For those who know me, it’s been well stated that I’m a skeptic of Evolve. While on its own, the game is fine; it just feels a bit out of place in the current gaming landscape. I feel like it should be a $20 downloadable title, not a full $60 release. Its lack of promoting anything other than a single mode of play reminds me too much of Titanfall‘s limited promotion and launch offerings. Its progression system, when announced, sounded atrociously designed. The gameplay sounded way too simple and repetitive, even if it were a grindfest sort of game.
The last nail in the coffin, at least for my interest, was when the game was advertised as having a pre-planned DLC Season Pass. The developers have explicitly said the game was built for DLC. This from the developers who had made L4D2, and released a ton of free expansion materials for its PC version. I’m telling you these reservations now, because I was going into the Big Alpha with a very notable chip on my shoulder.
Now you’re probably expecting I’m going to turn around and say I was blown away, that all my concerns are gone, and everything about the game was truly wonderful. Well, drop those expectations right at the door. While Evolve is better than I had anticipated with some of my concerns put at bay, it is still hampered by new issues and some old ones.
I understand this is not the final release, but you do not have a non-NDA Alpha with thousands gamers getting access on every next-gen platform and PC without clearly being extremely confident in your game. I normally would approve of 2K for being so confident in its developers, that’s how they’ve ended up with games like Mafia II, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, the Bioshock series, The Darkness, and GTA V. Here though, that confidence seems misplaced.
For those of you living under a firmly placed rock, Evolve is the game/story of four hunters going up against a giant beast like it’s a late 70’s to early 80’s sci-fi flick. Except for when it’s basically a slow garden walk version of Titanfall (there’s a reason jetpacks in Titanfall don’t take thirty seconds to be useable again). Also except for when it becomes Clown Entertainer Simulator 2014: The Kids Have Dart Guns Edition, but I digress…
You either work as one of the four hunters and have fun, or play as the monster and we’re back to Clown Entertainer Simulator. It’s only competitive multiplayer, and while the game outright demands you give it your preferred class before entering matchmaking (ignoring the fact this is your FIRST TIME PLAYING), you’ll only sometimes get what you want. Even if you try your hardest and thousands of other people are playing at once, you will still get stuck with the role of the Monster character. This would be fine if it really didn’t feel like you’re doing the job of a clown meant to entertain children, instead of having fun yourself.
I know I’m harping a bit but I really cannot emphasize just how unpleasant and stressful it is playing as the Monster. I had only access to Goliath because the actually badass sounding Monster, the Kraken, required a ludicrous amount of grinding to unlock. No flying Cthulhu monster for you, beginning players. All you get is Goliath, who is basically the Tank zombie from L4D2 but now he has flamethrower breath; Turtle Rock is clearly breaking the mold here.
Except here’s the problem with playing the Monster — you’re basically required to grind for better abilities from the start, and it’s not until Stage 3 of your evolution that you can really beat the opposing Hunters (unless they are the most disorganized group of teenagers this side of Friday the 13th). However, you have to take time to fight non-player character wildlife as well, while trying to not get killed by said wildlife or Hunters.
All the meanwhile, you have to keep moving all the time so the hunters can’t find you, and they can see your footprints unless you literally use “stealth mode”. The down side to stealth? When you use the stealth mode, you move at a pace so slow the hunters are bound to find you. Why doesn’t the monster’s trail just appear when it’s not been in combat for say, 30 to 45 seconds? That way the hunters never lose chase but also the Monster gets a chance to breathe. Wouldn’t that be better than just forcing Monster players to never have even a moment’s respite?
Hunters don’t have nearly this level of on-the-job stress. Unless your squad, as I said, is completely clueless, you will all keep pace and hunt the monster or hold the line to defend the map’s other win option for the Monster (which is always some large piece of equipment in an open area that the Monster needs to smash). Most of the time is quiet and calm, which is the complete opposite of the Monster, and you start with your gear maxed out to begin with. You also have someone to depend upon when your health gets low or you need a quick overshield as you get up close to the Monster.
As the Goliath, I had no such kind of support, and had to divert my focus to so many things all at once that I never actually had fun. I was literally so stressed out after a thirty minute long session of playing that I had to step away because my arms were physically shaking. I have been playing competitive games since I was ten years old. A decade’s worth of staying cool under pressure couldn’t handle just how downright aggravating playing as the Monster is. I even tried to play Monster amongst a group of Hunters who were very uncoordinated and not great at the game. Even then, I still not only lost but was being hounded around the map by none other than the team’s medic character continually sniping me. How am I supposed to feel imposing and powerful when the woman who can barely deal damage is causing me no end of frustrations?
By contrast, I had a fantastic time on the Hunter side of things, especially in one match. The Monster player had been trolling us in the chat beforehand, speaking nonsense and tapping on his microphone repeatedly whenever we tried to ask what he was saying. This guy was the only person I’ve seen who could play the Monster and remain unseen save for two brief instances the entire match up to his reaching Stage 3.
We fell back to the map’s primary objective, and I realized something. I was playing as the Trapper character Maggie. She has a bubble shield that covers a wide area and contains everything inside and outside, not letting the Monster out, but also equally not letting the monster in. So I dropped it quick, and we could hear him pounding away at it, but instead of just sitting around, we prepared.
Our previously uncoordinated team began finally getting it together. Our Assault set proximity mines. Our Medic took to a sniping post that also kept her in range to heal us. The Support got in a corner alongside the Assault, ready to fire his overshield ability on the Assault while also being in perfect range for an orbital barrage attack on the Monster. I took to the ground floor, standing right in front of the main objective. This guy would make fools out of us no longer. When I lowered the shield, we were ready.
At first he skulked around, we could even hear him on the roof, looking for us. Then when he finally entered, all h*** broke loose. Before we were even three minutes into the fight, his armor gave way and we began taking down his healthbar chunk by chunk. I kept jet boosting around, unloading my machine gun into his face and weakpoints while our Medic kept me going. The Assault and Support rained fire of their own from above, using me as a decoy for them to go unnoticed by the Monster. The Monster even retreated once, going out to hunt and get more armor, but then came running back in. He downed me once, but just as I respawned, his last bits of armor gave way again and his final healthbar chunk was being whittled away. I got the pleasure of delivering the final burst of shots.
I know this must sound amazingly awesome, but it is the only match where things clicked like that. I hate that the game still has so many problems, because at the very least, the core premise is solid. It may be a bit simple and limited, but if this were the marquee mode in a bigger game, like how Hunters was for Crysis 3 and Warzone was for Killzone 3, then I’d have no problem with it. The issue is that Turtle Rock is trying to build an entire $60 experience around a single game mode that already has some problems.
I’m not even exaggerating when I say that the trolling guy was the only person I saw who could use Goliath well. In one match, the Monster didn’t even get past Stage 2. The current balance is so slanted towards Hunters when it comes to beginner Monster players that I just have trouble seeing it work right without major retooling. The Hunters are great, but Turtle Rock needs to go back to the drawing board with the Monster. Even little details like being unable to cancel your “Evolve” state just make it unpleasant. .
This is also still the only mode shown off in Big Alpha. A bot mode was confirmed a while back, so maybe you can at least practice as a Monster there, but I doubt you’ll earn crucial experience points to unlock new class characters. Which brings me to the next big issue Evolve currently has — the progression system. What I thought it was going to be, where you’d get objectively better guns/items over time, was actually a matter of miscommunication. Instead the progression system, while not as broken, is just incredibly grindy and frustrating. “Yay”?
You see, there’s a normal progression bar (that, to my knowledge, served almost no purpose in the Alpha), and there’s also three separate mini-progression bars (because “fractal grinding”, am I right?) you need to get at least one star in each to unlock the next character in any given role. So regardless of if you play a thousand times better at the next character or that they’d be completely opposite to your playstyle, you are forced to unlock on a linear track that demands sometimes preposterously pretentious numbers for even the single star needed for unlocks.
Over ten thousand damage dealt by an orbital barrage as support? The Monster almost always runs away before I do more than five hundred damage, are you mental? Challenges are great, Turtle Rock, I’ll give you that because they can give players something to aim for. Jetpack Joyride did them wonderfully. You know what Jetpack Joyride also didn’t do? Lock off specific pieces of content until I complete the challenges. They were completely optional, and as a result it felt like a genuine choice on my own to beat them. Dozens of multiplayer games before you have learned this lesson so why does it feel like the entire concept was a new revelation for your game’s design?
What’s worse is that I fear this might mean you have to doubly unlock DLC characters, not only with cash but through this system. Hopefully you just buy them and they’re unlocked, but this is a game that d*** well advertises its Season Pass like it’s a feature, so I am not taking anything off my radar of expectations.
The game’s aesthetics are equally a mixed bag. Every level looks the same save for layout and whatever design the human industrial area has. Everything is dulled and blackened, in what I have to assume is an attempt to give the Monster a fighting chance to not be seen. Instead it just makes most of the visuals feel tired and familiar. At least some of Titanfall‘s levels were bright and colorful. It only used ultra-“Modern Shooter, gritty-gritty, SOO REAL!” aesthetics every now and then because it fit the level. Here, I can’t tell one surprisingly hilly swamp area from the next.
There’s also a fair amount of the game’s middle area you’ll rarely see because Monsters will always stay on the perimeter unless chased, and Hunters will always be trailing right behind or flanking alongside the Monster. There was a entire cave section I had barely explored after hours of playing, because there was never a reason to just explore the level.
If anything, it really feels like players should not be immediately clear where the Monster is. You should have to scout for it at first, letting both the Monster get to higher levels and the Hunters get the lay of the land. It’d feel a lot more genuine, and a lot less like an artificially accelerated battle. It also gives the Monster a chance to figure out a good place to counter-ambush Hunters and areas to sneak around in.
I’m also still very mixed on the game’s characters. At the heart of it all, they have the same charm as the L4D series cast of characters, but you start to really quickly notice Markov is just the Heavy from Team Fortress 2 and that Val is a slightly more outgoing Tapol from Star Trek: Enterprise.
I know these characters are just people we’re supposed to inhabit as a brief action fantasy, but you could at least not have them include the similar sounding actors and blatantly style their dialects around their very clear inspirations. At the very least, their interactions in the field can be hilarious, especially when being revived or healed. There’s no pathos, but there is some pleasure in the dialogue and delivery at least.
What I can say without a doubt is the game’s characters are very creative visually and are animated beautifully. If there’s one aspect that CryEngine 3’s helped, it’s making the characters look and move great. Even on low settings for budget rigs like my own, the characters and wildlife look beautiful. The musical half of the sound design is more of a passable sort though, and is drowned out by all the gunfire and monster yells. The sound effects themselves are great, but bring your own tunes.
Now, understand that this is all from my experience with an Alpha that still has five months to get better. Five months is cutting it more than a bit short and unfortunately most regular players seem to be lavishing the game on Steam without even taking into consideration the numerous balancing and progression issues, so I’m not very optimistic for the future of the game.
So if you’re like me and this all sounds like a turn off, then really do just hold off on the game. Wait until it’s on sale at least, especially considering just how much content is going to be released via DLC. I rarely would make a call so early, but you should just flat out wait for the GOTY/Complete edition/bundle. You’ll save money, and hopefully the game will have ironed out its kinks by then. Remember, everyone was over the moon about Destiny’s beta and we all know how that panned out.