When it comes to the multiplayer shooter genre (1st-person or 3rd-person) there isn’t a whole lot that has been done recently to really shake things up. You have your death match, king of the hill, capture the flag and similar variations, but at the end of the day you’re still a team trying outgun the enemy team. It’s been a long time since a shooter came along that really shook up the formula and introduced new mechanics that entirely changes how you play the game. This is why when a game like Evolve comes around it feels so special, because you feel like you’re experiencing something that hasn’t been done before.
Turtle Rock Studios formerly worked on the Left 4 Dead games, which pits you and 3 other mercenaries against hoards of zombies throughout different levels. Turtle Rock has taken that formula here, but instead of the 4 mercenaries taking on endless AI zombies we now have 4 hunters taking on one massive human-controlled monster. While this may seem like a one-sided concept at first, when you plunge into your first match you realize how much thought went into these mechanics to make them as solid and balanced as possible.
The 4 hunters that you have fall into 4 different class categories: Assault, Trapper, Medic and Support. Each one of these hunters is vital in the defeat of the monster, as if even one shirks off their duty then they’re not going to have much success. Each class has 4 abilities that only they can perform, such as the Medic healing the other hunters or the Trapper putting up a massive dome to trap the monster. The key to being successful as a hunter is for everyone to focus on the strengths of their particular class and avoid deviating from them at all. This is a fantastic concept as it encourages teamwork while also ensuring that you play the game how it was meant to be played.
There is also a great progression system in the game that forces you to utilize all of that particular hunters’ moves in order to level up. If, for example, you focus on the medic’s sniper rifle and healing gun yet neglect to regularly utilize the tranquilizer gun you won’t be able to move on to the next tier of level progression. I liked this limitation, as it made me utilize everything each hunter had and I ended up becoming better at the game, as a result. Leveling up each of a particular hunters abilities once will unlock a new character from that class, whose abilities can also be leveled up to unlock one more character. Each of these new characters will function similarly to other hunters of their respective class, but contain wildly different abilities that will change up their roles in combat greatly.
Then there’s the monster side of things, with you first having access only to the Goliath monster. How monster gameplay works is you are dropped into a level and at first you are at a disadvantage because you are at stage one. If the hunters find you at stage one then you will more than likely be taken down quickly, which is the opposite of good. Thus, it is the monster’s job to sneak around the level and feed off of the wildlife to build up its evolve meter, and when that fills all the way up they’ll get to stage two and become noticeably stronger. At stage two it is an even match-up and could be anyone’s game in a typical battle, but if the monster can remain hidden long enough and continue feeding he will get to stage 3 and become extremely dangerous. If this happens, suddenly, the hunters become the hunted.
Like the hunter, the monster has his own sets of skills that must be leveled up in order to unlock two other monsters. The Goliath can leap smash and throw boulders at hunters, the Kraken can fly and zap hunters with lightning, and the Wraith can create decoys and sneak attack hunters with ease. Each one has their pros and cons and need to be utilized in different ways to overcome the hunters, though staying low and trying to evolve to stage 3 should always be the number one priority. Just as it is on the hunter side of things, each monster feels wholly unique from the others, and the regular rotation of all 3 of them keeps each and every match feeling different than the last.
While the character mechanics themselves keep things in top gear, it’s the unpredictability of each stage’s environment that can really throw a wrench into the machine in unexpected ways. If you’re a hunter who is in hot pursuit of the monster, one wrong step can land you in the jaws of unseen wildlife. This will not only result in more distance between you and the beast, but possibly your death if the other hunters don’t have your back right away. On the flip side, there are groups of birds that are scattered throughout each level’s landscape, and if the monster disturbs them they will make lots of noise and thus give away the monster’s current location. The levels themselves are just as much of a factor in the end results as the hunters and monsters, and learning all of their secrets is imperative to getting the upper hand.
While there is no true story mode to speak of in Evolve, the characters banter back and forth from time to time to give context to the situation. Basically, the monsters have been wreaking havoc and it is up to the game’s chosen hunters to take them down… and that’s it. Throughout each match you will learn a little more about each of the characters you choose to play as, with the dialogue being pretty funny. What’s even cooler is that, depending on the hunters you choose, the dialogue will change and result in different kinds of conversations. Some hunters connect better than others, and hearing these brief conversations is a nice touch. While a lack of a true story mode would normally bug me, in the case of how Evolve functions it makes sense. This game was designed from the ground-up as a multiplayer shooter and the mechanics that it brings to the table warrant its focus on multiplayer only.
Thus, there are several different modes should you tire of the traditional Hunt mode. In Nest mode it’s the hunters’ duty to find and destroy six monster eggs before the monster can reach and hatch them. Having more than one monster on the battlefield can really turn the match on its head, as hunters will often be confused about who they should be focusing on. Rescue mode flips Nests’ variables, as in this mode the hunters must rescue colonists and lead them to a drop ship for evacuation. These colonists can also aid the hunters in the fight, meaning that the monster can end up taking on more than he can handle if he isn’t quick enough. Defend mode has the hunters defending generators as monsters aim to destroy them, hearkening to the objective the monster is tasked with once he evolves to stage 3 in Hunt mode. Each of these modes lend themselves well to game’s core gameplay mechanics, and are designed well enough that they never get boring or long-winded.
The game’s biggest mode outside of Hunt is called Evacuation, which combines five matches with varying objectives into one big marathon. Each match you win grants you perks in the next match, such as turrets that will target the monster or a laser that zaps the hunters. It’s worth noting, however, that just because you win the first couple of rounds does not mean you have a big advantage, as I once ended up dropping the first two matches to then go on a 3-win streak for the victory. This mode is definitely more for those who are looking for a lengthier playtime, as if every match goes the distance you can easily expect Evacuation to last around an hour. I preferred the quicker modes, as the gameplay lends itself more to more brief and intense matches.
Turtle Rock Studios has done a great job of creating a new multiplayer shooter that feels wholly original. Playing as the hunters or the monsters are equally fun and have many different aspects within them that keep them engaging for hours on end. I know that Turtle Rock has come under fire with the extensive amounts of paid DLC that is on deck for the game, but the fact of the matter is that the content on the disc is so strong that you can have dozens of hours of fun without even one DLC pack. It’s truly special when a developer can not only come up with an original idea but also execute it darn-near perfectly, and with Evolve they have executed that with flying colors.