Evolve can be utterly fantastic.
Alongside a trustworthy team of communicating players who are familiar with the maps and their roles, hunting monsters is superb. You'll stalk your prey and make careful plans, working together with deadly precision, setting traps and battling fierce native wildlife before everything goes to hell in one brutal ambush. On the other side of the coin, however, there's a unique satisfaction that comes from playing as the horrific fiend itself, as nervy evasion gradually shifts into cruel opportunistic slaughter. Prey into predator.
The 4 vs 1 idea was too brilliant to die with THQ, so at its best Evolve is capable of some truly exceptional multiplayer matches.
I just wish this happened more than 50% of the time. Half of the games I've played were an absolute blast, but more often than not it's frustrating, unsatisfying or worse boring.
Our full review will be coming later this week (even if some of our peers couldn't wait to slap on a score straight away), but after several days' play online and off, I have to report that Evolve is a tough sell at full price.
I'm sure you're already au fait with the premise. Four humans track down one incredibly powerful boss monster, the twist being that the monster is also human-controlled and has to consume native wildlife to become powerful enough to turn the tables. Planet Shear is our battleground, a moody and frankly gorgeous tableau, boasting a selection of well-designed maps that provide opportunities for spontaneous flashpoints, chokes and carefully-planned engagements.
Once again, Titanfall's legacy is keenly felt while playing as the hunters, whose jetpacks and mantles provide fluid and vertical traversal throughout the terrain. Each team takes on four situational soldiers who need to support each other to succeed; assaults bring the rain, supports buff and shield (and bring the explosive rain), hunters trap and debilitate the monster while medics provide sniper support.
And heal, obviously.
Continued play gradually, or should that be glacially, unlocks some more esoteric alternatives who still subscribe to the same roles yet boast more esoteric benefits. Lazarus literally brings players back from the dead, but has trouble stopping team-mates from dying in the first place. Want to take off your head and use it as a UAV? Bucket's your robot, you thoroughly bizarre person you. Whoever you choose, you're guaranteed a slick, fluid and versatile experience in raw mechanical terms.
Meanwhile, playing as the monster is just great. Whether you're into brawling with the Goliath, raining down devastating ranged death with the Kraken or committing terrifying psycological warfare with the stealthy Wraith (who's perhaps a little too viable at the moment since many players haven't formed viable counter-play strategies yet), the novelty of 'being the boss' takes a while to wear off. You'll both set the pace and react to the hunters' assault, even if the lack of voice chat can make for a very lonely experience.
Game modes all hinge around monster hunting, except that sometimes the monster can win with different victory conditions such as protecting eggs or killing a selection of randomly-spawning colonists against the clock. Where Evolve really comes into its own, though, is in the Evacuation pseudo-campaign that provides a narrative of sorts, with each match creating unique modifiers in the next game and culminating in a battle royale of epic proportions. So long as no-one quits out, that is.
The stage is set, but unlike Left 4 Dead, there's no AI director providing an exciting unique experience each time. Unless you count the welcome yet limited bots, whose weak human AI makes for what can only be a fleeting diversion. Whether you have fun in Evolve relies entirely on the other four players in your session, and the balance is deadly.
When you've got four relatively skilled and balanced players... with headsets... who all speak the same language... and know the maps... together in the same lobby... fighting against a slightly more experienced monster... you've got a game on.
But in the equally likely situation where you've got an uncommunicative crew of lone wolves fighting an inexperienced monster or worse a veteran player, Evolve falls apart completely. One in two matches seem to fit one of the following scenarios:
- The Hunters chase the Monster around for 20 minutes with barely any contact apart from some annoying carnivorous plants. The Monster then powers up and decimates them. Boring and frustrating.
- The Hunters quickly track down and kill a monster who doesn't know the map very well. Boring and unsatisfying.
Usually it's option 1. As a full-priced game, being boring, frustrating and unsatisfying 50% of the time is not exactly ideal. To put it very, very mildly. I suspect that many of my fellow reviewers typically played the game together in organised sessions, whereas the majority of players will have to pray to the matchmaking gods and hope for the best.
I also have concerns about the amount of content, or perhaps more accurately value. We're talking about three monsters, four skills, a slew of role-locked hunters that unlock at a glacial pace and missions that all too often feel like unbalanced re-runs. The console versions will likely haemorrhage players after just a couple of months if history teaches us anything. And that's before you factor in the insane DLC campaign, leaving us with the unwelcome feeling that we've just been sold part of a complete game with the rest released in extra chunks.
I'm speaking figuratively here. My review copy was provided by 2K, but unlike most other sites, we don't forget that games actually cost money. Evolve would have been a no-brainer as an inexpensive cult download, but can the frequent yet fleeting flashes of fun be worth paying top whack for?
Honestly I'm not sure yet. That's the joy of these review impressions. Right now, however, I'm leaning heavily towards "no."
Meaning, of course, that finding a competitive deal is paramount! I'll bring you our full Evolve review towards the end of the week, but if you want to get your boots into Shear as soon as possible, check out the latest cheap Evolve PC deals, PS4 & Xbox One bargains.