Carnage is the name of the game and there’s plenty of it to be had on both sides, whether you’re a bloodthirsty predator stalking its next morsel or a pack of gun-toting, jet pack wearing death dealers. Well, actually the name of the game is Evolve and it comes courtesy of Turtle Rock studios, the brains behind Left 4 Dead. Monster hunting and monster wielding fantasies collide in this new title as both sides are player controlled and they must spend a nerve-wracking amount of time dancing around each other, using every ounce of cunning and catastrophe they can muster. Evolve is a solid asymmetrical title that has a few wounds here and there, but mostly delivers on the intense action it promises.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
At its core, Evolve a multiplayer experience that focuses on delivering the thrilling monster vs. hunters gameplay described above, but that doesn’t stop the game from telling a story in the background. What we, the players, learn of the universe of Evolve and the circumstances that brought these specific hunters together are all revealed in pre-match or mid-match banter. The dialogue is enjoyable to listen to, even if the conversational variety falls on the slim side. Moreover, each hunter is mostly an archetype padded with all the stereotypes and tropes that match their respective roles. Yet these archetypal characters and their somewhat repetitive conversations are still engaging whether they show a slightly humorous or serious side to our ragtag band of mercenaries. I was pleased that Turtle Rock Studios took the time to add depth to their characters and their world, even if that depth was only a slight nudge outwards.
Now imagine a strange, alien landscape for these hunters and monsters to roam in, filled with carnivorous flora, jagged cliffs, poisonous swamps, and an abundance of ill-tempered fauna; this is the world of Evolve and it is a grotesque beauty. Powered by the famous — or infamous depending on your expectations — CryEngine, there’s no surprise that the game is absolutely stunning. I found myself taking a pause periodically as I slogged around as a monster or scrambled around as a hunter just to take in the scenery, noting how meticulous each environment was put together to form a living, breathing habitat. Everything from the particle effects to the character models to the sci-fi gizmos that the characters tote around is spectacular in its realization and provides a wonderful visual experience.
But the visuals aren’t the only aesthetic element that brings Evolve to life. The sound mixing and audio design are notably impressive in both an artistic and mechanic sense. With each move that the monster makes, the hunters can hear faint to roaring footsteps that reverberate through caves and crevices alike. It’s indicators like the monster traipsing through the level or the hunter’s yelling in the midst of battle that add to the immersion of the game, bringing sound and its subsequent dampening/amplifying into the hunters’ and monster’s tracking tools. Couple this with some excellent weapon and ambient SFX and Evolve resoundingly succeeds at setting up its alien atmosphere.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
Evolve is an asymmetrical multiplayer FPS that pits a group of hunters, each with a specific role in the team, against one ravenous monster (or kaiju if you prefer). Overall, Evolve is one of the more polished FPS titles to come out in recent memory that delivers a grand concept without bumbling too much on the way to the goal. Everything about the multitude of mechanics, whether it’s healing teammates as the medic or unleashing a barrage of lighting strikes as the monster, feels tight and genuinely satisfying. When I was engaged in a close combat scenario, there’s a distinct thrill despite the role that I chose; battles are captivating in the amount of both tactile response and FPS skill that encapsulates every encounter. The core gameplay is fantastic and at its base, it offers a gratifying experience that I felt in many of my online and offline skirmishes. But, as I’ll explain, the gameplay and it’s greater potential is bottle necked by balancing issues and by some of its own systems.
First off, the hunters’ side of gameplay. Evolve offers a selection of three different characters for each role, which gives some variety to how team composition and battle tactics might change. I enjoyed that each different character had enough diversity in their specific mechanics while keeping true their role’s theme. Yet with a small selection of twelve current characters, I found that the amount of slack afforded to how you play and the array of team compositions starts to become repetitive. This is one of the biggest problems of Evolve. Hunt mode keeps a specific formula that becomes apparent much too quickly: find the monster, chase the monster, kill the monster. Evolve prides itself on taking these three simple objectives and applying the design that performing these tasks is unique with every instance. However, it doesn’t really vary too much. A lot of the hunters’ time is spent wandering around the level, hoping to a catch a glimpse of the monster as it perpetually escapes. Firefights are few and far between, but the core gameplay — as mentioned above — keeps these brief altercations highly engaging and for the most part worth the incredibly long chase that preceded it.
This is assuming that the hunters’ have a high level of coordination in their advance and their strikes, which is something Turtle Rock Studios implemented in Evolve’s core gameplay. That’s all fine and dandy in the concept stage; however, public matches in multiplayer FPS games are a bit more complicated than that. The most enjoyable engagements I had while playing Evolve were with players who liked to communicate a lot, which made the matches incredibly engaging as we used cooperation — or sometimes just blatant commanding — to kill the monster. But these matches were few in number as a majority of skirmishes devolved into tunnel vision, monster tracking marathons. Cooperative gameplay in public games has been proven time and time again to work — look at Turtle Rock’s own past title Left 4 Dead — and it’s something that is incredibly enjoyable if implemented well. Evolve’s level of cooperation, however, is scaled a bit too high as I discovered that custom matches with friends or acquaintances far outranks public matches in terms of enjoyment and accomplishment, to the level where vocal communication is almost a necessity to challenge a decent monster player.
And speaking of the monster, this is where Evolve nails its primal promise. Playing as either the Goliath, a hulking brute, the Kraken, a long-range flying fiend, or the Wraith, a vicious assassin, each match as a monster emphasizes deception as well as destruction. One moment I found myself rampaging through a pack of measly hunters, raining rocks and body slams down on all who hunted me. The next moment, however, I was caught in a desperate attempt to escape and rejuvenate my armor after a ferocious battle. This is the dichotomy of playing the monster and it never fails to induce a gut wrenching good time as I progressed. Unfortunately, the monster, like its hunter counterparts, does show signs of falling into that formulaic trap, but as a role in the game, it is wholly more satisfying with ever small or grand victory.
Mix together some slick, sci-fi hunters, throw ’em into an all out brawl against a player controlled monster that’s as terrifying as it is deadly, and out comes a pretty solid asymmetrical multiplayer game that’s visually beautiful and truly entertaining in its core execution. Evolve is the result of this sweet, safari-esque blend. But arguably, one of your greatest foes during the game will become the game’s repetitive gameplay. Though Evolve offers enough nuance on a subtle level of the game’s design, there’s just not enough in the overall picture to balance it out. Here’s where recommendations for Evolve become a bit tricky. I would definitely recommend playing this game if you’re a fan of asymmetrical gaming or just FPS’s in general as it is an engaging and beautiful experience. However, for its current price tag of $59.99, I would say wait for the game to go on sale as the lack of current content is underwhelming. That being said, Evolve begins to play the dangerous game known as mechanic-oriented DLC. Future characters and game modes will require the player to shell out a substantial amount alongside the cosmetic shop options. 2K’s controversial move to market Evolve as such doesn’t affect this review, but I believe the decision nulls the game’s worth of a $59.99 price tag.
Final Score: 8.5 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood