- Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PS4, PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Developer: Turtle Rock Studios
- Players: 1 (offline), 2-5 (online)
- Site: http://evolvegame.com/agegate
- Game code provided by Xbox
Evolve was plagued by controversy long before it even released, thanks to some pre-order packages and DLC plans that were, depending on your point of view, either extremely poorly thought out or extremely cynical. Ordinarily, this sort of thing wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) impact a review; but then, this sort of thing ordinarily wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) impact the design of a full-price, ‘AAA’ game.
The foundation of Evolve is sound. It’s four Hunters versus one giant Monster, each character controlled by a human player. The huge maps allow for plenty of running and hiding as well as combat, which is mostly for the monster’s benefit. The monster levels up through the course of the match, from stage one to – if they survive long enough – stage three. Each map is full of mostly aggressive wildlife. Killing and eating these creatures not only builds up the monster’s armour gauge, it’s also vital to reaching the point where you can ‘evolve’ to the next stage. Evolving increases your maximum health and ability to absorb damage, and also awards a few extra points to spend on unlocking or upgrading a maximum of four special attacks. It also leaves the monster unable to attack or flee for 20 seconds or so, so you’ll want to Evolve alone and hidden.
In the hunting team, there is always one of each class per match; that is, one Assault (most suited to direct attack), one Medic (the only one who can heal others), one Trapper (who can slow the monster, and throw up a ‘mobile arena’ temporarily preventing its escape), and one Support (who can cloak themselves and others, and lay down covering fire). Each hunter playing to their strengths and recognising their weaknesses is vital to success; and pleasingly, that’s exactly what the vast majority of people we played with did.
With five very different roles on offer, being lumped with the one nobody wants is a potential worry. You can rank the five roles in order of preference if you wish (even between matches). Much to the system’s credit, we virtually always landed whatever our first or second choice happened to be when we specified. In what we presume are not unrelated issues, however, it can take a long time to find a match (and there’s lots of waiting for load times as it is), and although only five people are needed for a full house, bots in a match are not uncommon.
The different monster and hunter characters all play significantly different to one another, which is great; but also brings us to the first major criticism of the game. Each hunter class has three characters but, if you’re in the majority who didn’t pre-order, you’re punished for your insubordination by having to grind for eight hunters out of the twelve total. As for the monsters, you get just three – yes, three, one less than four – on the disc. Even worse, you have to grind to unlock monsters too. You’re looking for at least a dozen hours of play before you’ve got a decent collection of available characters, and even then chances are that you’ll be far off from collecting everybody.
What’s particularly galling about having to knock your head against a wall to unlock the piddly number of two extra monsters is that the first one, Goliath, is quite frankly rubbish. Most people playing as this beast online are only doing so because they haven’t unlocked a better one yet. The third monster, Wraith, isn’t a fantastic alternative. Great character design, but easy to kill thanks to low health and armour (the abilities aren’t powerful enough to compensate properly). The middle child, Kraken, is identifiably the best. The only monster that can fly, and standard attacks hit from the air, and arguably the best combination of special abilities. Kraken rarely has to worry about climbing, meaning it can use the geography to its advantage and reach stage three in safety much easier than the other monsters.
The maps are very well designed, but small in number (at least that DLC will be free). They could probably have been visually impressive – but the dank, overcast, murky, gloopy brownness that has been defecated over everything puts paid to that. The maps look, and therefore to an extent feel, more similar to one another than they actually are. But Evolve has bigger problems to worry about.
There are some baffling design decisions in play. There’s a handful of different game modes, but only Hunt (the basic ‘kill or be killed’) is available to play online one match at a time. Your only other options are a) a private match, or b) Evacuation, a set of five matches in a row where players vote on the next mode and map (which also rewards the winner/s of one match a slight advantage of some kind in the next). Even then, the fifth match is always a tower-defence style setup, with no choice in the matter.
Player levelling is also dangerously close to unbalancing the PvP experience (you can always fight an AI monster if you wish). Monster abilities and hunter weapons level up individually as you use them, going through three stages of powerfulness. You’ll also unlock buffs as you go along and, although you can only pick one per match, the highest level ones can make a significant difference.
Defeating a skilled team of hunters as a monster is undeniably satisfying, and working as a team to take down a huge, powerful beast can also be great – especially if you land the killing blow. Combine a small number of dull-looking maps with a pathetic number of monsters, at least one of which is less than desirable to play as, and ennui starts to settle in as the days go by. When Evolve takes its inevitable nosedive in price, go for it; but don’t dignify the overinflated RRP with a purchase right now.