Welcome to planet Shear, also known as ‘The Grindhouse’.
Evolve, an online heavy game that has tried to break the mould. Bringing co-operative gaming to the fore and offering a whole new direction for First Person Shooter fans. There is no doubt that when it works, it works well, but that relies heavily on the players ‘getting’ the concept and vision of the developers. Which begs the question how many people actually want to play out a fantasy of either being or fighting Godzilla?
There are a large number of online game players that cannot move past competitive battles, games where they can run around and rack up kills with speed and ease. Evolve is not catering to these people, Evolve is about a team of four versus a monster of one, with the emphasis on the word team.
The game offers various modes of combat that are spins of usual arena games, they pretty much all boil down to getting toe to toe with the monster. Depending on how much it has evolved through it’s three stages of ferociousness that toe to toe encounter can be something of a drag. A straight out Hunt mode sees the four humans each one playing a particular class hunting a creature in one of the games big and varied maps. This is fun at first, the feeling of anticipation as you track the creature, the skirmishes as you spot it and the ultimate conclusion once the fight is over. Whereas Nest and Rescue missions offer objectives and win conditions that don’t actually require the death of the monster.
The planetary environments are nicely realised, the flora is alien enough and the fauna are lethal in the right moments. There are also plenty of opportunities for some verticality, which is handy for each of the hunters and their ever recharging and narratively convienient jetpacks.
The team is broken down into four classes: Assault, Support, Medic and a Hunter that is accompanied by an alien sniffer dog. All well and good, but to be successful each team member needs to be working together enhancing each others skills. Which is difficult enough with online players who are on the whole selfish glory hounds, let alone the single minded AI. If playing offline bots fill the spaces and you can easily hot swap between them, but in the chaos of battle they often put themselves in situations that are not easily recovered. Swapping to a Medic to revive your downed character only to be stomped by the creature again and treated to another ‘Game Over’ starts to lose its appeal.
Each team member and each of the three monsters can be levelled up through a rigid and not very generous skill path, it will take some devotion to rack up enough points to get everybody up to the higher levels. Points are accrued through games, win conditions and activity related prizes. All sounds very familiar? Except it takes forever, which is your punishment for not pre-ordering for the pleasure of having all that grind taken away from you.
The nature of getting people together to play and relying on them to do their job directly affects the earning of experience, games can be over before they started leaving less skilled players feeling somewhat overwhelmed and underpaid. One of the best ways to gather experience quickly is in the ‘Evacuation’ mode, this is far and away the best option for offline play. A sequence of maps tells the story of an evacuation plan, each day the team or the monster squares up against the other. As each map is played out a win or loss can generate a significant change to the next map, an extra minion monster or dangerous toxic waste. The fifth map is the defence of the evacuation ship, keep it alive until the timer runs out against a monster and wave upon wave of minions. The story arc that accompanies each sitting of Evacuation makes it feel like a game with more purpose and the mission options offer a good chance to pick your favourite modes. It’s a good way to gather some experience points, but don’t expect to be ripping through the skill tree that much faster.
The action itself can lurch from frantic boss level fights where whittling down the monster is all you can do, before it breaks away and vanishes from sight. To following tracks across the map wondering if there really is a threat out there. This is where the game starts to annoy, Monsters, especially AI controlled ones might be the size of a house, but can literally vanish if you look the wrong way for a second. Cue another drag of tracking across the map before you ever see it again where of course it has managed to evolve once or twice into something far more dangerous. On the flip side, playing the monster feels cumbersome and slow. You never feel that your monster is anywhere near as capable as the AI monster, and the hunters seem much more resilient than the folks on your team when you play as a human. That’s without getting anywhere near started on The Wraith, of course there’s a monster that can teleport itself a lll over the place so you can’t actually do any sustained damage to it. That’s not a bit silly is it, perfectly acceptable, a teleporting creature that constantly floats around.
Essentially Evolve is all about overpowered boss fights, over and over again, but without the class of Shadow of the Colossus. It looks very pretty, the characterisation is well done, the art style is great, but that lurching gameplay is what keeps you from really enjoying it, even if you secretly want to, kind of.