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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Turtle Rock
Release Date: Feb. 10, 2015


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PS4 Review - 'Evolve'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 3, 2015 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Evolve is a multiplayer shooter that blends cooperative and competitive multiplayer experiences as a team of four hunters face off against a single, player-controlled monster.

In Evolve, an attempt by humans to colonize the planet Shear has gone disastrously wrong. Mutating Monsters appeared, and the fate of the colony rests in the hands of a group of Hunters, who are from around the galaxy. Their goal: hunt down and exterminate the Monsters and protect the colonists from disaster. Led by the legendary William Cabot, the Hunters drop into the most dangerous places in the world and exterminate everything that gets in their way.

Every map in Evolve contains one of three Monsters: Goliath, Kraken and Wraith. These monsters are their own playable class, although there is only one on the map at a time. Monsters want to destroy, and to do so, they need to evolve, which they do by killing and devouring. Initially, they're weak and easily killed. At the second evolutionary level, they can fight evenly with the humans. At the third level, they're unstoppable wrecking machines and can kill Hunters or destroy an item in the environment to win the round. The Monster's goal is to kill all the Hunters before they can respawn or destroy their target.

The Monsters are fun to play, although there doesn't seem to be a solid balance between the three. In general, the Monsters could have used a little more tuning so that each feels cool and distinctive. Even winning doesn't feel very satisfying. The Goliath feels like the weakest despite being the biggest, and it feels like more players lose with him than the other two. Wraith, on the other hand, is like a brutal bladed wrecking machine. A good Wraith player can use their innate stealth abilities to stall the game for a long time.

To hunt down the Monsters, the Hunters form a four-person team comprised of different roles: Assault, Medic, Support and Trapper. Each of the four roles is a necessity in combat, and you're going to have at least one of each for each mission. The roles have three available characters. One is available at the start, and the other two are unlocked as you progress. With a personal shield and high-powered weapons, Assault is the primary damage dealer and tank. Medics heal or revive the dead. Support buffs allies and has the second highest damage in the game in addition to powerful cloaking devices. Each Trapper has a distinct way to hunt down the Monster, and once you've located it, the Trapper can deploy a Mobile Arena to trap the Monster.

It's nice to have a variety of choices, and each of the three characters has a distinctive play style. Lazarus the Medic can revive the dead, so a Monster must target him first or risk having everything undone in moments. It's a high-risk/high-reward mechanic that changes the feel of the game. In comparison, the default Val medigun might be more reliable, but it feels less significant.  

It takes an awfully long time to reach those choices. Early on, this feels tedious. If you like one character's play style, you're forced to play another character for an extremely long time before you get the chance to play them. It's a bad choice for the progression system. Rather than playtime, the game is gated behind using specific weapons to rank them up and get better versions. It feels like you could've unlocked the characters, kept the same progression system, and lost nothing.

The Hunters are incredibly reliant on the team. Regardless of skill level, no single Hunter can carry the game. Monsters are too fast and agile for even the best Assault in the world to reasonably kill. Supports and Medics can assist, but they can't win fights on their own. To have a fighting chance, all three rely heavily on the Trapper's ability to track and create a mobile arena. As such, teamwork is far, far, far more essential for Hunters than in almost any other FPS on the planet. Team Fortress 2 or Left 4 Dead reward teamwork, but high individual skill can carry weaker members. Evolve's focus on teamwork means every player has to carry their weight to stand a chance.

There are a few different game modes. Skirmish pits Hunters against the Monster in a race to the third evolutionary level. There's also an Evacuation campaign mode, where players go through multiple maps in a row with different objectives. The winner of the previous map earns a bonus on the next map, and there is a loose plot that plays out based on your victory or failure. You'll have to rescue survivors, hunt down the Monsters, or defend a location. There's a nice variety, especially with the bonuses for winning, but there's a lack of locations, which means you'll quickly see all of the content. The modes are fun to play when they work. A big caveat is that the game focuses on multiplayer. While it offers a couple of AI options, including a solo-play mode, the title doesn't work if you do that. The core mechanics don't stand up when an AI is executing decisions perfectly and the Monster AI is weak.

The highs in Evolve are few and far between. Against an inexperienced or poor Monster, the monster was trapped and killed in seconds. Against an experienced Monster, it's an extended game of hide-and-seek with lengthy periods of wandering bookended by a few brief moments of action. The game leans too quickly toward one side or the other. For the game to work as intended, you need four talented Hunters working together against a Monster who understands and can properly exploit the game mechanics.

As anyone who plays online games knows, that is an extremely rare thing. Having four friends teaming up together can help with the Hunter issues, but it's going to be a gamble in terms of how effective a Monster can be. The burden of the game being exciting and interesting rests on the players' shoulders. It's an understandable design decision in internal testing and a controlled environment, but it doesn't work in the wild. Online public play quickly becomes an exercise in frustration. If the person playing the Trapper doesn't use the Mobile Arena, you don't stand a chance no matter how well you play.

It's a shame because when the ideal is reached, Evolve is incredibly fun and exciting. Weaving your abilities together to take down a high-stage Monster is incredibly engaging, and proper communication and teamwork feels amazing. It's not bad design so much as shortsighted design. Perhaps as the Evolve player base gains experience, the game will level out, but that's a big if since many multiplayer games don't keep their player base for more than a few weeks after launch.

This isn't helped by the fact that Evolve is light in content for a $60 game. There are a handful of maps, characters and monsters at launch, so it feels even lighter than L4D. It's clear the game is designed to be played over and over again rather than being a single linear experience, but given the full price tag, it's still difficult to swallow. Extensive DLC plans have already been announced. Most of the at-launch DLC consists of cosmetic skins, but we know that extra monsters (including one who seems PC-exclusive) are coming. A lower price tag would've made the DLC more palatable.

There's a lot of heart in the visuals. The Monsters and Hunters have distinctive designs, but they are a little plain. A lot of the wildlife is unmemorable, and the environments lack the personality that made L4D so fun. The voice work helps sell the game, as the wacky characters place it somewhere between Team Fortress 2 and L4D. Most of the setting and plot is revealed through these interactions, and it keeps the game from getting boring. There's a noticeable lack of variety. I quickly heard repeated dialogue, and the charm wore off far too quickly.

Evolve has rare highs hidden amongst tedious lows. When the title hits its stride, it is easy to see why it was designed in this way. Hunting down and killing a Monster or successfully overwhelming Hunters through clever hit-and-run attacks is amazing. Unfortunately, far too often, the game devolves into long, boring periods of wandering around followed by brief, intense moments of excitement. It might be a realistic depiction of hunting, but it doesn't make for engaging multiplayer gameplay. Playing with friends helps alleviate some of that, but it also means Evolve isn't something you can pick up and casually play. Add in some balance issues and a general lack of content, and Evolve is a difficult game to recommend. There's a very fun core game here, but it's so buried that most players won't find it.

Score: 7.0/10

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