Date: February 25, 2015
Author(s): Brandon Mietzner
There are many different ways a developer can approach a co-op game. Straight-forward FPS? Zombie infestation? Another World War II title? None of this for Turtle Rock Studios. The proof is Evolve, a game that incorporates a brand-new 4v1 formula. Let’s find out if the game’s unique design is its strongsuit, or downfall.
Welcome to Klendathu!
That isn’t right.
Welcome to Pandora! Wait, that isn’t right either.
Oh right, welcome to Shear, a planet located on the far arm of space and considered an invaluable resource. This luscious green and plentiful planet is home to a host of hostile alien life forms.
During Shear’s early colonization days, hunter groups became a critical asset to tame the local creatures. These hunting groups generally had one person each from the Assault, Trapper, Medic and Support class in each one.
Life was good on Shear, for a time.
Then one day, there awakened a new kind of monster that no one has even classified before, and everything changed.
These monsters were more aggressive, and they could change their characteristics based on the threat they face. These new monsters made it impossible for humans to live on Shear any longer. An evacuation order was issued, and the local government hired Cabot, the character you play, to lead an elite hunter team to face these unique monsters and hold them back long enough for the civilian population to escape the planet.
Unfortunately this is almost the story of the game in its entirety but, where it lacks in substance, it makes up for in style with the characters. This is due to the fact that there are currently three characters per class, with the possibility of more to be added later. This provides a wide variety of banter between the characters, no matter which character a player selects generally; sadly, there are times they say nothing. These conversations are playful, have some teasing and what sounds to be true eureka moments.
The strongest asset between each character is their varied abilities. There is one class specific ability, like a short invulnerability shield for the assault, but the rest are different between them. These abilities can greatly affect how successful or how quickly a game goes based on what game mode you’re playing. For instance, if you were playing the Trapper class on a hunt mission, you would want to take Maggie because her alien dog Daisy can quickly track down the monster across the entire map. As another example, if you were playing a defend mission, you would want either Griffin or Abe so you could track the monster in a small area.
This makes characters selection a strategic element, one that you should discuss with your teammates because you want to play on each character’s strengths as best you can. Each player, hunter or monster will be able to choose a single perk. These perks and other cosmetic features will be unlocked when you’ve progressed through your own individual player level. The effects include longer flight time for the hunter, quicker consumption for the monster, and others. At this point it probably sounds like the Hunters are a little over-powered, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
You see, the monsters have their own specific strengths as well. The Goliath has powerful melee attacks, although its ranged attacks are less effective. The Kraken is one of the flying adversaries that focuses on area of effect attack. The Wraith, also a flying monster, is focused around hit-and-run attacks with evasion abilities. Now these three monster types are confirmed; there is also one other known monster type. The Behemoth, which is yet to be released, will be the biggest creature in the game; it will the biggest the game engine can handle. When released it will be an absolute tank.
From the descriptions it is obvious that the monsters need some sort of advantage. This is where evolving comes into play. There are three unique stages for the monster to evolve into. Each stage increases armor, damage and health of the monster. Depending on the game mode, they could already be at stage three. With no medic to heal it, the only thing the monster can do is eat lesser creatures to replenish its armor and it happens fast.
The advantages of each monster are again, dependent on the game mode. The game modes are as follows. There is a Hunt, where the Hunters track and kill the monster. Nest is where Hunters have to kill the monsters’ eggs or the minions they spawn. Then there is Rescue, where Hunters have to help stranded survivors to their feet and get them to escape zones. Lastly there is Defend, where the monster is in stage 3, has two minions spawn every so often, and they try to get to the evacuation ship to destroy it before it gets away.
This may sound like it is a complicated system but it is executed in a simple manner. There are no complex menus to navigate and the player isn’t bombarded with tons of information about everything at once. You just say you want to play, you are given a short segmented video that you see with each character and monster you unlock or new game mode that you play. The only feature that is fully unlocked to players from the start is the game modes; the characters and monsters are not.
What each person has to do is play with a certain character or monster to unlock the next one in the line. Take the Trappers; Maggie is the first playable character. To unlock Griffin you have to complete three objectives with Maggie’s three unique abilities; when you then have Griffin, you need to rank up his three unique abilities to be able play Abe. This is how it goes for each class and monster. Then when those are complete you can continue to grind out their abilities to further increase the damage and effectiveness of their abilities.
As much as we’ve talked about the classes, characters and monsters and there is an obvious question still looming overhead: How balanced is the game itself? There is no simple answer because it comes down to how strong you are solo as the monster, how effective your team is being the hunters, and how familiar you are with the map and the overall objective. I will say that no class or monster feels as though they have a specific advantage over another. What I feel it comes down to more often than not is the map, if you’re playing against AI, and the objectives with each game mode.
The greatest imbalance comes from the AI. It is super-efficient at playing the monster but is dumb as a box of rocks when playing a hunter. Sometimes supporting characters can have way too much influence on game outcomes. One of them, Hank, can call in orbital bombardments. The AI will not lead the target, nor will it take into account if another hunter is in the blast zone; if it sees the monster it will let loose. If the monster is being controlled by the AI, it will move out of the way before the ordnance even hits the ground. The hunter AI won’t even pick up a player if they’re down unless it is playing the medic, but that is only because the healing gun will revive a downed player. As the monster the AI doesn’t always take the negative effects that were put on it because the hunters completed the previous maps objective in the campaign; this is frustrating.
One instance in particular was a rescue mission. The AI monster should not have been able to find us or the survivors as quickly because its sense of smell was diminished. Not only was is it not impaired but the Wraith monster headed towards the downed survivors at least 10 to 15 seconds before us hunters had any indication where they were. It also appears that the AI is able to perform its ability attacks quicker and more often than a player. There were a few instances, particularly on defense games, where the AI monster would just circle an area over and over, never attacking but the minions who spawned, would go for the objective. These are atrocious and glaring problems that need to be fixed but the developer has been mum on when a fix will drop.
While playing with the AI is frustrating, playing with friends or (some) random people is a much better experience. During the course of my review we never really experienced any game-breaking bugs related to the network code. This isn’t to say the system is perfect. Many of the local creatures that the monster feeds on would not always animate correctly on our screen, like it would be walking sideways and attacking us. There was even a time we joined a game in progress and I was forced to spectate when there was a spot for me to fill.
There are other frustrations to note. For example, the game does not provide lobbies for people to join or say they’re ready; you just join, but you must pick a game play option within a time limit or the game chooses for you, even if you just finished a map a moment ago. This is annoying when you consider you can’t pause the game at all; it’s all or nothing between the rounds. If you do walk away the AI will take over your character, which as I’ve said is dumb as bricks. The easy ability to choose a game play option is something that should have been added so people can take a quick break or attend to something out-of-game without leaving the game itself. For this not to be included feels very shortsighted.
An aspect I don’t normally cover but one that I feel needs to be discussed is the DLC, specifically on how it impacts the game currently and the longevity of it. There are three talking points here: the maps, certain cosmetic elements, and the character and monster additions. Let’s get the maps out of the way first. All future maps will be free, which is good. It is currently bothersome that there are only around 12 maps, and many of them are limited to a certain game modes. This makes it easy for players to memorize and take advantage of certain exploits. We need more variety and this is a good way to provide it.
The cosmetic elements or skins is where people feel is the largest grab for money and I tend to agree. We’re talking about $60.89 of content here, more than the base game itself. Why is this a problem? It’s because the developer either cut funding to fix issues for the game to make this additional DLC or they cut it out of the game to make a quick buck after release. It just feels like a transparent money grab.
As far as the additional characters and monsters go, I feel that it will help bolster the longevity of the game if more of these were added. But as with the skins, were these things cut deliberately, only to be added later as extra content you have to buy to have? The only upside I can see is that you don’t have to own this DLC to play with someone who does. Therefore this won’t split the community between haves and have-nots. Another aspect to consider is, what does it really add? When you’ve unlocked all the players and monsters in the base game, the only thing left to do is grind away until their abilities have reached max level. After that, it’s just playing to play and there is no incentive. This means when you pay for a new character or monster; you’re not only paying with money, but with your time as well.
We’re talking about $40 of additional content, $24.99 for the Season Pass with the 4 new hunters and $14.99 for the new monster that is sold separately. No matter how you slice it, this is an extraordinary markup compared to the original game. I don’t have a problem with DLC being developed after a game is released. What I do have a problem with is seeing a publisher or developer say there is content in the works, only that it possibly cut features out and releasing a product that doesn’t work as well as it should for greater future profit; that is just wrong.
Now that we’ve talked about gameplay elements, let’s move the discussion to graphics. The graphics are a mixed bag. The fire, water and general textures look good close up but at a distance, many of them get muddier or washed out. The nearest and best parallel I can draw to is with what happened in Crysis 2, even at very high. I do agree it isn’t as obvious but the similarity is too close to ignore. This is no surprise when you consider this uses CryEngine3 and was made for the consoles in conjunction with the PC version. There are several menu issues when you want play beyond the consoles’ standard 16:9 format as well. This did work in the beta just before release but there is no word on when this will be fixed.
Moving on to audio, the audio team for Turtle Rock Studios has outdone itself here. The weapons sound unique and there was no problem that I could hear at any point during my review. The game includes VOIP, which does come with an option to mute other players, adjust its various sound levels and enable push-to-talk. The voice acting, direction and most of the writing are all top shelf here as well. But not everything is rosy. There are much more two-dimensional conversations with certain characters, which is somewhat disappointing.
In the end, I enjoyed the well-balanced monsters, characters and their unique abilities. I personally had a fun time when I played with three or more people; that helped mitigate some of the glaring problems with the AI when playing as the hunters. Unfortunately limited content creates a very repetitive game which can be experienced in full over a single weekend and is further handicapped when you consider the future DLC being something you need to buy in addition to the base game if you want a fuller experience.
If your wallet can handle the $100 starting price tag to get the not-quite-complete game with no skins, unannounced/unreleased monsters and characters, and you can put in a ton of time to grind it out, go for it. If you are someone who can’t afford that much, then grab this when it is more manageable for you, preferably during a sale.
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