Multiplayer games as a whole are a different beast compared to the more ageless experiences of a single-player campaign; a good multiplayer game lives or dies based on community, longevity, and so many other factors that can make or break whether a game scores thousands of players every week, or straggles with a dedicated-but-few band of loyal players.
From multiplayer stalwarts like Call of Duty and Halo, to tactical affairs like Battlefield and Team Fortress 2, to more experimental affairs like Left 4 Dead and Destiny, Turtle Rock Studios and 2K Games have introduced a whole new breed of multiplayer action with its latest title, Evolve.
Mixing single-player narrative with multiplayer replayability, a 4v1 asynchronous gameplay experience, and a good dose of intense monster action, Evolve is certainly a different kind of beast when it comes to competitive multiplayer, but one that manages to stand head and shoulders above most in terms of its cooperative experience.
Unfortunately there are a few nagging vestigial limbs that prevent it from being the perfect specimen.
Pitting players in various areas of the planet Shear, the narrative set-up is fast and loose but effective in bringing (some) cohesion and sense to the game’s action.
As a team of four Hunters — all soldiers, mercenaries, bounty hunters, and other intergalactic oddballs — Evolve‘s primary mechanic focuses on pitting the team of four against one common adversary: the hulking, snarling, ever-changing Monster.
While most multiplayer-centric games focus heavily on balance and fine-tuning each and every weapon, skill, perk, and more to have a precise level of finesse, this game instead revels in its relatively-unbalanced matchups of four Hunters against one Monster, leading to matches that always progress differently, strategies that always change, and most of all, every match leading to the thrill of the hunt.
Developed by Turtle Rock Studios of Left 4 Dead, Evolve appropriately contains much of the DNA that made the studio’s zombie-focused cooperative action game so popular and fun: combining the focus and pull of a single-player-minded game with the social aspects of multiplayer.
The core components resemble the structure of Left 4 Dead well, but with its more focused and quickly-paced gameplay, this title is a much leaner and meaner killing machine for the time-conscious gamer, thanks to matches that can last on average between 15-30 minutes with room to go on longer for those that find themselves in the middle of more difficult skirmishes.
The structure of Evolve‘s centerpiece experience, “Hunt Mode,” pits the Hunters and Monster with largely difficult goals and accomplishments to reach.
In the case of the Monster, the hulking brute stomps around the map preying on creatures to eat, in order to grow stronger and evolve to two higher levels of power. This turns a relatively weak Level 1 monster to a nearly-unstoppable Level 3 behemoth.
Once powered up, the Monster’s single-minded goal becomes a chase to finish off the fledgling hunters, or to go after a Power Relay that once destroyed, will stop the Hunters and win the game.
On the Hunter side of things, their goal is simple: hunt down the Monster and kill it once and for good — preferably as quickly as possible, before it’s able to evolve to its highest level.
Equipped with various gear for tracking the Monster, slowing it down, healing team members, and more, the Hunters’ gameplay and goals varies greatly from that of its nemesis, but remains invigorating thanks to the difference of each team member and the heavily team-focused gameplay.
This is no place for lone wolves if you’re going to be on the Hunter side of things. Instead, survival (and ultimately winning) is bound to communication, effective teamwork, and always keeping an eye out for any danger, whether it’s from the Monster or from other creatures of Shear.
Between the Hunters’ focus on tracking and the Monster’s goal of eating and gaining higher levels of strength and power, Evolve‘s push-and-play structure becomes the key narrative drama when it comes to a match.
As the Monster, my focus right away was “evolve, evolve, evolve:” as a weak Level 1 monsterling, I avoided direct contact with the Hunters at all cost to focus on eating and growing stronger, heading to the lofty goals of being a Level 3 Monster.
Likewise, the Hunters’ dynamic in trying to track and contain the Monster at its lower levels always made the matches progress quickly; trying to catch and defeat the Monster at Level 1 versus struggling at every cost to defeat it at Level 3.
Evolve‘s 4v1 platform for its multiplayer experience works extremely well: it’s intense, it’s exciting, and matches always feel like they are progressing versus the sometimes stop-and-start action of Left 4 Dead.
While the core component of the game’s Monster vs. Hunters action remains relatively the same, the varying types of Hunters and Monsters available is the key way that the game’s action remains fresh, with Evolve containing 12 different Hunters, three different Monsters, and tons of skills, weapons, and abilities to give variety to players of all types.
On the Hunter side, each team is composed of four different classes with a specific skill set and role within the team: Assault, Medic, Trapper, and Support.
Each team member serves a specific purpose, as the Assault team member is the tank/damage dealer, the Medic’s abilities help to keep the team alive, the Support class buffs the team with shields and special gear, and (perhaps most crucially) the Trapper’s gear helps guide the team to the Monster for easier tracking.
Where Left 4 Dead‘s cooperative experience had each player with the same skill sets and abilities, Evolve‘s team construction is far more dynamic, and ultimately, more interesting and rewarding: each class is crucial to the team’s ability to succeed, with unique equipment and abilities that play a vital role.
As someone that tends to stick with one or two favorite classes in previous multiplayer games, the beauty of the class system lies in the construction of it focusing on both the individual and the team in order to succeed.
Each role within the team has a multitude of abilities that make them important to the team rather than just serving one specific purpose, unlike other team-oriented games such as Team Fortress 2, in particular.
The starting medic class provides the team with a healing gun to regain lost health, but in addition can give other benefits to the team with a tranquilizer gun that can slow down the Monster and track it temporarily, and a sniper rifle that creates weak points on the Monster the other team members can use for critical hits.
The first Trapper class succeeds not only in helping to track the Monster with Daisy, the adorably grotesque dog-lizard creature that sniffs out the monster’s trail, but also provides harpoon tracks that can temporarily stop the Monster in its tracks, and the vital holo-Dome ability that contains the Monster in a small area to prevent its escape.
Where in Left 4 Dead I often became bored quickly of the limited sets of abilities and gear available to the Humans compared to the wealth of options for the game’s Infected creatures, each Hunter contains plenty of options and functions within the group, and each are fun to learn, difficult to master, and ultimately offers separate experiences that take plenty of hours of multiplayer to learn how to use effectively.
The Monster experience is one wholly different from that of the Hunters, combining action, stealth, and some heart-poundingly close-calls in the fight to survive and grow to the highest level of power and chaos.
Starting off the match with a slight lead ahead of the Hunters, the Monster’s goal to hunt down creatures for eating and evolve to higher levels becomes a mix of aggressive moves forward and clever moves back away from the Hunters.
Using stealth to avoid leaving tracks and scaring birds that the Hunters can track, the Monster’s quest to hunt creatures and evolve becomes crucial to growing stronger, gaining more armor, skill points to upgrade the Monster’s abilities, and overall more power to either take down the Hunters mano-a-monster, or to quickly take down the Power Relay and claim a monstrous victory.
Likewise, each of the game’s three starting Monster classes, though less in quantity compared to the Hunters, all provide a wildly different approach when it comes to rompin’ and stompin’ through the game’s maps, and especially in how to take down the Hunters.
The starting Monster, Goliath, provides a more well-rounded approach as the game’s tank, focusing mostly on brute force and getting up-close and personal, but also providing some variety with a boulder toss ability, a punishing charge attack, and an effectively long-range flamethrower attack.
The Kraken, a Cthulu-esque monstrosity, instead opts for more long-ranged lightning-based attacks, with the ability to glide around and throw balls of electrified-terror at players.
The final Monster, the whispy Wraith, zips through the map quietly, giving players a collection of more stealth-based abilities such as cloaking and quick slashes. Though weaker than the other Monsters, the Wraith is effective at quick get in and out attacks on the enemy players.
The core experience of Hunt Mode is an absolute blast, with the majority of my game time spent in the hunt chasing down the Monster, or likewise, tracking the Hunters and leading them to their deaths — though it may get repetitive to some, the central Hunt Mode gives plenty of thrills that always make each match exciting and progress wildly.
Whether the Hunter team gets trapped by the game’s wildlife or the Monster is felled by a well-coordinated plan at the hands of the Hunters, Hunt Mode is the main event that will keep most of the player base invested in the game’s 4v1 action, either in online multiplayer or in the game’s surprisingly robust Solo mode with (mostly) competent AI bots on both sides.
Aside from Hunt Mode, Evolve also contains several other game types mainly contained in Evacuation Mode, serving up mostly variant game types on the game’s Monster vs. Hunters premise.
Different game types include Nest Mode, where Monster eggs around the map force the Hunters to rally against the Monster’s defense and destroy its hatchlings, or the Rescue Mode where Hunters strive to help save fellow Survivors around the map before the Hunter gets to them first.
Though thoughtfully-made and offering a nice alternative to the main Hunt experience, the game’s supplemental modes don’t quite capture the same level of tension and excitement that make Hunt Mode such a thrill each and every time.
Some of them feel unbalanced or not quite as finely tuned, with Rescue Mode in particular feeling heavily-weighted in the Monster’s favor to victory thanks to extra objectives that slow the Hunters down.
Evolve definitely shows the type of multiplayer experience that will keep some coming back over and over again (myself included). However, to others the longevity of the game may not be easily seen until a few months down the line with the game’s somewhat oddly-structure progression system.
With the game only offering one Monster and one of each Hunter at the very start, players unlock new characters on each side by leveling up the abilities of each character, mastering their skill sets to reach a new character.
The progression system is laid out smartly and admirably tries to keep players going, and most of all, to learn the intricacies of each class and character, but leveling up and earning each of the new characters may be an uphill struggle for some.
Given that the game’s unlocks are primarily new Hunters and Monsters, leveling up each character’s abilities can come down to an exhausting grind for some, especially in forcing players to use some abilities and gear that may not necessarily suit their play-styles.
It’s a thoughtful layout from Turtle Rock that makes sense, but the progression to unlock new characters, especially ones that offer such varying play styles, can feel like a drag.
After roughly 15-20 hours of play I only managed to unlock one Monster and around one of each Hunter class, leading to occasional bouts of grinding for the sake of unlocks rather than of genuine enjoyment and learning new play styles.
Beyond the unlocks of new Hunters and Monsters, the game only offers minimal new unlockables afterward, such as new skins, player badge assets, and minor ability upgrades.
While there may be some more fine-tuning in store for the progression, right now as it stands the hill to climb for unlocking new characters feels too far, and the set of rewards after unlocking them don’t quite feel substantial enough, compared to the constant sense of reward in other multiplayer titles’ progression systems.
Compared to some of the heavy hitters of the multiplayer genre, Evolve is relatively light on content, with the Hunt Mode easily set to the be the game’s big attraction aside from some of its lighter modes and game types.
Those of the Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Halo breed may find this title a love-it-or-hate-it experience, as it’s a different beast entirely.
But, for those looking for something off-the-beaten path, this is still a wholly-satisfying experience that lives, breathes, and makes-or-break a player’s ability to work in a team, or in thinking as a stealthy killing machine.
Though its long-term ability to survive has yet to be seen, in the short run that this first-person shooter has been out in the wild, it’s already proven itself as a beast of a different color, and one that certainly will provide thrills and the joy of the hunt for anyone looking to stare right back at it.
Evolve is the perfect new breed of multiplayer for the current-gen consoles, and ready or not — here it comes for you.