Evolve is an ambitious 4vs1 class-based shooter developed by Turtle Rock Studios (of Left 4 Dead fame) and published by 2K, that saw global release on the 10th Feb 2015 AD. Despite a well-received Alpha and Beta across multiple platforms, and decent coverage in gaming media, personally I feel Evolve’s hype train never truly left the station and there seemed to be a generally ambivalent attitude towards its release. I believe this has worked definitively in Evolve’s favour, as it succeeds not based on pre-release marketing (I’m looking at you Destiny), but rather as a mechanically solid, utterly unique and well-balanced take on the strategic class-based shooter.
The premise is simple: You have the choice of being one of a team of four hunters or as a violent and misunderstood monster, each hell bent on the destruction of the other because… reasons. Evolve doesn’t seem to hide from the fact that it is extremely light on story. From what I can gather reading the tidbits in the loading screens, attempted colonisation of a planet called Shear has made the local wildlife angry, and unfortunately this wildlife does not simply comprise disgruntled wombats, but rather hulking beasts that breathe fire, hurl lightning and basically make life hard for the aspiring colonist.
As a hunter you play one of four classes. Medic, Assault and Support should all be familiar to those who have heard of class-based shooters or have a rudimentary knowledge of the English language as healer, damage-dealer and all-round helper respectively. Where things get interesting is with the Trapper class. The Trapper is responsible for immobilising the monster, using a mobile arena to ensnare it in a dome and then harpoons or stasis grenades to restrict its movement while the rest of the team unleashes on it. Each of the twelve hunters spread across the four classes have a class-based ability as well as three unique abilities/weapons. These abilities are all very diverse and fun to use with each character having a distinctive feel, even within the same class. Whether you like the idea of resurrecting your teammates from the dead as Medic Lazarus, getting up close and personal with a flamethrower as the Assault character Hyde, or calling in a devastating barrage of missiles from space as Support character Hank, the odds are you will find a character that resonates with your play style.
Evolve’s fifth class is the monster. There is the brutish simian Goliath, the lightning squid wizard Kraken, and the stealthy and deceptive she-devil Wraith. As the monster you will be snacking on other wildlife in an attempt to grow armour and evolve as you simultaneously evade the pesky hunters. In the Hunt gameplay mode, either you evolve to Stage 3 and destroy the power relay or you wipe out all the hunters to win. As you can imagine, playing as a powerful monster is incredibly fun, however despite this sense of power the hunter/hunted gameplay (amazingly) still feels quite balanced… mostly. The Wraith has an incredibly overloaded kit and is basically a whirling dervish of particle effects and pain. As of writing this review I have a 100% loss rate against the Wraith and a 100% win rate as the Wraith. If you don’t believe these stats type “Wraith is OP” into Google, then lean back and feel the butthurt flow through you.
A team of hunters lives and dies by its ability to communicate and coordinate. This game is most fun when played with good friends or at the very least in a public lobby that is fully mic’d up. If you don’t have any friends, get some. If you want to play this game online without wanting to talk to your teammates, don’t (or play as the monster you bastard). I am not proud of the things I have said to unmic’d teammates, but it is supremely frustrating when an entire team is let down by a micless Medic on the other other side of the map trying to figure out how to quickscope. That being said, when we did take down a tricky monster as a communicative team strategising and helping one another, the sense of camaraderie was unlike any I have ever felt before in a shooter.
The question remains as to whether Evolve will manage to hold the goldfish-like attention span of the gaming masses. Despite the online leaderboards and relatively addictive (if grindy) levelling system in which you earn perks for your characters and weapons, Evolve features some relatively barebones mode selection. Other than the previously mentioned Hunt, the only other mode is Evacuation. Evacuation is still 4vs1 but features a series of five matches in a row with some added central objectives like rescuing/killing survivors or killing/defending nests. Winning or losing in each round as either hunters or monsters grants map-specific perks like turrets or carnivorous birds in the next level. To those who complete all five rounds there are some hefty XP bonuses, however it is quite a time investment. Each round can be anywhere from five to twenty minutes long with loading times on top of that, therefore those who don’t have the better part of an hour to burn (or more) need not apply. Importantly you can also play solo offline in Evacuation mode with AI control of the other characters, however in my opinion this does not approach the fun to be had when hunting with friends, and probably isn’t robust enough to hold anyone’s attention for too long. You can however use offline play to level up your characters before you brave the lions’ den that is online play.
In summary, Evolve is a smart class-based shooter that aspires and achieves something refreshingly different with the genre. The tense moments of the hunt, followed by the adrenaline-pumping frantic struggles of man versus beast are perfectly captured here. Some balance issues (dat Wraith) and scant mode selection hold it back slightly, but one thing is for sure: If you like what Evolve is cooking, you certainly won’t find its flavour of gameplay anywhere else.