Evolve is a genuinely great idea.
The core concept of four humans tracking down a murderous monster before it becomes powerful enough to eat them was too compelling to die with THQ. Asymmetrical multiplayer has powered some fantastic budget downloads over the last few years, catering for a passionate niche audience with unique and innovative gameplay.
Unfortunately Turtle Rock's great idea has been stretched into a full-priced AAA title. It's a crying shame, because despite some hectic moments and sensational production values, its gameplay and content have been spread far too thin.
We find ourselves on Shear, a planet facing a full-scale evacuation in the face of a monster infestation. It's a moody and graphically gorgeous environment, boasting multi-levelled maps teeming with hostile wildlife and lush vegetation. The Hunters have arrived as a rear guard for the last escape ship, with orders to protect the colonists by doing what they do best: tracking down and killing their quarry before it eats enough wildlife to evolve and return the favour.
Don't expect anything narratively interesting from the setting -- it's a premise, not a story --but Shear provides a reasonable lived-in foundation for some tense 4 vs 1 matches whether in single quick missions or a five-match Evacuation campaign that ends with a massive battle royale. You've got a handful of game modes, different variations on a deadly two-way fox hunt. Sometimes you'll have to escort or kill some colonists, sometimes there are eggs to attack or defend, but they're just extra victory conditions to compliment the simple great idea at Evolve's core.
Maps are spacious and intricate, the ambient wildlife is hungry and Evacuation Mode adds some pleasingly unpredictable modifiers depending on who wins preceding matches, such as poison gas, turrets or teleporters. All Evolve needs now is the players.
Hunters hound and track the monster throughout the levels, following footprints, birdsign and carrion beasts, attempting to corner and kill their prey before it becomes an apex predator. Each team consist of four preset classes 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 keep team-mates in the fight.
The interplay between skills, deployables and gadgets is finely balanced so long as you communicate effectively, revealing a deceptive degree of depth as you learn the maps, experiment with your equipment and unlock new characters with more esoteric class options (not limited to sesmiographs, a Perfect Dark-esque railgun and the ability to turn your own head into a UAV). Whichever you choose, though, traversal and combat is visceral and vertical courtesy of a nippy jetpack, allowing you to both fly, hover and boost up sheer (Shear?) cliffs for a situational advantage.
Meanwhile the three Monsters present a completely different experience, corresponding to a holy trinity of tank, DPS and assassin. Though the lumbering Goliath never seems to hit quite as hard as its enormous size would suggest, both the Kraken and Wraith are tremendous fun; the former engaging distant targets with ruinous airborne attacks while the latter wages stealthy psychological warfare (click here to read our Wraith guide and Goliath Survival Guide). The novelty of effectively playing as an end boss proves to be a satisfying novelty, if a lonely one without team-mates or voice chat.
However, you'll start each match weak, underdeveloped and vulnerable, an easy target for the hunter killteam. As such you'll have to run like hell, sneak, climb, hide and evade, using both smell and smarts to stay hidden while scoffing down as many lesser species as possible. Doing so eventually allows you to level up twice, granting more health, survivability and skill points to develop your four action abilities, and surviving long enough finally lets you turn the tables on your tormentors.
Under optimal conditions, when you're playing alongside or against a team of equally-skilled allies with plenty of experience, headsets and local knowledge, Evolve is brilliant. Both sides drive and adapt to the pace of the game, becoming both predator and prey, leading to numerous devastating clashes, hectic chases, nervous exploration and a final climactic showdown that you'll be boasting about for the rest of the day.
But you've already seen the problem, haven't you? "Under optimal conditions." Sadly, the experience for most players can be very different.
Even the slightest imbalance in matchmade skill, experience and willingness to communicate, not to mention bad luck, can lead to Evolve matches being frustrating or worse incredibly boring. Half the time, Hunters just trudge around the map and barely encounters the monster at all, who in turn spends a few tedious minutes eating things before summarily smashing the humans to bits. Or just as bad, an inexperienced monster will be quickly slaughtered by veteran hunters, leading to an unsatisfying experience for everyone involved.
Half the time. Half. I was surprised to discover that the bots are actually quite capable when you crank up the difficulty, and it's nice to play offline during maintenance or lazy casual sessions, but solo play comes with exactly the same caveats.
This would have been okay as a niche download for a passionate hardcore audience, but it just doesn't work as a mainstream AAA game. It probably should never have been one. The quality of the experience is just too inconsistent, exquisite one match and then painfully dull the next.
Quality may be the biggest part of value, but quantity is still an important consideration. Evolve manages to spectacularly botch this side of the equation.
Progression is excruciatingly slow, requiring you to glacially power up weapons and abilities to eventually unlock the next Hunter or Monster after several hours. This feels broadly acceptable as far as the Hunters are concerned, considering that you can choose any of the four classes, but you're forced to spend hours as the Goliath before finally being able to use the much more enjoyable Kraken and Wraith. This was an idiotic decision that can make monster players' lives a repetitive misery even if the Goliath fits their playstyle, a casualty of premium content being stretched too far.
And three monsters isn't really enough, is it? There isn't really enough of anything! Evolve can be great, it's mechanically very capable and full of fun fleeting moments, but even so the experience can become repetitive and samey after just a few hours. Longevity is a serious concern, especially on PS4 and Xbox One since console multiplayer games typically haemorrhage players after just a couple of months. Again, acceptable for a budget download, but deeply worrying for a £54.99 outlay.
For starters. You probably already know about the slew of microtransactions and DLC, some cosmetic, some substantial if as-yet-unrevealed, some in the season pass and others available separately. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with offering a little premium cosmetic fluff if it's developed after the disc goes gold, but when a full-priced AAA game jumps off the freemium deep end it demeans us all. Yes, the extras are all optional, but Evolve already doesn't offer enough content if you buy it at full price. Why should we then have to pay even more for what probably should have been included as standard?
My advice? Pay less. Find a competitive deal, preferably for the PC version that will retain its community for much longer, and join the hunt with mates.
I wonder what could have happened if Turtle Rock succeeded in buying their own IP during the THQ auction, as opposed to 2K squashing their offer. With leaner development, a tighter scope and a £18.99 Steam release, Evolve might have actually been a better game. Hell, its DLC might have made sense too.
- Smartly-designed, unique and versatile asymmetrical mechanics
- Excellent production values and polish
- Can be absolutely sensational with experienced friends and perfectly-balanced skill levels...
- ... but can also be boring, frustrating and repetitive, especially when matchmade
- Achingly slow progression, potentially limited longevity on consoles
- Nowhere near enough content for a AAA title, not enough monsters
- Unwelcome and wrong-headed DLC campaign for a full-priced game
The Short Version: Evolve is a handsome, smart and hectic eat 'em up that's surprisingly difficult to recommend.
What could have been an underground smash as a budget download has been spread thin to justify a AAA price, leading to grave concerns about its glacial progression, value, longevity and DLC strategy. Though still utterly fantastic under optimal conditions, Evolve asks far too much for an inconsistently enjoyable experience.
6 – CAPABLE: The key thing to remember here is always try before you buy. There'll likely be some rather glaring flaws, questionable value or perhaps a distinct lack of imagination, but games that earn a 6 will generally be very capable indeed and probably still provide a good deal of fun to genre fans.
Platforms: PC (reviewed) | PS4 | Xbox One (tested)
Developer: Turtle Rock Studios
Publisher: 2K Games