Evolve: A Refreshing Take on Multiplayer Action

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When free time is lean and I’ve only got an hour or two a day to commit to gaming, my go-to games are the ones I can pick up and play at a moments notice. I remember seeing a playable demo for Evolve at PAX East last year (complete with life-size Goliath monument), but since I didn’t feel like wasting my time in a 2-hour line, I decided to skip out on it. I recently got sucked into it, however, thanks to Andrew and fellow Evolve enthusiast Tom, and I’m actually finding it be one of the most refreshing multiplayer games I’ve played in a long time.

If you want to know what Evolve is like, take Left 4 Dead 2‘s versus multiplayer, remove all of the monsters except for the tank, allow that monster to grow by killing neutral creatures, and then set it loose in a gigantic arena. Its gameplay is split right down the middle between the tactical teamwork of Hunter mode and the adrenaline-pumping thrill of soloing in Monster mode. In Hunter mode, four players team up to take down the monster using specialized, distinct classes. These four classes are Asssult (tanking/DPS), Support (buffs/DPS), Medic (healing/tracking), and the Trapper (tracking/trapping/debuffs). For variety, each class comes with its own set of unlockable characters and bonuses that can be leveled up over time.

Playing your role in Hunter mode is absolutely key. Even now after a few dozen games, it’s almost impossible to imagine winning against the monster without a solid effort from all of the players. Each contributes an ability that is crucial to your fight. For example, I learned early on that the Trapper has a monumental responsibility to the group. The Trapper’s special ability is to throw down a shielded dome that “traps” the monster within an arena. Without this, the monster is impossible to corner and fight. If you throw down the dome too quickly, the monster can escape from its range before it goes up, and you’ll have to wait for the ability regenerate before you can engage the monster again.

Likewise, fighting the monster would be a suicidal task if not for the Medic, whose jobs it is to heal the other players during a battle. As you can imagine, the monster can dish out a lot of damage very quickly, and without a healer, the team goes down almost instantly. And yet, even these two characters would make easy targets if not for the tanking and DPS of the Assault and Support roles. As such, Hunter mode feels exceptionally tactical, with each player forming and integral part of the overall team. The addition of in-game push-to-talk chat is not only a blessing but at times necessary for survival.

On the other hand, Monster mode is bat-shit insanity from start to finish. Since you’re relying on nothing but your own wits to get you by, the experience is both paranoia-inducing and exhilarating all at the same time. At the start of each round, you’re given about a minute head-start to scurry off into the wilderness and find some local prey to feast on before the Hunters are set loose on you. Speed and efficiency are key in the beginning of the round. Because your monster starts off exceptionally weak, you’ll need to strengthen yourself quickly on some lesser species before the Hunters finally manage to catch up. It’s a lot like an intense game of Hide n’ Seek, except you’re the only one hiding, and when you finally get caught you can either try to escape, or turn around and eviscerate your seekers.

Of course, the second option is always much easier the stronger you’ve become, which means that the longer the round endures, the higher the stakes become for the Hunters. As a result, there’s never a moment’s rest from the chase. The Hunters will always try to take you down at the earliest possible moment, and so your priorities must constantly shift from evading the Hunters to fighting and consuming other creatures. If you prefer a game that starts out fast and then ratchets up the intensity, soloing as a monster is the way to go for you. The game ends when the monster kills all of the Hunters before they can respawn, or when he achieves his objective for the scenario, though the former nearly always happens before latter.

Though my impressions of the game so far have been solid, it’s obvious to most players at this point that the developers have some balance issues to work out. A handful of the characters have already been classified as “useless”, or so I’ve been told by more experienced players. Even from my own limited play time its become obvious that one of the monsters is far too agile to be effectively trapped, resulting in a few matches literally spent sitting around waiting for it to finally engage us.

Additionally, we wind up dealing with bugs galore just about every single time we play. Irritating glitches like the mouse appearing in-game over top your reticule (or conversely, it disappearing entirely in menus and lobbies) are practically ubiquitous. The network problems are the real pain the ass though. Player drop rates right now are atrociously bad – I’ve been dropped from the middle of a game a total of six times now over the course of two weeks. This is especially infuriating during Evacuation mode, which requires you to play five games in a row from start to finish. One night I even wound up joining a game with friends only to discover we had become spectators in another match entirely. Needless to say, our butt cheeks are clenched in anticipation of a patch to iron out these issues.

As Tom notes, players counts on Steam right now are a bit disappointing (5000 players by his count). This could possibly account for some of the long wait times we’ve been experiencing in the match-making lobbies. Hopefully this will be improved by some bug fixes and a price drop in the near future. Frankly, I’m hoping Evolve does well in the long-run, because it’s a game I’m having a great time with, and I’m sure other players would too.

Final Verdict: Refreshing and fun to play, Evolve will hopefully find more time to shine with some much-needed patching and an eventul price drop.

Also, since I brought up PAX East before, I should mention I’ll be heading there this weekend with a large group of friends (almost all of which I’ve mentioned on this blog some time or another). I plan on bringing some sort of camera with me, so I’ll try to document some of the things that grab my interest while I’m there. Of course, I’d never waste a moment to cut down on my backlog, so I’ve got Chrono Trigger for the DS prepped for the ride up. We ship out to Boston on Thursday.

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