Review "“ Evolve (PS4) 2015-02-12
When it comes to competitive multiplayer, and cooperative online play, Turtle Rock Studios are certainly not unfamiliar. Founded in 2002, the team debuted with the Xbox port of the ever popular Counter-Strike and then went on to make CS: Condition Zero, Counter-Strike Source and Half-Life 2 Deathmatch in 2004. For four years the team remained fairly silent until they resurfaced in 2008 with a game that some consider as one of the prominent catalysts for the current Zombie trend. Left4Dead was an engaging 4-player cooperative game that pitted your squad against hordes of zombies, and also introduced an impressive AI system that would naturally evolve depending on your success. Now in 2015, the zombie slaying has taken a back seat, and Turtle Rock looks to a new enemy and ultimately a new way of participating in coop. Evolve seeks to be "“ for lack of a better word "“ the evolution of cooperative multiplayer. Four players is still the squad limit, but you are facing one other person. It just so happens that the additional person gets to control a hulking monster capable of 3 evolutionary forms.
The game takes place on a fictional planet called Shear "“ a planetary body that humanity has managed to colonize. They are soon attacked by an alien monster race, something which forces a veteran planet tamer named William Cabot out of retirement. He assembles a team of hunters who range from borderline psychopaths to grizzled war veterans and expendables. Their tasks are to ensure safe evacuation of the remaining colonies while getting their hands dirty in some monster blood. Much like Left4Dead, the characters are all incredibly diverse and all have their own charm to them. You are given four to start with, and the rest are locked behind experience; in order to unlock them you need to master the previous character.
Of course, this isn't the only way to acquire them as the impatient or opulent gamer can purchase each character for $7.50 a pop. 2K definitely didn't hold back the downloadable content or microtransactions; on launch the in-game store was littered with skins for character weapons that could run you upwards of another $60 should you really want them all, and those do not include the $25 season pass. I'm not too keen on the idea of having this much content behind a paywall right at day one, but it is there for those that want to invest. One respectable decision that Turtle Rock Studios expressed in several interviews was that they made a conscious decision to make sure all upcoming map packs are totally free in an effort to make sure there is no feeling of an alienated community. Far too many first person shooters rely on map packs charged at a premium, and while it eventually gets most on board, there are still those that can't afford, and thus miss out on the game. Keeping DLC to cosmetics like skins, in retrospect, is probably the smartest use of DLC. That way, players all play the same game no matter what. And for those that choose not to buy into the characters, they can still unlock them naturally.
Shifting back to our characters, there are 4 classes: Assault, Support, Medic, and Trapper. Breaking it down, assault deals the most damage, a trapper will trap monsters in various ways, medics provide healing, and support provides buffs for the team. Having played as all four of them, you tend to pick a favourite class or two. I personally preferred the support class, as Hank (the first Support we are given) can summon an orbital strike to really cripple a monster if targeted properly, has a laser cutter which is basically a minigun and can also provide apt coverage with a portable shield. Looking at what the other classes possess there's Markov who will be the primary assault character. He will have the most firepower of the four and specializes in heavy and explosive weaponry, and trap mines to catch a monster off guard. Val is the first medic you receive, and is equipped with a medi-gun, a long range sniper rifle, and a quick burst for fast healing. Maggie is your trapper, and as the class suggests, will come with tools to restrain the hunted monster. Harpoon traps will slow an enemy monster and can either allow you to deal more damage, or escape for a better strategy. Trappers also come with a pet "Trap Jaw" named Daisy, and she will help follow the monster's tracks, and even assist in reviving fallen allies. As you unlock different characters of the same class, they also come with very unique weapons, so you will have to relearn your class each time, and discover which character works best for you. Bucket is the next in the support line, and rather than carrying a minigun, orbital strike or portable shield, he comes packing a laser-guide missile launcher, UAV bot, and up to five sentry bots.
And then there is of course the monster class. Your primary role as a monster is to evolve to your third and final form. To do this, you need to consume a certain amount of wildlife. Evolving will leave you vulnerable in your "cocoon" stage, so be sure you're in a safe enough area. The first monster you will get to play as is called the Goliath. It can breathe fire, toss large rocks, leap for a devastating area attack, and bulldoze enemies with a charge attack. On top of that you also have basic melee, and can also crouch to stalk your prey and typically go unnoticed. It takes some time to get used to, as you are so much bigger than your competitors, and also play wildly different.
There are four primary game modes. Hunt is the straight-forward cat-and-mouse style of gameplay where the hunters must kill the monster before the monster destroys their power relay. In order to destroy a power relay a monster must be at level three. Nest is mode that has hunters exterminating eggs placed around the map. They are in random locations, and hunters need to locate and destroy them within the time limit, while the monster needs to protect them. The monster can also summon minions by hatching an egg. Rescue involves the hunters saving injured colonists that are trying to escape. Finally, Defend is when a starship's refuelling station is invaded by a fully evolved monster and an assortment of minions. The hunters must stop the monster and protect the power generators, while the monster's objective is to destroy the two generators to expose the power source. Each mode can quickly show you a coordinated team from an unorganized one, as one small mishap can result in a swift loss. The same can be said of the monster as well. If you don't play intelligently, you may end up cornered and eliminated before your final evolution.
This is a pure multiplayer experience; that being said there is some form of a solo campaign. It essentially allows you to take part in missions you'd otherwise do with others online, so those looking for a lengthy story driven campaign should look elsewhere. Evacuation is the main mode going solo, and it takes place over five days. Each day is a different game mode, and the player can select one of two each day. If you successfully win a best of five scenarios, you've completed the evacuation. For what it's worth you can also upgrade your individual characters and overall progression that will carry over to the multiplayer portion, so you can also considering it as an in depth training room, prepping you for the real deal. The underlying question here is whether or not this is enough to satisfy someone who may not want to play online as often, or for someone who would but doesn't have anyone else to play with. My answer is a very cautious yes. It is entirely dependent on how lenient you are playing with bots as opposed to real people. Real people will offer the actual commentary from users in split second instances, while bots have scripted segments that will give off the impression of interaction. It is a commendable effort, and it's worth noting that most have some great witty banter, but it goes without saying that the game is designed with asymmetrical multiplayer in mind. One notable feature of playing with bots is that you can actually swap classes mid-game. So if you are unfortunately downed in a heated firefight, you can quickly press one of the four buttons on the D-pad to switch classes and continue fighting.
When most think of Turtle Rock, they think of their contributions to Valve's line of games, and so one would assume that this would have been made using the 2004 Source Engine, like Left4Dead. Evolve was built using the new CryEngine 4th Generation. One of the most visually impressive features that Evolve displays is perspective. We get a fantastic contrast of scale here, as we start out as a monster traversing their playground-styled map fighting tiny animals and tinier humans. And then as the hunters, the scale is zoomed down to the ground level where you get to appreciate the lush forestry, and wildlife. It may not have the crazy player count that other multiplayer games possess, but Evolve is very much a technical marvel, and definitely a top contender for a next gen showcase. Player models are very nicely detailed and all have different camera perspectives to coincide with their different structures. The monsters all look vastly different, move uniquely and are also very detailed. A common complaint is that you really don't see the visual fidelity on the monster's plane as everything is zoomed out and objects are a lot smaller. Whether you are a monster or hunter, expect mild instances of texture pop in. It caught me off guard as the majority of the game looks really good; it just made those technical issues all the more apparent. On top of that there have been frequent instances of flickering that range from just-noticeable to seizure-inducing. It's jarring to see the game flicker and flash rapidly in different portions of a map, or in the pre or post-game cutscenes, and hope a patch is on the way soon.
Evolve is a fairly risky new IP. Its longevity is going to depend on two factors: how creative and frequent Turtle Rock can be at dishing out new content and maps, and also how the community reacts to the game, its DLC and microtransactions. As a product, I have hopes that it will succeed, as the concept of this type of game is to prevent the yearly instalment, and continually build on the existing game by releasing map packs and new characters. I respect the desire to not alienate the community by making maps free, even if that does mean we see loads of other DLC packages in their place. As a game, I am fully on board with what I've played, and will continue to hone my characters alone, with friends, or take a chance at pairing with randoms on the internet.
Overall, Evolve is an impressive new IP from the team at Turtle Rock Studios. The core gameplay is rock solid, leaving me with next to no complaints regarding character imbalances or overall usefulness. They all have their purpose; what it really comes down to is what style you prefer. The idea of a 4v1 multiplayer would have sounded absurd on paper, but they really made it work here. Evolve can be a cat-and-mouse game no matter the side you're on. It just depends on your skill. If you are a skilled predator, you can have the opposing hunters scrambling and unorganized "“ easy targets for quick kills. If you are with a team with solid communication, you'll find yourself outsmarting the monster at every turn, luring and trapping it in specific zones and eliminating it effortlessly. Both sides offer a great balance, which sounds odd when you think about the numeric imbalance. I hope Evolve gains a strong following, as this for me is the next evolution of four player coop.
|Great cast of characters.|
|Strong core gameplay for hunters and the monster.|
|Beautiful visuals and a great shift in perspective|
|Minor texture pop-in, and some pretty nasty flickering.|
|A bit too gluttonous with the day one DLC.|
|Solo mode is functional but not recommended for those seeking a true single player experience.|