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Check out the finished review here.
It’s finally time to start carving each other up across the jungles of the planet Shear, the setting of futuristic sci-fi monster game Evolve.
Evolve, one of the most anticipated games of the past year, will release on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on Tuesday. I received a PC review copy of the title and joined fellow reviewers and 2K employees on the battlefields on Friday. Although I’ve spent more than 15 hours with the finished game and twice that amount evaluating various testing phases, GamesBeat decided to deem this a “review in progress.”
What does that mean?
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Well, it means that I won’t be giving Evolve a final scored review until after launch. My experiences during this prerelease phase might not be an accurate representation of what thousands of people will experience after the title’s launch. I only crashed to my desktop once this weekend. The few dozen players that I teamed with did not stress Evolve publisher 2K Games’ servers the same way the sudden influx of would-be hunters and creatures will on Tuesday.
However, I do have some impressions to share from my time with the finished product. Evolve went through several testing phases over the last six months, ending with a large open beta in the middle of January. The developers at Turtle Rock Studios promised upgrades after the last beta (read about them here), and I spent enough time with the final product to comment on some of them.
Expect to see an updated review with a score sometime later this week.
Also, be on the look out for Evolve guides from GamesBeat. The four-week series will kick off this week with tips and tricks for playing the three characters in the trapper class.
What you’ll like
It’s easy to learn and difficult to master
Evolve’s simple play style is one of its biggest draws.
Players choose between one of four hunter classes — assault, trapper, support, and medic — or the role of monster, which battles against all four hunters. A story mode isn’t around to cover exactly what is happening, but the planet Shear holds many of the galaxy’s most important goods and people. The monsters are threatening to destroy all of this, so the hunters must take them down or stall them enough so that Shear’s occupants can evacuate.
Each hunter class and the monster start with one playable version. An additional character option is unlocked once the player gains enough experience with the first-tier character, and a third-tier character is unlocked once you gain enough experience with that second-tier character. For example, everyone starts off with Markov in the assault class. Once I did enough damage with his three unique skills to rank up, I unlocked Hyde. And once I did the same with Hyde, I unlocked Parnell, the third-tier and strongest assault.
The monster upgrades in a similar fashion. Do enough damage with the Goliath’s four skills, and you will unlock the Kraken. Kill pesky hunters with the Kraken, and you will unlock the Wraith.
While all three monsters are built for killing, the hunter classes each have defined roles. The assault does the bulk of the damage and uses an invulnerability shield to protect himself. The medic heals the team and weakens the monster. Support characters can buff the team, weaken the monster, and do some damage. The trapper slows the monster down and damages it.
The co-op title’s “4 versus 1” mechanic borrows strong control features from multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) hits like Dota 2 and League of Legends. Like these games, players only have to worry about four different skill buttons when playing as the monster or four weapons when playing as a hunter. I am not sure if a four-skill system has a magical quality or if my tiny gamer brain can only process movement, attacking, and up to four gadgets at once, but Evolve’s control scheme is an absolute breeze to learn.
A basic control scheme lends well to Evolve’s main strength: fast-paced, tactical action in which one player’s misstep could end an encounter. Many players will have to learn this lesson the hard way, and I am no different.
At first, I felt as if I had Evolve mastered after just a few hours. I learned that I preferred the trapper over the assault, support, and medic hunting classes during my time with the various Evolve test phases, and I unlocked the penultimate trapper, Abe, in about two hours.
My epiphany came during a match in which myself and another reviewer, who played the assault class, went up against a 2K employee’s Goliath, the playable first-tier monster.
For the first 20 minutes, my Abe play was the stuff of legend. My tagging pistol couldn’t miss. Every stasis grenade I threw slowed the poor beast down, and my team rained fire on the Goliath from every angle. We nearly had him dead when he managed to charge away from us and escape through a cavern.
I realized at that moment that I neglected to toss my mobile arena during the skirmish. The mobile arena allows the trapper to encase the monster and his teammates in a giant impenetrable bubble, which keeps monsters like the 2K-helmed Goliath from escaping.
The next 10 minutes were spent hunting for the beast with no luck. Where the hell did he go? It’s a giant freaking monster. Why can’t we find it?
The Goliath hit its maximum level, and we retreated to defend our power station — which is vulnerable to fully evolved monsters. There, the Goliath put an absolute beating on us. Our medic bot was the first to go. The Goliath managed to toss a rock that pinned her against the wall, and his fire breath did the rest. Next was my assault friend, who popped his invulnerability shield a little too early and paid dearly. I don’t remember if our support bot or my beloved Abe was the next to go, but we lost the match around the 45-minute mark.
I realized when that smug bastard controlling the Goliath gave us a congratulatory “good game” that he was probably toying with us from the get-go. I’m kidding. He was a nice guy. But the fact remained that all it takes is one experienced monster or hunter team to make you realize just how little you know about strategical elements, such as the topography of the maps, the limits of each character, the right skill combinations, etc.
Mastering these skills will provide Evolve with longevity.
The evacuation mode is a stroke of genius
I can’t remember seeing a co-op game mode that lives and breathes quite like Evolve’s evacuation.
Evacuation is essentially a five-mission playlist in which either the monster or the hunters are rewarded for their successes and punished for their defeats. Each mission adopts a certain story arc, such as a Shear colony asking for help delivering a shipment of captured animals. This is completely random. If the hunters win that mission, the crew will show its gratitude by giving the team an A.I. soldier or additional turrets to help in their fight. If the monster is victorious, the hunters will be denied that bonus and the captured animals will be set free, giving the beast a more delicious and evolution-inspiring dinner.
Each round also awards a series of powerful bonuses to the loser, giving that person or a team a chance to even the score in the next encounter. The winner is determined at the end of five rounds. If the hunters saved more civilians than the monster killed, they win.
Evacuation mode is truly deserving of the name Evolve. The omnipotent narrator, who provides background information and guides players through tutorials for the characters, said that more than 800,000 perk/detriment combinations are possible throughout the five-round process. Winning teams get the perks, and losing players get the detriment — as well as a hefty bonus to their skills. The result is about an hour of highly competitive and unpredictable gameplay that should carry Evolve to mountainous heights in the hearts of its players.
What you won’t like
The jump/climb mechanic still doesn’t work
One of my biggest pet peeves from the beta tests was the fact that both hunters and monsters seemed to get stuck a lot while climbing the many cliffs and buildings that dart Shear’s landscape. I experienced this problem less in the finished product, but the mechanic is still buggy.
Hunters use the jump button for quite a lot in Evolve. Tapping it executes a basic hop while holding it allows you to jump larger distances or hover for a short time. In theory, holding it also allows you to scale walls. This is where you run into trouble, as the game seems to not understand if you want to jump, hover, or climb when you hold the button near a wall. It sounds like a really minor issue, but in a cat-and-mouse survival title where speed and mobility mean everything, the slightest holdup can cost you.
I hate the climbing mechanic even more as a monster. For some reason, players have to press left shift to climb as a Goliath (the Kraken can fly, and the Wraith is so fast that climbing is obsolete). As indicated above, my feeble brain can’t handle this extra command — especially given that every other character uses a different button to climb. It seems unnecessary to me. Either stick with the holding jump mechanic (and make that work, please) or designate a climb button for everyone.
In the grand scheme of things, this is a fairly minor issue. Evolve is a great game, but the climbing is definitely a feature that Turtle Rock should continue to improve after launch.
Like all multiplayer games, balance will be an issue at launch
Any gamer who has ever played a massively multiplayer online or MOBA title at launch knows that the game will change drastically in six months. Evolve is no different.
As players master the characters and explore their various mechanics, balance issues will arise. Turtle Rock and 2K will probably continue to tinker with Evolve for years, as presumably new monsters, hunters, and maps will force the experience to, well, evolve.
Many players took to Turtle Rock’s forums during the last open beta to voice their disapproval about the Wraith, which uses a nasty teleport skill to whiz in and out of fights. It is with great sadness that I must tell you that the Wraith is still broken. Inexperienced players will not lay a finger on the extremely mobile monster, and those with some skill will likely fall for its disgusting decoy skill.
The third tier of hunters are also pretty strong. This might be by design, which makes some sense. These talented hunters are a gift for those who toil long enough to unlock them. But I am not quite sure if it’s a positive thing for Abe to be much, much, MUCH stronger than Griffith. They are both the same class and should do the same thing, so why can one do it a lot better? A team of tier-three hunters will be nearly unstoppable against most veteran monster players, even if they are using the Wraith.
If you skipped down to this part without reading the top, you are out of luck. I won’t make any final judgments or deliver a score for Evolve until later this week. Once I get a feel for how the servers are holding up and how the game feels when played with thousands of other people, I will update every part of this review and republish it.
Evolve for the PS4, Xbox One and PC releases on Feb. 10. 2K Games provided GamesBeat with a PC Deluxe Digital Download version of Evolve for the purposes of this review.
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