Back in August of last year I was fortunate enough to be invited to Take 2's office in Windsor to play Evolve... a long time before it was released and yet it was in a great state. Fully playable with two of each class/monster and a couple of maps. Even then, I was surprised a how well balanced the game was with each class playing a distinct role. Between then and release, Turtle Rock has obviously been packing in more content and hunting down bugs...
Evolve, if you haven't come across it before, is asymmetrical arena combat game set on a rather hostile planet, Shear. Four hunters, each with a different class, take on both a giant monster and the environment over a variety of game modes.
In Hunt the hunters must kill the monster before it can evolve to stage 3 (more on this further down) and destroy the power generator.
Nest has the monster protecting six eggs hidden around the map for a fixed amount of time. The monster may hatch an egg to produce a minion to fight alongside them. If the hunters destroy all of the eggs/minons, they win.
In the Rescue game mode, the hunters must find and revive five colonists and get them to an escape zone before the monster can kill five of them.
Finally, in Defend, the hunters must defend a refueling station from a steady stream of goliath minions and the monster, who starts at stage 3.
These game modes can be played individually or as part of Evacuation which acts as a multiplayer story mode with each map giving the winner an advantage on the following one.
While there is no solo player campaign exactly, the entire game can be played with bots, with the player able to switch between hunters at any time.
The hunters can play as one of four different classes, each with three seperate characters (so far), Assault, Trapper, Medic and Support.
Assault, as you might imagine, are the damage dealers. They stand on the front-line dishing out heavy damage using a short range and long range weapon, soak up the damage using a personal shield and a special power/item specific to each character. Their job is possibly the simplest... hit the monster as hard as you can and try not to die.
The Trapper comes equiped with a more generic weapon, something to slow the monster down with, a way to track the monster and a portable arena (their class power). This class is possibly the most important one to get right... without the portable arena, you aren't likely to be able to corner the monster long enough to kill it.
Unlike some other games, the Medic isn't just a healer; two of the medic characters have access to sniper rifles that leave weak points on the monster for other hunters to target while the third has a grenade launcher. Also, while two of them have some form of direct healing, one of them has a device for bringing other hunters back from the dead, relying on the class ability, healing burst, to keep his team mates alive. They also come with some form of buff or debuff.
Lastly, the Support class have the most varied weapons and abilities between characters, including an orbital barrage, sentry guns and a damage amplifier. Their class ability is a cloaking device which is extremely useful.
The monsters are, so far, limited to just three choices although each monster has four abilities that can be upgraded during play (when you evolve) so there is some variety to how you play them.
The Goliath is very much a melee monster with the ability to throw rocks, breath fire, leap smash and charge.
If you'd prefer to keep your distance, the Kraken is a flying monster with a number of ranged electricity-based attacks: lightning strike, banshee (proximity) mines, vortex (slower projectile with knockback) and aftershock (close-range energy burst).
Lastly the Wraith is a stealth-based monster able to abduct hunters, pulling them away from their group; create decoys to draw the hunter's fire while cloaking you (which is really effective); supernova, a close-range explosion with a buff and a warp blast that allows you to teleport to a location and create an explosion.
There is a fourth monster in the works, the Behemoth, who is unable to jump and can only climb slowly... but is able to transform into a giant bolder and roll around at speed!
While the hunters are fixed with their weapons and abilities from the start of the match, the monster starts at "stage one", able to spend three points in their skills before the match. Each time they eat a monster (or hunter), they gain a little armour and work towards the next stage. Once they have eaten enough to evolve to the next stage, they need to find somewhere 'safe' and start the process. During the evolution, their maximum health will increase, their armour will be reset (leaving them vunerable) and they get another three points to spend. With four abilities, each with a maximum level of three, available, you can never reach the maximum for all of your skills... so you must spend them wisely to match your play style.
So... how does it play now it has been released?
With a well balanced team of human hunters and a skilled monster in play, you can get some really exciting can-and-mouse gameplay... constantly running into the monster and almost killing it, only to have it escape, evolve and come back for more. It really is fantasically balance.
Unfortuantely, this does mean that if even one of the hunters doesn't play as part of the team, the chances are you will lose. Fortunately, I have experienced very few of those.
The frustrating part, however, is that you never really feel particularly powerful and movement can often be a real grind with the hunter's jet packs only allowing short burst and long recharge times while the monster fairs a little better with it's stamina... it doesn't last. As a hunter, I often found myself struggling to cross rivers or gaps because of the limited range and end up slowly crawling up the side of a rock face to join my team mates. I'm sure it's necessary to ensure the balance between the hunters and the monster but still...
The other problem is that the games can be a bit random in their experience. In the rescue mission I recorded (below), you'll notice that I barely saw the monster at all, until right at the very end. Admittely this was a solo match but they do happen in multiplayer as well.
Despite this, Evolve is a great game and I hope that Turtle Rock continue to push out more (free) maps, characters and monsters to keep the players interested... I fear that if they focus too much on the paid DLC, they will see the community quickly go elsewhere for their fun.
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