The concept behind Evolve is pretty straight forward. A team of four mercenaries are dropped on a planet that is being savaged by a space monster. With each hunter filling a specific role – DPS, medic, caster – the group must work together to bring down the monster before it evolves into a form capable of destroying an asset the team is charged with protecting. In contrast, the monster, controlled by a fifth player, wins the game if they kill all the hunters or if they meet their evolutionary/destructive mandate. That’s really all there is to this game, so far; players are either hunting the big, ugly monster, or as the big, ugly monster, attempting to savage their opposition in true monster form.
What I saw in the alpha-access weekend gave me hope for the game, but also a few reservations.
Playing as the heavy-hitting assault hunter, my job was to hurt the monster as hard as I could, for as long as I could. I opted for this role because it seemed the hardest to screw-up. Trappers can deploy force fields around an area, thus keeping the monster contained. Medics, like in Team Fortress, need to keep a group of hunters alive. Both of these roles seemed like far too much responsibility for an abject noob. Besides that, I liked the idea of being able to shoot a monster with a lightening gun.
While the assault role might have made me the slowest hunter in the pack, I never felt like mobility was a problem. Each of the players has a jet pack, and my character’s perk gave me twice the flight time of all the other hunters. Though the experience wasn’t fast enough to evoke a memory of Tribes, it did make me appreciate the level design. Jetpacks also seem a necessary defensive measure for keeping hunters alive if they bumble into one-on-one combat with the monster.
Even though I found a familiar niche in blasting the monster and his food supplies with my lightening gun, playing as the monster was a bit more challenging. If I’m being honest, I was downright pathetic as the monster. From what I can tell, however, the fault was largely due to my own inexperience rather than any specific balance problem with the game. The game maps are fairly large, lend themselves to a lot of movement on the z-axis, and reward knowledge of the terrain, which I was sorely lacking.
While I had a generally good time with the alpha weekend, I came away from it feeling like the final build of the game would need to have more to it if it wanted to convince me to part coin from hand. Even though Left 4 Dead’s formula of “shoot zombies over and over” didn’t offer a great depth of experience, it compensated for that by putting players into their own zombie apocalypse movie. Additionally, the culmination of each of the game’s chapters forged a larger, albeit loosely built, narrative arc. My fear is that Evolve won’t be able to replicate that secret sauce given that the average “hunt” lasts about ten to fifteen minutes. This is not a lot of room for story-telling compared to the 1-2 hour zombie movies of Left 4 Dead. Of course, I’m not trying to suggest every game needs a story. However, I would put it forward that one of the reasons Left 4 Dead worked so well was because it worked narrative elements into the simple formula of a zombie kill-fest and thus produced a good replay value akin to watching a great movie over and over.
As it stands right now, keeping in mind it is still early days for Evolve, the game’s replay value is found in a Call of Duty/Titanfall/Battlefield style leveling system. I know these mechanics are de rigueur in modern games, and quite popular among some people, but I’m hoping Evolve comes up with something a little more interesting to make me want to come back for more. For now, all we can do is wait and see what Turtle Rock comes up with for the final product.
Overall, Evolve’s alpha put on a good show, but it wasn’t quite enough to evoke a “shut up and take my money.”