As the freshman effort from Turtle Rock Studios, Evolve represents a huge risk, and as a 4v1 asymmetrical co-op game, Evolve carries the hope of a blossoming genre on its back. It’s something new and different, and therefore is going to be a tougher sell to gamers.
Thankfully, Turtle Rock’s experience on the Left 4 Dead series has given them a fundamental understanding of how class-based co-op can work. Granted, they’ve taken those ideas a step further in Evolve, but there’s still a general sense of familiarity to the game. It puts players in control of one of four unique Hunter classes – Assault, Trapper, Support, or Medic – and requires that the team work in perfect harmony in order to achieve a goal. That goal? Hunt and take down a massive monster capable of destroying the entire Hunter group.
On its face, Evolve’s concept is an intriguing one. The idea that four coordinated players are locked into a dynamic boss battle with a player-controlled monster offers a lot of potential, and by and large Turtle Rock delivers. The monsters is desperately trying to consume food and evolve, but is constantly on edge knowing the Hunters could be right on its tail. While the four Hunters are working quickly to track down the monster before he can evolve to his second or third form, using trampled vegetation, disturbed wildlife, and few gadgets to guide their way. It puts both groups on edge, but ready to strike if the situation presents itself.
Ideally, this scenario sets up an intriguing gameplay loop, where the various Hunter classes use their limited tracking abilities to find the monster while it tries to stay hidden. If they don’t work as a team, though, the Hunters will find that the monster is plenty powerful, and equally capable of fleeing at the drop of a hat. However, it's better to catch the monster sooner rather than later, as the higher level monsters are capable of dealing massive damage. Facing off with a level 1 monster is tough, but taking down a fully leveled monster requires an extremely coordinated (and lucky) team.
Therein lies Evolve’s biggest rub: teamwork. If the Hunter group does not work together there is little hope of them taking down the monster. If the Medic doesn’t focus on healing, if the Trapper doesn’t quarantine the monster with its mobile arena, or if the Assault doesn’t balance his attacks with his buffs, then the Hunter team is in for a bad time. There’s nothing worse then spending 10-20 minutes tracking the monster, only to have him demolish the team because the Medic spent more time shooting than healing.
It’s a delicate tight rope for Evolve to walk and it fails just as often as it succeeds. Get together with a solid team and the game hits all the notes Turtle Rock intended, but even one weak link can sour the experience. Hunting the monster is still fun, but spending all that time searching only to fall apart within a minute or two is deflating. Not only that, it makes it hard to want to load up another match.
Similarly, playing as the monster has its own set of pratfalls. Each of the three monsters are competent and unique options, but there will be times when a wrong turn puts the player right in front of the Hunters and at a disadvantage. It is possible to weather the storm, but many low level monsters will lose the fight before they’ve had any chance to explore or evolve. Again, situations like this put a huge halt to momentum and detract from the admittedly fun base that Evolve offers.
There’s obviously some variation within the framework of Evolve, with three Hunter options per class and three monsters, but the basics remain relatively unchanged. One Assault option might have a different primary weapon than the other, but the focus is still on dealing damage. And where the Kraken or the Wraith monsters have different abilities than the Goliath, combat is mostly about managing those four attack/retreat options. I will say that the Wraith feels particularly overpowered thanks to its Decoy ability, but that’s something Turtle Rock fan fix with balancing.
There are also a few other modes beyond the basic kill or be killed Hunt mode that look to add new wrinkles to combat. Nest, for example, tasks the Hunters with destroying un-hatched monster eggs, while the Monster must keep its kin alive. Rescue flips that formula on its head, and forces the Hunters to extract human survivors before the monster can kill a set number. However, these modes can only be accessed as part of Evolve’s Evacuation campaign – a five match offering that changes as players go along. The team will start with a basic Hunt and whichever group wins will get a map-based advantage (tiny minions for the monster, for example) in the following match until the campaign culminates in a final extraction. There, the monster is already level 3 and it’s up to the Hunters to defend a massive extraction ship as it prepares for departure.
While the Evacuation campaign does offer something different to players, it too is uneven. Getting into a match against a skilled monster or well-coordinated Hunter team locks you into a series of uphill battles. And with the added modifiers, it becomes even more challenging to turn the tide. When there’s a push and pull, the campaign works really well, and the final event becomes a tense showdown, but any slight misstep on the way drags the experience down. Sure, players can leave at any point, but there’s no guaranteeing the replacement will be any better.
There is an option to play any of the modes or the campaign with and against AI opponents, but that seems to go against Evolve’s M.O. Playing against an AI monster is far easier due in large part to the fact he “plays dumb” by letting the Hunters trap him more easily. And the AI Hunter teammates typically will follow the player-controlled character rather than trying to search out the monster on their own. The AI is competent to a point, but this is a multiplayer game at heart so don’t expect impressive things from the AI.
In its quest to be something new and unique, Evolve succeeds more than it fails. The 4v1 concept offers a tense cat and mouse game to Hunter players and gives Monster players the chance to fulfill every power fantasy. For all intents and purposes, Evolve is the game Turtle Rock set out to make, but there are plenty of qualifiers holding it back.
The lack of variety in the modes and maps is sure to decrease the game’s longevity, and the gameplay set-up itself can go awry at the drop of a hat. Plenty of times the Monster took a wrong turn and the match was over in a second, or the Hunter team spent upwards of 40 minutes searching for the Monster before he hit Level 3 and trounced the entire group. Neither is a satisfying scenario, but both are far too common if the parameters aren’t perfect.
In the end, Evolve needs everything to go right for it to work, or the player needs at least a few friends with which to play along. In those cases, the game does hit that incredible note of a dynamic boss fight. But the times when it doesn’t work swoop in to sour things quickly, and it isn’t long before the desire to play more disappears. Evolve may find life as a discount release or a rental, but as a $60 title it’s hard to say the experience is worth it.
[NOTE: We encountered significant matchmaking problems on the Xbox One version of the game, including connection errors, losing party members, and endless load times. The PS4 version ran much better and we experienced minimal issues.]
What do you think of Evolve? Let us know in the comments.
Evolve is available now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PS4 and Xbox One code for this review.