In Evolve, humanity’s most valuable colony in the “far arm” of space is under attack by advanced genetic life-forms (i.e. monsters). At first the colonists thought they had a wildlife problem, but the rapid growth - in both number and size – of the monsters has turned this into a full-scale evacuation. To facilitate the evacuation an elite team of hunters has been called in to both save the colonists and destroy as many monsters as they can. If they can survive that long…
Evolve is a first-person squad-based shooter that takes place on the inhospitable planet of Shear. There is only a single game mode – every game pits four hunters against one monster – though there are a few different scenarios for this to play out. One of the selling points of Evolve was that not only can you play a hunter; you can also be the monster (more on that in a moment). There is no single-player campaign to speak of, though there is the option to play the game off-line (with AI bots) if you prefer. You can play a single match at a time, or opt for Evacuation, which strings five matches together back-to-back.
The Assault class is all about dealing damage and thus they’re equipped with powerful weapons like lightning guns and flamethrowers. Unsurprisingly the Medic class focuses on keeping the team alive, utilizing tools like the med gun (which sends a healing ray at a nearby ally) and support abilities like the tranquilizer gun which slows down and outlines the monster for all to see, and the adrenaline field which gives every hunter in range a brief speed burst.
Trappers are the best-equipped to track and trap the monster. They use tools like sound spikes that alert the hunters (with a flashing icon on-screen) any time a monster runs past, and most importantly they have a mobile arena which drops a temporary dome over the surrounding area that nothing - including the monster - can escape.
The Support class is intended to give hunters a tactical edge. They have a shield projector to protect an ally from all damage temporarily, UAV scouts they can use to scout large areas quickly, and the dust tag which drops radioactive material down on the monster to highlight their whereabouts briefly.
Every game uses one hunter from each class – it’s not possible to choose four assault characters for example – so it quickly becomes necessary to learn how to play as each class. At first only one hunter per class is available, but you can unlock two others by meeting certain weapon objectives (that are displayed at the end of each match).
As a hunter each round begins with your group preparing to be dropped down to the surface from a drop-ship. A brief conversation will play out giving you a bit of insight into each character, which is about all the story you’re going to get in Evolve. Once down on the planet the hunters need to sniff out the monster and destroy it ASAP.
As mentioned above, one of Evolve’s biggest selling points is the ability to play as the monster and turn the tables on those pesky hunters. At first there is only one playable monster – the fire-breathing, rock-throwing Goliath – but two others can be unlocked. The Wraith excels at stealth and uses cunning abilities (such as spawning a decoy) to make up for its reduced health. Meanwhile the Kraken is best-suited to ranged combat, keeping hunters at bay with abilities such as mines, lightning strikes and Vortex, which sends hunters flying backwards.
Each monster has four abilities that are unlocked with skill points. Before any mission begins you’re given three skill points to allocate however you like - do you put one point in three different abilities, or instead put all three points into a single ability to max it out? Once you decide the mission begins, with the monster getting a short head-start on the hunters. The monster’s primary objective is usually to take out the hunters (some games have you killing colonists or destroying buildings instead), but to do that you’re going to have to evolve.
In most missions the monster starts at level one and if the hunters find it in this state it’s going to be an easy win for them due to the monster’s low health, armour and limited abilities. However if the monster can evade the hunters while it kills and eats wildlife, it will eventually be able to evolve, earning itself a boost to health and armour, as well as three additional skill points. At level two a monster can give most hunters a decent fight, but if the monster is able to reach level three… Well that’s a hunter’s worst nightmare.
Shear is a deadly place and it’s not just the monsters that can deal major damage. The landscape is full of other wildlife, and while some of it is docile (unless provoked) much of it will attack any nearby hunter (or monster) and do considerable damage if you’re not paying attention. In Evacuation mode there are repercussions for each match, a small bonus for whichever side wins. Colonists might pick up a gun and help the hunters, or perhaps there will be more birds to give away the monster’s location in the next mission. That kind of thing.
What we’re left with is a deadly game of cat and mouse. Monsters have to be patient at the beginning, hiding or running away as often as not. Hunters meanwhile, have to chase for all they’re worth and hope to catch the monster before it evolves… Because once the monster does evolve, the hunters become the hunted, turning the tables in a nasty way.
Evolve succeeds in many ways, but it has some issues as well. Perhaps the most significant issue is the lack of game modes. Playing against a human-controlled monster can be great fun (this is where Evolve shines brightest), but the other modes are all very similar and follow the same predictable patterns. The game is crying out for a match type where you really get to cut loose as a monster, killing as many colonists and/or causing as much damage as possible within a time limit. In Evolve you finally get to play as the monster, but you’re never really free of the shackles the game imposes.
Evolve, perhaps more so than any other console multi-player game, requires every player to play their role well. An apathetic human-controlled monster will make for a less than thrilling match, just as the hunting side will struggle if anyone other than the Assault hunter decides to take the monster on one-on-one. It’s easy to do in the heat of the moment but it can pretty much kill your team’s chances at victory. As a result you get a lot of indifferent matches which saps your energy to keep playing.
One final gripe is that the monster never reacts to the punishment the hunters dish out. It never rears up in pain, howls, or unleashes a savage roar that knocks the hunters off-balance, nothing. Aside from a slowly dropping health bar you might as well be shooting at a tree or a rock. This too diminishes the enjoyment of the fight.
As for the visual side of things, Evolve is the first multi-platform game to make use of the latest generation CryEngine and it impresses for the most part. The many cliffs and steep ledges limit your line of sight which gives the monster a bit more leeway for sneaking past. Lighting and weather is dynamic, and darker conditions (cloud cover, mist and even snow) give the monster a better chance to sneak by unnoticed.
There isn’t a lot of music in Evolve, with the developers preferring to let the ambient noise of the wildlife, and various gun and monster effects take center stage and it’s a decision that suits the game well. Audio cues such as scared birds and other on-screen alerts are more obvious as a result, which aids the flow of missions. Guns and abilities all sound great, especially if you have headphones or a good stereo set up, while the thudding footfalls of monsters will alert you when they get close. There isn’t much in the way of dialogue and what is here is designed to fit the stereotype of the characters, and in that regard it works well enough. It won’t win any awards though.
Evolve is a game that, for the most part, delivers exactly what it promises. If the idea of joining a pack of hunters to chase down a monster, or turning the tables and chasing the hunters as a monster appeals to you then you’re going to get a kick out of Evolve. It’s not all smooth sailing though, as a reliance on co-ordinated team play and a lack of game modes sap some of the joy from playing, which could lead to it being shelved quicker than you’d like.
Review By: Mike Allison