2K announced that Evolve's Big Alpha has been extended through Thursday this week after the delayed launch on PS4. We've been jumping in the game a fair bit over the past few days, and aside from a slew of technical issues (it's an alpha, we rather expect that), there are a number of concerns and question marks that we still feel are hovering over Turtle Rock's asymmetrical shooter.
I just don't get it.
To be clear, I understand the concept well enough. Four hunters working together, using their enhanced mobility, unique class skills and an awesome pet Skag (good girl, Daisy!) to take down a single powerful player-controlled monster. Cool. This would have been a seriously neat idea for a cut-price PC download à la Natural Selection 2, but even after interviewing Denby Grace and playing multiple builds over the last few months, I still don't get exactly how Evolve can ask for £44.99 on PS4 and Xbox One with a straight face.
Most matches tend to follow a familiar template. If playing as the Hunters: follow Daisy around for 15 minutes, run in circles and kill a Reaver or twenty while waiting for the Monster to get to Level 3. Then get eaten and repeat in a set of geometrically and visually similar maps. Indigenous wildlife adds some welcome Left 4 Dead-esque flavour, but all too often matches just get boring and repetitive rather than tense. And that's all there is. That's your lot, unless the Monster player is inexperienced, in which case you quickly track down and kill them with no fun or sport whatsoever. I admit that I'm grossly oversimplifying things, but that really is the size of it.
Playing as the monster is certainly cathartic fun for a while, but it's also lonely, lacking the ability to taunt and chat with your opponents or indeed anyone for the duration. At least the insanely overpowered Kraken guarantees you a short session. Much the same happens on a number of asymmetrical Wii U GamePad titles; sure, you get extra functionality and cool features, but everyone else is having fun on the same team, together, while you're marginalised and effectively playing a multiplayer game by yourself.
Seriously, though, 2K wants £44.99. I don't understand how we got this far, and how a great idea for a niche download (with content to match, including a pre-order DLC monster!) has evolved into a heavily delayed AAA title with a full retail price. Evolve may be very pretty, slick and well-optimised, as well it should be since it was originally slated to release last month, but I can't see it having the legs to make much of an impact either as a go-to multiplayer game or eSport. Here's hoping that I just don't get it.
Evolve can be a lot of fun. Get a bunch of friends online, party up, actually succeed in getting into a game (and having it go the distance) and there's something joyous about banding together to hunt down a gigantic monster. The trouble is that those games seem few and far between. There's just too much organisation required on the part of the player to really make Evolve feel unmissable, and I see that being a problem on consoles.
I can't help but feel that part of the issue is that we've only seen the Hunt part of Evolve. Apparently, the game's vocal defenders tell me, there will be more. But we haven't seen any of it yet. All we have to go on currently is a game where four goons run around in circles, the Monster grows to level 3, and then a violent massacre occurs somewhere in the vicinity of the level's power generators.
A caveat... I love the classes -- they've been balanced out so well, and in wonderfully complimentary fashion. I also really like the fact that the classes are more than one-dimensional, that things like shielding and healing require aiming in the heat of battle when there's a slavering leviathan trying to rip your head off. I like that the weapons the game hands you can feel meaty and impactful against indigenous wildlife, but quickly lose that when confronted by a Goliath, only for some well-aimed fire on the Monster's weak spots to give you that rush of empowerment again.
Evolve is a game that doesn't suffer fools lightly, though, and I have to wonder how the hell 2K are going to balance things out. If there's one weak link on a human team, if you're up against a Monster player with any basic level of competency, you're done for. Contrary to Jon, I can actually see the game working as an eSport, but I rather fear that when it comes to general retail, the game will only be borne as far as 2K's marketing machine will take it.
As such, I rather see the Evolve Big Alpha as a risky venture. Frankly, right now, I don't see anything in Evolve that's going to make me want to come back, certainly not for forty/fifty quid. Twelve Hunters, three monsters, and over a dozen maps at launch, but only one game mode revealed? Where's the rest of it? Convenience is king on consoles, and I just don't see Evolve as the sort of pick-up-and-play shooter that rules the roost on consoles. If it's looking to provide something deeper, well, we haven't seen that yet either.
Having spent time with the Alpha, I just can’t get excited for Evolve. At all. Sure, I was awful at it, and yes, it ended with the monster beating my body into a pulp every time, but based on what was available in the Alpha I couldn’t see a reason to keep playing it over and over. It’s missing a fun factor that fuels the aim of improving my skills or even just being a part of the fun, like I would do when playing something like Titanfall, Call of Duty, or even PlanetSide 2. Considering this is the first major advertising push for Evolve (and make no mistake, that’s exactly what this Alpha is) it hasn’t shown me why I should buy it full price.
At least it looks pretty. You know, in a dark, there's-danger-lurking-everywhere kind of way.
While I liked the variation between the hunters in terms of abilities, and thought Daisy was pretty much the best thing ever, having gameplay that turns into a scene resembling a Benny Hill or Scooby Doo chase scene is not what I would consider fun. You could argue that learning the map layouts would allow a team of good hunters to make an educated guess of where the monster his headed, but therein lies the problem – newcomers will be punished with no mercy, regardless of their role.
Perhaps there is a game mode that will be more accessible to newbies that will change everything, but I can only base my opinion on what I’ve seen so far. It’s a shame, because the controls are actually well thought out, and the traversal between platforms felt rather satisfying, but I can’t see myself putting money down for Evolve when I know I can find much more varied and (more importantly) fun experiences elsewhere.
Daisy should get a spin-off game, though. I’d play the hell out of that.
What about you, dear reader? How have you been finding the Evolve Big Alpha? Let us know what you've been making of Turtle Rock's 4-v-1 shooter.