Towering Reservations: Hands-on with Evolve at PAX East
The thing about multiplayer shooters is that they usually have an intense immediacy that makes them exciting. Shoot an enemy in Call of Duty, Titanfall, or Counter-Strike, and the results of your actions happen almost instantly. Battles are about positioning, skillful aiming, movement and outthinking the opponent. The same is true of asymmetrical multiplayer titles like Left 4 Dead or Natural Selection 2 — you outplay, outsmart or straight-up surprise another player in order to be successful.
Evolve is like fighting a giant boss, in which you need to chip away at its health. On several occasions, I fired away at the monster with my weapon, the laser cutter, to seemingly zero effect. Meanwhile, as the creature turned and attacked, I would try to dodge out of the way with, also, little effect.
Evolve does not seem to be a game about deft, skillful maneuvering, pulling a headshot at a precise moment, or executing a coordinated ambush on an unsuspecting enemy. It’s a game about perseverance, and about holding down the “shoot” button as an enemy’s health bar slowly shrinks.
Evolve … is a game about perseverance, and about holding down the “shoot” button as an enemy’s health bar slowly shrinks.
When we finally caught up to the monster — after it hits its third evolution, its goal becomes to either kill the human team or destroy a “generator,” for some reason — Evolve picked up a bit more, although it was still less of an exciting scramble to play smart and more of a shuffling back and forth of elements. As the monster turned its attention to the Assault player, I hit him with the shield. When the enemy grew frustrated and went after the Trapper, I switched and shielded him. Finally, the creature wised up and went after me. In the closed confines of the room, with my jetpack’s dodge ability actually pretty short, he smashed me up pretty quickly.
I didn’t die completely, just went into “down but not out” mode, in which I could fire my pistol ineffectively at the giant creature’s armored carapace. My teammates were good about reviving me so I could continue to contribute, but it still felt like we were just scooping buckets of water out of a lake. When we finally won the match, defeating the creature just under the time limit, it wasn’t all that satisfying.
Maybe that’s a result of my role, which made me feel like I wasn’t a part of the battle so much as just a walking buff. Maybe it’s the nature of the hunt, where fighting smaller creatures is more an annoying inconvenience than an exciting aside. Or maybe it’s the fact that shooting at a creature and having it basically ignore your efforts is fundamentally unsatisfying.
Whatever the issue, my time with Evolve left me thinking that Turtle Rock Studios might want to work on it a bit. The moment-to-moment experience of the match felt thin, and it lacked the satisfying “Yes, we’re winning!” feeling that comes with literally every other multiplayer game I enjoy. I didn’t feel challenged, just expected to follow the script of my character. I didn’t come away thinking we’d done a good job of meshing as a team and thinking creatively in a tough situation — we were just a group of people who knew how FPS titles worked.
All of which has me thinking that what many are hailing as the next big thing in multiplayer titles might be something more like a four-story gimmick than a towering presence on the FPS scene.
I’ve got a weird feeling about Evolve.
After I played it at PAX East, I was somewhat disappointed. Much of that was due more to the group I ended up playing with than the game itself. As Phil mentioned above, Evolve is all about teamwork — more so than just about any other online shooter. In some other shooters, you might be less successful without good teamwork, but you certainly aren’t doomed.
Evolve changes all that. With four specialized classes whose biggest strength is working together, Turtle Rock is forcing players to coordinate to be successful. If you don’t, then you’re monster snacks.
That’s what happened in my time playing Evolve. Instead of following the cues the game offers the hunters, like monster footprints or spooked birds highlighted with a red circle, my team ran off in seemingly random directions, leaving me, the Trapper, alone in the woods. Then one of them spotted a wildlife creature they mistook for the monster, leading to them chasing off in the wrong direction.
Once we finally regrouped, the distraction had given the monster far too much time to level up. When we located him, Goliath had reached maximum level and gained a few additional buffs, making him all but unstoppable. We fought the monster for a short while, but ultimately succumbed.
While that experience didn’t do much to endear me to the game, looking back on it, I do believe that Evolve has the chance to be something great. However, it’s going to depend on the players buying into the game more than anything else.
The classes in Evolve are specialized — so specialized, in fact, that if one person goes down, it can doom the team’s chances for victory. Without the Assault’s DPS, the Medic’s healing, shielding from Support or the Trapper’s harpoons, it can be difficult — if not impossible — to take the monster down.
While that sounds great from a gameplay standpoint, it could be a serious stumbling block for the game. As any gamer can tell you, it’s not easy to get a team of people who don’t know each other to work that closely together in any online game. You invariably end up with one player who thinks they know what to do better than anyone, and they head off on their own, oblivious of their team. While I’d hope they learn the perils of this approach early on, anyone who’s played online games knows that some folks just don’t.
If Evolve can overcome this hurdle, it has a chance to be really fun. I can see how it could be enormous amounts of fun to play on a well-coordinated team, but the nature of Internet matchmaking means getting that experience is going to be a lot harder than it should be.
Phil Hornshaw is senior editor at GameFront. Read more of his work here.
Ron Whitaker is managing editor at GameFront. Read more of his work here.