When I read about Evan’s recent foray into the wilds of Toronto to participate in the Evolve event, I was pretty stoked to get my hands on Turtle Rock Studios’ hunt-or-be-hunted game, Evolve. Besides being a tightly-designed (and fun) game, this title managed to do something that most multi-player shooters fail to do: get me to look forward to playing the game with other people.
Regardless of which mode you play, the game is about survival of the fittest on the far-flung planet of Shear, pitting four specialists against at least a single giant monster. Each of the humanoids is an expert in their chosen field, and come loaded for bear (or monster, in this case) with unique weapons (and are each imbued with appropriate and hilarious personalities): Assault (all about the damage), Trapper (tracking and containing the monster to help the rest of the team take down the beast), Medic (team healing), and Support (assisting the rest of the team with unique abilities like cloaking and damage enhancement). Classes have default abilities, but within each class are three different characters who bring their own unique enhancements to the table. For instance, Markov (Assault) is a medium-range fighter while Parnell (also Assault) eschews medium range tactics for close-quarters (combat shotgun) and long-range (multi-fire rocket launcher). These characters will need to work together, taking advantage of their complementary abilities to take down the beast, who is a formidable foe.
Aside from being gigantic, monsters have a number of non-combat abilities (stealth, climbing, etc.), and can eat other creatures to trigger an evolution (though during the cocoon process, they are vulnerable to attack). Much like the hunters, the monsters also come in several different flavours: Goliath (fire-breathing brawler), Kraken (lightning-hurling flyer), Wraith (teleporting, stealth-based creature), and the Behemoth (massive and slow, the lack of jumping ability is more than compensated for by an awesome arsenal).
While similar on the surface, the four different game-modes each have subtle differences, giving the game some legs in terms of replay value. Hunt is the “main” mode, in which the four hunters must track and hunt the Monster before it can destroy a power relay. The Monster starts at stage 1, and can only attack the relay once it has reached stage 3 in its evolution. The game becomes a tense affair, with the monster trying to sneak around to trigger evolutions while the hunters frantically try to take it down in its weaker state. Nest involves finding and destroying six monster eggs spread about the map in random locations (all within a time limit). The role of the monster is to protect the eggs. If necessary, the monster can spawn a minion by sacrificing an egg. Should a minion be spawned, the mission objectives expand to include this new threat’s destruction. In Rescue, colonists must escape the monsters. The Hunters need to ensure that the colonists survive, while the monster needs to eliminate the innocents. Whoever saves five colonists (Hunters) or kills five colonists (Monster) wins. Finally, Defend involves protecting a refueling station from a fully-evolved Monster and some smaller minions. To win, the Monster must destroy two generators, while the Hunters must protect the critical structures.
Evolve is, at its core, a multi-player game. That being said, what is really cool about Evolve is how multi-player mode is set up. Players can choose Quick Play to dive into the action in a single match, or they opt to play Evacuation, which is like a mini-campaign of sorts. Evacuation is composed of five matches, with the winners of a match gaining an advantage in the next map. The examples given in the introduction cite turrets if the Hunters do well, or poison gases leaking from a reactor if the Monster takes the match. The final round is a Defend match, so players have incentive to do their best in the preceding four matches, in order to rack up the advantages. Having these two modes of play is quite handy, as it can allow you to be as involved in the game as you want to be. Match-making is implemented well, and uses a priority system to help fix you up with a group (you pick the order of importance of who you like to be).
There is something that sets this game apart from typical multi-player games. Even Team Fortress 2, with it’s super-specialized characters and interesting maps, doesn’t really compare to the interesting dynamic of Evolve. The asynchronous nature really gives the game a different feel, delivering sweet tension during all parts of the game thanks to the large maps and the multi-layered environments. The balance of power shifts back and forth many times during a match, as the Hunters have the advantage of numbers and can utilize the environment to figure out clues as to where the Monster may be hiding. Meanwhile, the Monster has enhanced senses and can utilize stealth to its advantage, confounding the Hunters by hiding under their very noses. When the two parties inevitably meet, there is a desperate struggle for supremacy as the Hunters try to work together to take down the Monster – with both sides trying to take advantage of grabbing buffs from killing secondary creatures. I have played this game a number of times online, and even when nobody is talking, it’s still highly entertaining.
The compelling game-play is enhanced by the fantastic visuals. The world of Shear feels very much alive, regardless of whether you make your way through it as a person or as a beast. The spectacular graphics and gorgeous lighting are accompanied by a very rich sound-scape composed of amazing surround sound effects, heart-pounding music, and admirable voice acting. Even the different cut-scenes manage to portray a great sense of personality.
While positioned as a multi-player jamboree, Evolve has a generous single-player “mode” that is a lot of fun to play thanks to the decent bots that take the reins of whichever characters you are not controlling (though you can switch between each of the four Hunters while you are playing). This mode is great for learning the ropes (there are some neat interactive tutorials), allowing you to prepare for the eventuality of playing with real people online. The other advantage of playing in single-player mode is that you can accumulate experience to unlock weapons and more characters. Sadly, Turtle Rock has chosen to lock a fair bit of the game, which feels unnecessary to me, since I suspect that people who buy Evolve will devote a large chunk of time to it.
Evolve is a fantastic game that is made to be played by anyone who appreciates teamwork – or by those who like to take on the mantle of the lone wolf. The core game-play mode (Hunt) is enough to sustain the game – with the extra modes being icing on the cake. The world of Shear is a fun place to play as either the Hunters or the hunted, and replay value is high as you can practice on your own to unlock goodies and characters in single-player, and then take the battle online in multi-player. While the game does have a fair bit of locked content, it won’t take dedicated players very long to unlock everything. Evolve is out for the Xbox One (which is what I played it on), the Playstation 4, and on the PC via Steam.