Turtle Rock Studios carved themselves a niche in the zombie-slaying scene with co-op survival horror, Left 4 Dead.
When a flood of zombies came pouring out of the cracks with the sole intention of ripping your merry band of misfits to shreds, it gave new meaning to the burden of survival in a first person shooter. It truly was an experience like no other.
Evolve follows a similar premise, bottling many of the features that made L4D great, while incorporating a fresh new spin on the frantically oversaturated online multiplayer space.
Evolve is a very enjoyable shooter. Whether you’re using the unique skills of the Trapper, Medic, Assault and Support classes, or embracing your inner beast within three stages of anarchy, there’s plenty to absorb and learn. In fact, I’d argue there’s a lot more to take in than the comparatively shallow Left 4 Dead.
And yet, Evolve seems to lack the stress-fuelled, ‘I can’t put this down’ level of fun that made L4D such a rousing success. In truth, Evolve becomes quite repetitive early on, due to a lack of game-mode diversity and a rather ungenerous and poor level up system.
Right now, out of the box, there is not quite enough content to sustain ones interest for extended periods of time, though with free updates and new modes being promised overtime, the replay value will certainly increase over the next few weeks.
In fairness, the Evacuation campaign, which can be experienced on or offline, does maintain a degree of variety, allowing users to vote on a different game-mode each round.
Within Evolve, one of these game-modes is that of the base Hunt, in which four Hunters go off in search of killing the Monster before it Evolves to Stage 3. Once at Stage 3, the Monster can attack the vulnerable Power Relay in the Region. If successful, it then becomes a race against time, as the Hunters attempt to kill the beast, while the lone Monster tries to destroy the Relay / kill the Hunters. It’s in the Hunter’s best interest to eliminate the Monster before it progresses through the stages of metamorphosis, as once it hits Stage 3, it becomes almost indestructible.
Then there’s Rescue, where Hunters have to salvage injured colonists and escort them to the dropship before the Monster gets to them. The first to either save or kill five colonists wins the round.
Within Nest, Hunters must destroy six Monster Eggs on the map and stop the Monster from protecting them. However, the Monster is also able to hatch one of the eggs and spawn a minion to help out.
Finally, we have Defend, which is similar to the frantic nature of Left 4 Dead crossed with League of Legends. The aim is for Hunters to protect a starship refuelling station from a fully-evolved monster and its supporting minions. The creatures must fight their way through two generators to reach the ship’s power source.
Depending on who wins a round, the next stage gets impacted. For instance, if all the colonists are killed in Rescue, a scenario will take place in the following round, which could present a handicap for either team, or make subtle changes to the environment. There are apparently thousands of potential outcomes, which indicates that your campaign experience will differ every time you play.
With players often alternating in roles as well, Turtle Rock have done a great job of keeping action fresh, while maintaining an equal playing field, keeping users on their toes and invested in the action. This is both a blessing and a curse, however, as you’ll often end up with one teammate who makes for an exceptional medic, but turns out to be dire shot when playing the assault class.
The system in place enables players to put their roles in order of preference, and more often than not, the game will try to place you in a role that matches with either your first or second choice, dependent on who you’re sharing a party with. However, you will need to be prepared to ‘get-good’ within every class, which does present a problem if you’re planning to continuously play in open parties. As a result, this does mean that you will probably end up with a jack-of-all-trades buddying up with you in a game, rather than a specialist in a set role.
However, you are guaranteed real gameplay versatility. Whether you’re trapping the Monster in a dome with your flamethrower, harpooning it to slow it down, creating weak points on its body with a sniper rifle or just plain blasting it to smithereens with an assault rifle, everyone must work together effectively in order to win the round.
In that regard, Turtle Rock seem to have created a game in which you actually have to cooperate with your team mates, as self-preservation will rarely lead you to a positive result.- Thus, on that front, they should be commended ten-fold.
And surprisingly, there is a real sense of balance, despite how outmatched either side may seem. The Monster has some crazy, overwhelming power and a ridiculous sized health bar, but with the right tactics and a bit of skill, you and your buddies will be more than a match for any Goliath or Kraken.
Evolve is an exceptionally beautiful looking game. Your first encounter with a Monster is certain to terrify you. Let’s be honest, a massive, towering specimen with brute strength that can send you careering through the sky or pound you into the ground isn’t exactly calming.
Less viscously, the often shiny and sparkly weather effects give the game soul and character, and the gorgeous looking rainforests and plant-life will finally give off those Predator vibes you’ve longed for from a video game.
Evolve is a very colourful, vibrant game. The skies are often filled with electrical currents used to weaken the creature, flashing bullets projecting from your weapon and the green, medicinal glow used as a pick-me-up in a crisis situation. Equally, the creatures you meet and interact with help create a feeling of a well thought-out universe that is rife for exploration and expansion.
Sadly, I found the character dialogues to miss the mark of high standards presented elsewhere. Where Left 4 Dead is full of fun banter and jabbering between the characters, I often found the chemistry somewhat forced here. Parts of the dialogue were overly insipid and the VA didn’t always deliver in a convincing way.
Fortunately, the sound effects of creatures roaring and the environment reacting to your movements are incredible. Whether you’ve disturbed a flock of birds or you’re rustling through the foliage, Turtle Rock Studios know how to create atmosphere and tension, and that is as prevalent in Evolve as every other game they’ve ever worked on, if not more so.
Evolve is such a refreshing change of pace from the annual releases of first person shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield, or the classic sci-fi settings of Halo and Destiny.
It’s an entirely different animal, and, once again it has carved a smart niche out for itself that is certain to draw you in time and again. That said, there is an urgent need to develop additional modes and give players further bang for their buck. While the launch package is enough to satisfy your first few weeks of play time, beyond that, you do wonder how often players will stick with the game.
Still, Turtle Rock must be applauded for providing a solid, unique, frantic and stressful gameplay experience that could redefine the online activity of 2015 and beyond.
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