This is my first review for Windows Central, and frankly it's a tough one. Evolve has been the subject of much controversy. Many gaming outlets have run articles examining DLC and 'value for money' as a result of the game's business model. Evolve features a prolific amount of paid DLC out of the box, in addition to being a full priced title. For a game that focussed almost exclusively on 4v1 multiplayer, many gamers felt that Evolve may not live up to the asking price. This review carries the danger of becoming yet another article on the issue of value in gaming. Ultimately - I want to help you decide whether Evolve is the kind of game you'd consider worth your cash.
1. Graphics & Setting
Evolve takes place on the exoplanet Shear - an exotic alien land on the fringes of our galaxy. Human colonists have poured in, to terraform and populate the primordial landscape. Shear is host to various environments, from murky swamps to snowy mountain peaks - there's plenty of variety to keep you visually stimulated. The game runs on CryEngine 4, the same engine as graphical showstopper 'Ryse'. The engine fully lives up to its reputation through Evolve. Environments enjoy impeccable detail, dense flora, impressive effects and optimisation.
Evolve joins the higher end for sheer graphical prowess, and it approaches Sunset Overdrive in terms of stylistic distinction. A gritty neo-noir futurism accentuates Evolve's environments and cut scenes, taking cues from the likes of Alien, Blade Runner and even Star Wars, but it's not all doom and gloom, Turtle Rock's brand of comedic sarcasm and colourful character designs keep Evolve from being too bleak.
The take away on graphics should be that Evolve is almost unanimously gorgeous. Having said that, I feel as though a disproportionate amount of the game's budget may have been spent on art assets, rather than gameplay.
Evolve is a 4v1 multiplayer FPS developed by Turtle Rock Studios. TRS are most famous for 'Left 4 Dead' - a wildly successful co-operative zombie gauntlet FPS published by Valve. There are certainly elements of L4D in Evolve. Turtle Rock Studios went on record to confirm this: "If you look back at Left 4 Dead there are some things there we felt kind of 'proved out' the theory for Evolve, like the Tank battles being one of them." Just how does this work in practice?
Evolve's gameplay is split between two modes: Skirmish and Evacuation. Skirmish is the basic "jump in" experience, instantaneously putting you in a lobby with either complete strangers or friends via Xbox Live's party system. Whether you choose to play as the monster or a hunter is up to you, although sometimes you may not be able to assume your role of choice. Evolve asks players to rank their gameplay preferences between the monster and the game's four hunter classes and, for the most part, you'll get to play who you want. It's impressive that Turtle Rock Studios have created a robust system for matchmaking that not only allows players to take on their preferred role - but does so quickly. I never found myself waiting for extended periods of time to jump into a Skirmish or Evacuation, regardless of my class choice.
Skirmishes are the basic hunter/hunted gameplay featured prominently in Evolve's notable marketing campaign. When you pick up a class for the first time, you're immediately given a concise tutorial on gameplay basics. Trappers are arguably the most important class in a Skirmish mode, as they can create temporary arenas to force battles with the monster player (heaven forbid you fail to deploy the mobile arena fast enough though). Medics can both heal allies and place negative status effects on the monster. Assault characters are capable of reaping large chunks of health from the monster player and can avoid damage while doing so. Support characters can provide the team with advantages, such as group stealth, damage buffs, as well as being able to dish out good damage.
Each class type has 3 playable characters to choose from so far, each with their own skills (albeit similar, to maintain class structure), their own models, voice acting, etc, but sadly I felt like some were wildly more powerful than others. Taking the trapper class as an example, Maggie's alien A.I. bloodhound Daisy persistently tracks the monster, I've found it to be far more powerful than the other trapper's abilities to hunt the monster - both of which require you to stray from the group to achieve maximum effectiveness. Class balance issues permeate to the monsters as well. The Wraith monster (already the recipient of nerfs following beta outcries) seems by far and away more powerful than the Kraken and Goliath monster types. The utility it has to escape confrontation and confuse hunters appears to give it an advantage over its scaly, tentacled brethren. Whilst the perception of balancing issues may rescind as players learn how to alter their strategies, in my experiences with the game, many simply bail at the first sign of trouble - a problem prevalent in multiplayer co-operative games in general. Considering Evolve features this sort of gameplay exclusively, it can become an explicit problem.
A lot of what makes Evolve fun is firmly dependent on who you play with, and that alone may be a barrier for some. Whilst A.I. can often be more competent than some human players, it takes away the thrill of co-operation and PVP - which Evolve can deliver on in abundance. I'm putting an emphasis on 'can', finding those perfect games that aren't too easy to win, aren't a forgone conclusion due to medics not healing, trappers not trapping, can be few and far in between. The best experiences I've had with Evolve were with friends, but again - organising games with them is a chore for me personally, due to workaholism. If you can find 3 friends to regularly play with, all of whom are willing to pay 2K Games' asking price, then you will have a blast with Evolve, at least for a while, a little while.
When it comes to longevity, I feel this is where the game falls short and truly runs the risk of becoming this generation's Brink. Every match is effectively the same. Whilst levels are gorgeous, detailed and varied, there's little time to soak up this atmosphere - you'll mostly have your eyes firmly affixed to the game's mini map waiting for signs of your enemy. Every game has you chasing the monster, avoiding the monstrous flora and fauna and then partaking in some shallow strafing and double jumping in the confines of a mobile arena whilst ploughing bullets into an unflinching bullet sponge. I felt that playing as the monster offered more in terms of dynamic play, but after the first game you've practically seen it all. EXP gains lead to perks which improve your skills on underwhelming increments of around 2%, give or take 1%, and can eventually lead to unlocking new characters, which aren't wildly different from what is available out of the box. I felt there was little keeping me inside Turtle Rock's gorgeous planet Shear, and even after playing in the game's BETA, I don't feel like there's much bang for your buck - the experience is practically the same, only this time with a £40+ price tag.
Whilst Evacuation mode offers slightly more interesting objectives such as rescuing colonists or destroying monster eggs, it feels tacked on and poorly thought out. When you're tasked with defending a node, the trapper class becomes useless, since the monster will be ever-present, bashing your brains in. You're unable to swap your tracking skills for something that deals damage, making the trapper a weak link in that sort of scenario. Evacuation feels like an attempt to add meat to a very lean offering, rather than a necessity. If you do find yourself wanting, 2K are offering in the form of an incredibly complex array of DLC, bundles and special editions.
Turtle Rock have emphasised that new maps and game modes will be free, to prevent players from being gated from others who don't have the same map packs, etc. but moving forward, Evolve will be monetized with new characters, new monsters and character skins. Evolve have promised that new characters won't be "overpowered" to incentivize purchases, whether they deliver on this promise remains to be seen. Evolve's "Hunting Pass" will net you an extra character for each class in Spring, and new skins for each monster for £19.99. Evolve's "Monster Expansion Pack" - available free if you pre-ordered - will be available separately later in the year, and will contain the Behemoth monster. There is also a digital deluxe edition, a "PC Monster Race" edition, and a bunch of other store exclusives and bonuses that would wreak havoc on my word count.
3. The Takeaway
By placing so much emphasis on character based DLC in the game's marketing, I begin to feel as though Evolve should have been a free to play title à la Killer Instinct, or the upcoming Fable Legends. 2K have previously stated that the "Hunting Pass" contains £25 worth of characters for £15 - and by doing so - they've made me feel that the content contained in Evolve's base asking price isn't a bundle I'm particularly interested in. I've made the point in a previous article that had Evolve been free to play, allowing players to pick and choose what characters/monsters to buy, allowing them to purchase them all at a discount - Evolve may have built thriving online community it needs to survive. As of now, I often struggle to find a game online that is full. Killer Instinct and the upcoming Fable Legends feature free characters on rotation, and 2K/Turtle Rock would've been smart to have done something similar to get players hooked. I truly wish Turtle Rock Studios well, because glimmers of brilliance escape the game's convoluted presentation, but simply put - Evolve's business model is at odds with the amount of content.
My friend put it best: Evolve feels like a small part of a larger game. Sadly, that larger game does not yet exist.
Evolve is available now on Xbox One and PC for around £40 / €50 / $60 respectively.