Last week saw the release of Evolve, the authentic multiplayer shooter from Turtle Rock Studios, and my time since has been spent scouring the mysterious and gloomy world of Shear for monsters before they get the chance to devour me in brutal fashion.
For those who are unfamiliar with Evolve, the game is an asymmetrical multiplayer shooter, where a team of four player-controlled hunters with contrasting skills and responsibilities are pitted against a powerful monster (also player-controlled), with the aim of hunting it down and killing it before it gets the chance to evolve into a powerful enough adversary to destroy them all in its wake. Each of the 12 hunters across four classes comes equipped with a set of unique weapons and abilities, that when combined, can rival the monster’s own speed, power and punishing attacks.
The Assault class, for example, deals the bulk of the damage to your gargantuan opponent, packing powerful short range weapons. Alongside this is the Support, who is tasked with the role of preventing damage dealt to other players in the form of projected shields and cloaking devices. Backing these up is the classic Medic class, who can heal players along the way, whilst also making use of long range weaponry. Finally, we have the Trapper, a class where the clue is very much in the name. He/she can catch the monster within a force field, halting its escape from combat so that the team can unleash as much damage as possible on the beast.
As such, Evolve is very much a multiplayer experience where teamwork and organisation is key. The game does offer a single player mode using AI characters, but it’s in the multiplayer where the thrill of the hunt really comes to life. This of course comes with the heavy reliance on the comradery and cooperation of your teammates.
Turtle Rock has done a fantastic job in Evolve in making sure each class offers a satisfyingly different gameplay experience, whilst the unlockable characters in each also offer player progression. It goes without saying, however, that the game can fall flat when your online teammates do not live up to the job and achieving victory is stunted by a haphazard squad that are all playing lone ranger.
Playing as the monster requires an extremely different understanding of the environment and tools offered to the player. There are three playable monsters available – the stomping fire-breathing Goliath, the long-range Kraken, with elemental powers at its command, and the somewhat overpowered Wraith, which messes with players via stealth and teleport powers.
In obvious contrast to the hunters, the monster is very much a solitary experience, where the importance of fast movement and carefully timed attacks is key. It’s difficult but rewarding when playing Hunt, the game’s main mode, as the player mauls its prey across the map in an attempt to power up and evolve through a set of 3 stages, before being trapped and taken down. Being caught in combat too early will result in a difficult fight and easy death, whilst keeping your wits about you and staying on the move will result in an almost unstoppable monster that can smash down opponents with ease with its powerful attacks.
I personally found playing as the monster a much harder and more stressful experience, where I’ve spent my time desperately trying to escape long enough to quickly gouge on wildlife. However, I’ve witnessed people evolve quickly and win without struggle by carefully covering its tracks and confusing the hunters using environmental elements around it, such as the winding streams and high clifftops, making its move as soon as the time is right. Whilst using the environment around can prove hugely advantageous, other elements will quickly alert hunters to your trail, such as circling birds and rotting carcasses.
Other game modes offer a different experience to Hunt, including Nest – where players must destroy a set of eggs before they hatch; Defend – where the hunters must protect a checkpoint against a storm of monster attacks; and Rescue – where the team must rescue a set number of survivors from around the map before the monster can kill them. These are played in Evacuation mode, where five sequential rounds take place, the result of each altering factors in the successive round that aid or hinder the victor/loser. Whilst these modes are all enjoyable in their own ways, it’s hard not to feel like they are simply thrown in for a bit of variation, with less thought put in compared to the Hunt game type. It’s also a shame that these modes are unavailable in the single-round skirmish mode, for when you just don’t want to commit to a more lengthy session.
Stylistically, the environments on offer in Shear are brilliantly gloomy and foreboding, with rich forestry, vast open wetlands and dystopian military architecture, all experienced at the dead of night. I did find myself struggling to remember which map I was playing, however, as there isn’t huge variation in the surroundings, and it’s easy to circle around the same areas without realising. The wildlife, which plays a key part in the experience as fodder for the monster and threat to the hunter, is well thought out, with different species offering varying challenge and attack styles. Some also offer unique “buffs” or power ups that also give a temporary alteration to the game.
Whilst most of the game impresses, Evolve is not without its disheartening issues. The lobby system is frustratingly slow in between games, and many, myself included, have experienced issues when playing in a party with friends. It’s possible to get thrown into a full match, whilst your fellow party member is kicked out altogether and returned to the main menu. Perhaps a minor gripe, but it’s also not always easy to look back on what is required to unlock new characters except in post-match progression tracking.
The inability to play anything else besides Hunt in Skirmish mode leads to a lack of diversity and a sense of stagnation in the gameplay, particularly when you remain in a lobby with the same players who are unwilling to switch up their style or work cohesively with each other. Occasionally, it’s possible to get into a loop as a hunter, where long rounds are spent hunting a monster who is just too fast to track and trap, and a disappointingly futile battle follows a frustrating 15 minutes of waiting for your jetpack to recharge and desperately running around in circles.
The biggest criticism aimed at Evolve is, unsurprisingly, its lack of a rewarding solo campaign and endless repetitiveness. Whilst it’s completely fair to describe the game as repetitive, its constant learning curve presented in attempting to adapt to each class or monster and master the many different tactics on offer to be victorious is enough to keep me enjoying myself and coming back for more. Whether this will last after the initial thrill of release week will become clear in time.
Ultimately, Evolve is a great new multiplayer experience with fantastic visuals, audio and varying gameplay that all contribute to an overall pleasing experience. Whilst it’s a game that may not sit well with fans of classic online shooter formats such as Call of Duty or Battlefield, it offers something different and exciting, particularly when playing as the monster. Every part of the world and every action taken by both sides can subtly or quickly alter the hunt in positive and negative ways, depending on which side you happen to be playing as.
If the repetition bothers you, it is worth noting that many other games suffer from the same complaint, particularly sports games, but in the same way as many others, a session on Evolve always gives a different experience to the last. It’s not a game I would spend an entire weekend playing unrelentingly, but it is an exciting online shooter with many well-thought out elements that gel well together and create a fantastic experience to dip in and out of at will.