Building a video game based all around a multiplayer aspect seems like a tough thing to achieve in 2015. It has been a few years since a game of that nature caught on, with one of the more recent examples being Left 4 Dead, developed by Turtle Rock Studios. Since the 2008 release of Left 4 Dead, Turtle Rock has been hard at work on their newest IP, Evolve, a four vs. one multiplayer-focused adventure. The game pits four humans against one large monster, in hopes that the humans can work together and bring down a monster that seems to be terrorizing every organism it runs across.
The aforementioned term “adventure,” only applies to the hunters (the human characters) as being in control of the monster feels like an outright chase to strike down your pursuers. You begin your experience as the monster by jumping into control of a goliath already gnawing away at its prey. As the hunters begin to descend upon the planet via drop ship, you must quickly sprint away in order to hide from your foes. As you navigate away from the hunters, you must also feed upon the prevalent wildlife strewn about the world in order to “evolve.” Evolving serves as a form of leveling up and has you increasing the strength of your four abilities, as well as increasing your health.
Your four abilities all range from monster to monster, of which there are three. The abilities can range from a simple rock throw all the way to spawning a small cage around you and the hunters, leaving them vulnerable to some vicious up-close strikes. In order to expertly evolve without being caught by the hunters you must sneak around your environment, staying away from the host of noisy birds waiting to alert your enemies. This turns the traversal of the environment into more than just movement; it makes you think about every step you are taking while also needing to consistently improve upon your current state. It turns what should be a monotonous game of cat-and-mouse to a tense situation that depends on your every movement.
The best part of playing as the monster comes when you begin to engage in combat with the hunters. The actual mechanics are fairly simple; you have a basic melee attack on the right trigger as well as your special abilities. The real excitement comes when you are playing with a talented team and must choose who you unleash hell upon first. With one of the hunters being able to revive, and one being able to shoot a beam that absorbs damage, it is vital that you know which class of hunter you are attacking. If you knock out the assault class, it can quickly be healed with the Lazarus device used by a medic. It is this kind of balance that helps playing as the monster feel fresh every time. It assures that the game never feels tired, but instead evokes a sense of strategy at every turn of the corner.
That is, apart from when you are playing as a hunter. No matter what class of hunter you play as, you will spend the first fifty percent of each game simply following tracks in hopes of getting a glimpse at the monster. It takes quite a while to actually begin to see any kind of action, which can be said about the matchmaking as well. You have to go through multiple hoops in order to actually find yourself within a match. You have to search for a game, which can take up a few minutes in and of itself. After matching up with other players, you must wait for the player count to fill out, which will lead you to choosing which character in your class you want to select. Afterwards, you head through a decent load and find yourself in a quick cut scene that shows your hunters beginning their ascension onto the planet. You see repeat cut scenes multiple times (if I have to hear about Hank cooking raw meat one more damn time), making the wait feel even longer.
The real star of playing the hunters is just how balanced each character feels. No matter whom you are randomly selected to play as (you can order your preferred classes), you know that you have a vast amount of abilities at your disposal. The abilities of the hunters act in the form of weapons and other buffs such as tranquilizer gun that slows the monster and an all-out air strike (barrage) that rains down a host of bombs. As you complete certain objectives for each class, such as achieving X number of damage with a certain weapons, you will begin to unlock the next character in a class. There are three characters in each class, each of which possesses a few of their own unique weapons/abilities. This keeps you playing over and over in hopes of unlocking a few more options in your preferred class.
You are introduced to these many characters through a short video that shows off the abilities. Unfortunately, this is not enough for most players as you will run into a host of players that do not understand the “play your class” mantra. This spawns what is easily the worst part of the Evolve experience: playing with random teammates. This has become the major fault in many multiplayer experiences, and that persists in Evolve. If you end up with a group of guys that have no clue what the word “strategy” or the term “stay together” means, you will be doomed before the first minute passes. This goes for double when it comes to the medic class, as you would expect, as they have to be quick on the draw with their healing abilities. Of course, you will occasionally run into a solid group of players, which makes the game live up to its high potential. But for the many times you are paired with curiously idiotic souls, the experience can be ruined very quickly.
As for the modes you will find yourself participating in, there are four: Hunt, Nest, Defend, and Rescue. The most popular mode by far is Hunt, which pits the four hunters searching for the monster in hopes of taking him down before he reaches evolution stage 3. If they fail to do so, he can then take down a power generator, which nets the monster the win. Of course, simply killing all the hunters will achieve the same result. The other three modes seem to fall by the wayside as none of them lack the excitement of Hunt. Nest has the monster trying to kill the hunters before they destroy six eggs laying around the environment, with the monster being able to spawn minions from the eggs which act as smaller versions of the goliath-type monster. There is a certain heightened punch that comes with playing Hunt that just cannot be achieved with any of the other modes available for play.
Some of the most fun to be had with Evolve will come in the Evacuation mode, which is also the closest you will get to a “story mode.” Evacuation features five back-to-back games containing all the same players. As per usual, one player is assigned to the monster and four are hunters, you are then thrust into a situation that has you voting on which mode to play. Dependent on who wins the first game, the story will alter slightly. On top of that, winning will add a bonus to the next game being played, such as eels being in the water so that they hurt hunters when they attempt to swim. Despite Hunt being the most popular, you still get some other modes mixed in there to keep the situation fresh. The reason this becomes one of the better modes is because it is usually occupied by the more experienced players, not to mention you get a load of experience from playing so many games.
In the year 2015, it feels as if using the term “all over the place” to describe visuals is just ridiculous. That being said, no term better describes the world surrounding you in Evolve. On one hand, you are surrounded by some very well crafted character models with nice detail, not to mention the gorgeous/horrifying monster designs. But on the other, you are surrounded by mostly repetitive maps, many of which lack unique characteristics. It begins to feel like there are only “swamp map”, “light map”, and “dark map”, when, in actuality, there around twelve maps to be played on. On top of that, there are more than a few textures that look just plain putrid.
Evolve is a brilliant concept that, when matched with the right players, can be a lot of fun to partake in. The many unlocks and well-balanced characters build upon that at every step. That being said, simply finding random people that know how to properly strategize is hit or miss, at best. But when you do find the players, or pair up with friends, Evolve can produce some unforgettable excitement that is unlike any other multiplayer experience out there.