February 27, 2015

As a broad genre, first-person shooters tend to get looked down upon. We see them as the most popular (non-mobile) genre of gaming, and dismiss them the same way we dismiss, say, pop music. Catchy, fun for a bit, but without much lasting appeal. We move on to the next one. It doesn’t even matter how good the game actually is, either. Whether it’s yet another Call of Duty title trying to be as generic as possible, or something more unique, like Bioshock Infinite, once we’re done with them, we stay done with them, having moved on to the next big title.

Occasionally, however, a game manages to take hold and keep us coming back to it year after year. Valve’s Team Fortress 2 is a good example: It continues to be popular nearly eight years after it first released, and continues to get updates and new hats features to this day. Another title by the same company, Left 4 Dead (and its sequel Left 4 Dead 2), never quite captured the same mindshare that TF2 has, but its unique blend of a more story-based multiplayer approach split into different episodes which could be played through by a small group made it a popular online game for many years, and it still gets played to this day.

The developers of the Left 4 Dead games, now free from the Valve umbrella and calling themselves Turtle Rock Studios, have taken what they learned and put it into a new arena. Evolve retains the idea of a story-based shooter, adds better defined class-based mechanics and puts it all into the jungle with a giant monster.


This is the crux of Evolve’s design: The four-versus-one idea that the game has so heavily promoted itself around. The way it works is that you play as either one of four mercenaries, or as a monster who is (in theory) as equivalently powerful as the four. If you’re familiar with the Saxton Hale mod for Team Fortress 2, then this is a much more well-rounded (and far less Australian) version of that.

You may correctly infer from this that Evolve is a multiplayer-focused title with no single player mode. While that isn’t quite the case, the singleplayer is, in the tradition of arena-based FPS games like Quake III Arena and the Unreal Tournament series, simply the multiplayer mode with AI bots. This is a bit of a shame, as its clear from the setting and character dialogue that Evolve has a well-developed world that we’re only seeing a glimpse of.

The closest thing Evolve comes to a campaign is the Evacuation mode, which provides a five-stage mini-campaign using a selection of the game’s maps, as well as a variety of the game types. There’s also single-map modes for each type.

The game types themselves are pretty good. Hunt is the most standard one, being a standard hunt-the-monster (or hunt-the-hunters, if you are the monster). Nest places a number of eggs around the map that the hunters must destroy and which the monster must defend; the monster can also hatch one egg into a minion, adding extra challenge for the hunters. Rescue requires that players rescue a number of colonists before the monster kills them off, and the final mode, Defend, requires players defend the refueling line of an evacuating starship. Defend is always the last game type played in the Evacuation mode.


Every map supports every type of game, which allows for a lot of flexibility in the Evacuation mode, although it also means Evolve recycles a lot of its small map pool, and the zones will become quite familiar even after just a few playthroughs.

There are four classes to choose from in Evolve. Assault is the main damage dealer, Trapper is responsible for locking the monster down to allow everyone else to attack it, Support provides buffs and can call down airstrikes, and Medic is not just a medic, but also has the ability to create weakpoints on the monster to increase damage. There are three character options for each class, which is great, and each character has a different loadout, allowing for different playstyles with each class. The downside is that new characters only unlock after a certain amount of progression with the previous character in that class has been achieved.

The characters themselves aren’t exactly going to reach new heights in video game characterisation, but that’s not really the point. There’s enough with each of them to make them feel like distinct people in the game (even if Markov, the first Assault character, is basically TF2’s Heavy in space). One disappointment is that, despite each class having three characters, there are only three female characters, and two of them are medics (the other is a trapper). It’s hard to imagine why this would be the case, and having the option to play a female version of every class would certainly have been nice.


There are, of course, three other characters as well. The monsters, Goliath, Kraken and Wraith (a fourth monster, Behemoth, is available via DLC) offer up unique playstyles that are fun enough to encourage players to play as them (which is how the game is intended to be played). I personally found I was pretty terrible at being the monster, and it definitely requires a different strategic approach than many players will be used to at first. The great thing about it is the mobility it has, especially for something that’s meant to be big, slow and difficult. It’s probably the best single aspect of Evolve, and the game succeeds at putting it front-and-centre.

Given the game’s propensity for downloadable content, as well as planned future content packs, it’s hard to understand why Evolve isn’t a free-to-play title from the beginning. It certainly has all the infrastructure to support such a model. Without any kind of singleplayer campaign to speak of, there’s not a lot to justify paying the full retail price being asked for it. Even this kind of price isn’t enough to really justify that. In some ways, putting a price on a game creates a sense of tangibility to it, but it also comes with the expectation that there should be more to the package than what’s being offered here.

Evolve, then, is a pretty solid free-to-play class-based asymmetric first-person shooter that you have to pay for. For some, that may be enough, but I suspect that in a world where games like Loadout and Team Fortress 2 are big hits (not to mention all the massively popular MOBA games), it feels like Evolve is stuck, somewhat ironically given its title, in the past.


Solid shooting action
Unique 4vs1 concept
Monsters are cool.


No real singleplayer campaign
Not a huge amount of content for the asking price
No female option for every class

Overall Score: