due to the beta being limited with only two playable monster classes, one game mode (Hunt) and no offline mode, but right now I’m not really pleased with it. The additional game modes and other monsters will surely breathe new life into it and perhaps change my mind, and maybe everyone just needs a little more practice when it comes to playing monsters, but only time will tell if Evolve is actually a good multiplayer game or not. Here’s to hoping it is.