Thursday 22 March 2018

Evolve review: Let us prey

Evolve (PS4/XOne/PC); rating; 7.5/10; age: 16+

Evolve: the hunters become the hunted
Evolve: the hunters become the hunted
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

NEW ideas in gaming come along scarcely more than once in a console generation. Monster shooter Evolve’s greatest asset is that there’s nothing else like it on the shelves – think King Kong versus a team of tooled-up humans.

Competitive and cooperative multiplayer ain’t nothing new but Evolve combines them in a mash-up of rare ingenuity. It pits a squad of four (drawn from familiar classes such as of assault, healer, etc, as well as a newcomer known as a trapper) against one fearsome monster (initially chosen from a pool of three – the brawler Goliath, stealthy Wraith and the ranged attack of the Kraken).

Developer Turtle Rock must have had a hell of a job balancing the four-on-one gameplay, ensuring the monster has neither too powerful nor too invincible. Similarly, the squad requires a delicate interplay of skills – if one class fails to stick to the plan, everyone fails.

That it all hangs together successfully is even more remarkable given that each class has at least three variants with considerably different abilities. Somehow, Turtle Rock has created a set-up in which you may well have a favourite character but no single one dominates.

Evolve: Teamwork is essential
Evolve: Teamwork is essential

It’s worth noting from the outset that Evolve can be played in single-player with bots – but, aside from teaching you the ropes as either the monster or a squad member, it’s a mode that quickly pales. Some impressive level design is on show – with heaps of verticality and a pleasing variety among the 12 dimly lit maps – and your most pressing task is to learn all their nooks and crannies.

Once you venture into multiplayer, you’ll never go back. But the first stumbling block is that you can’t definitively choose a squad member or even a side. The matchmaking takes account of your preferences but won’t guarantee your top choice. Perhaps it’s inevitable but it can be frustrating if you unwillingly end up as the monster a lot, for instance.

After several rounds, it becomes apparent that despite the diversity of maps and the permutations of characters (which take a while to unlock anyway), Evolve’s main mode almost always unfolds in the same way.

The monster’s job is to flee to a remote corner of the map, feeding on wildlife and evolving into more devastating forms until it is strong enough to survive the hunters’ onslaught. The hunter squad must follow the trail - using a bloodhound and watching for signs of disturbance – and catch up as soon as possible.

Inevitably, this plays out as a game of cat and mouse across the map with a final act of all-out combat. With the right crew, it can be exhilarating if each squad member nails their role. Equally, as the monster there’s a real joy in stealthily evading detection, perhaps retracing your (visible) steps to throw off the scent.

However, if everyone isn’t pulling in the same direction, it can devolve into a dispiriting, aimless trudge culminating in bloody slaughter by a rampaging monster. And as fun as it is to control a fearsome, agile beast, your blows seem to carry little weight despite your size. Frequently, your opponents are obscured by your sheer bulk, making you thump and flail with no clear target.

Evolve: The four classes
Evolve: The four classes

Additional modes introduce extra challenges – in the style of defend a base or  capture the flag – and Turtle Rock has promised some free new maps – but the controversial pre-order and paid-for DLC includes a fresh slate of monsters and hunters.

The progression structure rewards repeated play – and Destiny has found a huge fanbase despite its samey loop. Yet Evolve doesn’t possess the same fine-tuned combat as Bungie’s latest epic – whether you’re monster or hunter, your attacks lack direct punch.

Evolve deserves great kudos for finding a new spin on the shooter/brawler genre. But a nagging feeling insists its longevity will suffer if you can’t hook up with a capable team.


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