Evolve – The Next Evolution of Multiplayer?

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I remember the first time I played Evolve. At Comic Con last year, I braved the cosplaying hordes and made my way over to the Manchester Grand Hyatt to check out the Xbox Lounge and play some of the exclusive game demos within. When I walked into the Lounge, my attention immediately focused in on a large poster in the corner of the ballroom; a monstrous mark in the mud eerily reminiscent of the infamous T-Rex footprint from Jurassic Park, with just the phrase “EVOLVE” displayed above. I sped my way over to the demo area where I was greeted by a friendly team of the game’s developers, Turtle Rock Studios: “Do you want to play as the Monster?” I smirked, grabbed the controller, and proceeded to mercilessly eviscerate all four of the human-controlled hunters as the Cthulhu-like creature known only as Kraken. Sadly, during the time I’ve spent playing Evolve in the Big Alpha and open beta, and due the recent controversy over the game’s downloadable content, nothing has come close to matching my excitement since that first match back at the Xbox Lounge.

Evolve pits a team of four hunters, each with their own unique skills and weapons, up against one player-controlled monster in “asymmetrical multiplayer” battles. This means that the different teams, the hunters versus the monster in this case, have vastly different abilities at their disposal.

Player Types

The hunters are comprised of four classes, Assault, Support, Trapper, and Medic, and each have four unique skills to use, including a firearm. Monsters, which also have four distinctive powers, kill and eat AI wildlife in order to gain extra armor and eventually evolve, which endows the creature with more health and increases the damage of their abilities. Evolve was flawlessly described as “an intense game of Cat and Mouse where after enough cheese, the mouse can eat the cat.” This is Evolve at its core.

Environment

When the game launches in February it will have four multiplayer modes that span twelve maps. The maps add some diversity to the gameplay by throwing environmental hazards at the players in the form of both passive and aggressive AI wildlife, carnivorous plants that will swallow hunters whole, and more. Essentially, these threats were designed to add another element for the players to worry about on top of the hunter-monster battle. However, once you have played the maps and learned what and where these hazards are, as well as how to avoid them, that element of unpredictability is completely removed from the game. This just returns the players to the basic find the monster/kill the hunters gameplay, and the environmental threats become more of an annoyance than something that adds value to the game.

Game Modes

The four multiplayer gametypes are:

  • Hunt – The basic ‘hunters versus the monster’ mode
  • Rescue – The hunters have to revive and escort five AI human survivors to evacuation sites before the monster can kill five survivors
  • Nest – The hunters have to destroy six monster eggs spread throughout the map within ten minutes, and the monster can hatch eggs to create monster minions to fight with
  • Defend – A MOBA-like mode where a fully evolved monster and waves of monster minions attempt to destroy two generators before finally attacking a ship full of survivors.

It is important to note that despite the game modes having different objectives, they can all be ended immediately if all four hunters are killed by the monster, or if the monster is killed by the hunters. From a gameplay perspective that decision makes sense, but it detracts from the value of playing modes other than Hunt, due to the fact that every other game type is basically just another Hunt match with an added objective. There has been no confirmation from Turtle Rock that they are working on new gameplay modes for Evolve, which could really hurt the replay value and cause gamers to get bored of the game quicker than anticipated.

In addition to the four modes listed above is Evacuation, Evolve’s self-proclaimed “dynamic campaign.” However, aside from an introductory trailer that scratches together the surface of a story for the game, Evacuation simply strings together the four basic game modes over five multiplayer matches called “days,” culminating in a final round of Defend. The twist to Evacuation is that the winning side of each match gets some sort of advantage for the next round. For example, if the hunters win, in the very next match there may be some auto-turrets that attack the monster, and if the monster wins, there could be a large poisonous gas cloud that damages hunters when they are close to it. According to Turtle Rock, there are over 800,000 possible scenarios created by these advantages. However, the advantages merely result in another aspect to keep an eye out for in a match, not unlike the environmental hazards mentioned earlier. Even more disappointing here is that Turtle Rock blanketed one brief trailer over the four multiplayer modes already in the game, added some more hazards on top of the preexisting ones, and decided that was good enough to comprise Evacuation’s “dynamic campaign.” Calling it so is extremely misleading to the average customer, especially if they are on the fence deciding whether or not to pick up Evolve, notice the words “dynamic campaign” written somewhere on the back of the box, and buy the game thinking it has some sort of story mode. It does not.

Source: Turtle Rock Studios

Source: Turtle Rock Studios

Downloadable Content

Evolve will ship with twelve maps, twelve hunters (three characters per class), and three monsters. Turtle Rock recently announced that the fourth monster, Behemoth, will be available for download in the spring for free if you pre-order the game. Conversely, if you do not pre-order Evolve and use the downloadable Behemoth code before midnight on the game’s release date, the only way to acquire Behemoth will be through a $14.99 purchase.

Additionally, if you have any interest in acquiring new hunters down that road, the Hunting Season Pass offers four new hunters and three monster skins that will set you back $24.99, but would retail at around $30 if all items within sold individually. Compare these prices to Destiny, for example, which sold its first “expansion,” The Dark Below, for $19.99. The price appeared to be pretty steep for just a handful of new story missions, a few Strikes, and one Raid, but it is quickly starting to look like a better deal compared to what’s happening with Evolve. Keep in mind, the Hunting Season Pass and Behemoth DLC only cover the first wave of downloadable characters. Any other hunters or monsters released down the road are going to cost you even more.

At this price point, Turtle Rock is effectively equating the value of one monster to a quarter of the total value of the game, and four hunters at approximately one-half. Now, I won’t pretend to understand all of the intricacies that go into creating new monsters and hunters. I am sure “it takes a lot of time, iteration and careful balancing”, and these prices are an attempt to reflect that. As a gamer who, despite what developers and publishers may think, is not made of money, it is disheartening knowing that before I even throw down the $60 to buy the game, there are all of these new hunters and monsters on the horizon. Together they’re expensive enough that I would be paying more than another full priced copy of the game if I want the chance to play all of the new hunters and monsters.

For an even better deal, Evolve is selling a Digital Deluxe version, combining the regular Evolve game with the Hunting Season Pass for just $80, a whopping $5 discount when compared to buying the game and Hunting Season Pass separately. Better yet, if you have a quality gaming PC, and are a baller, you can purchase the “PC Monster Race” edition of the game for $100, which gets you: the game, the Hunting Season Pass, Behemoth, the yet to be announced fifth monster, and two more hunters. Now if all of these different DLC’s and season passes seem like a lot to keep track of for game that has yet to be released, you are not alone. When the Creative Director of your game has to come out to publicly defend the DLC strategy, you might want to start rethinking how you got to this point. But hey, at least Turtle Rock is giving away any additional maps they crank out for free!

Online Play

Despite all of these flaws, the game really shines and is genuinely fun when there is a fully coordinated team of hunters playing together against an intelligent monster. It is a beautiful sight when every class is performing their role perfectly; the Trapper has the monster imprisoned within an impenetrable dome and is keeping it pinned to the ground with harpoons, Assault is blasting away at the monster and using their temporary invulnerability shield when they start to take damage, Support is cloaking nearby teammates raining down orbital strikes, and the Medic is doing their best to keep everyone’s health up. The downside to this is that you’ll need a solid group of four friends who understand their roles and communicate with each other. At least through my experiences in the alpha and beta, the odds of playing random games with competent hunters were minimal. Hopefully this will change after the game is released, because going into a match as a hunter without any friends or a coordinated effort can get tiresome fast. Even playing as the monster against a team of hunters who have no idea what they are doing does not really yield any satisfaction when you effortlessly rip them apart.

Offline Play

Also worth mentioning is that the game will come with an offline mode where the player will be able to play the game with bots in lieu of real people. Personally, I feel that playing solely against AI opponents would take even more unpredictability out of the game, but I can also see how playing against the computer could alleviate the concerns of some casual gamers who either do not like or are having trouble competing online.

Conclusion

I want Evolve to do well, do not get me wrong. I would love nothing more than to see the game sell tons of copies, as I have faith in gamers to support new IPs with exciting ideas rather than those just rehashing the same formula in order to hit that next annual release. However, I just wish that the game would have shipped with more value to the customer to help rid the bad taste from our mouths due to the DLC strategy (which I would like to believe was pushed on Turtle Rock by their publisher, 2K Games). Evolve could easily be the recipient of a large sales boost solely from the fact that there are not any AAA multi-platform games being released in the near future other than Dying Light (depending on your definition of AAA), which comes out on January 27th, and Battlefield Hardline on March 17th. Perhaps there will be enough content and variety in the game to make it sustainable and have an active community for the foreseeable future. If so, hopefully we will get to see an Evolve 2 that has learned from the lessons of the past. Until then, happy huntin’.

Evolve stomps into stores on February 10th, on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

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