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There are only a handful of first person shooters that have evolved and moved forward the FPS genre since its birth with 1991’s Wolfenstein 3D. Games like Doom (multiplayer and modding), Quake (true 3D environments), and Half-Life (storytelling and immersion) are some of them. Despite its name Evolve is not one, and that’s actually just fine because that is not what it sets out to do. Instead, Evolve sets its sights on giving players a fun, unique, asymmetrical shooter experience. It has its flaws, but overall Evolve does just that.

Let us begin with the biggest potential hole in the experience, the other players. Playing Evolve as one of the team of hunters requires some degree of coordination, and frankly if you’re not playing with friends that can be very hard to come by in sufficient supply. Voice chat is rare in pickup games but the in-game hunters vocalize enough information to make up some of that gap. Combine that with a smart pinging system that changes color based on what you ping, and you can get by with a pickup group, at least in casual play. Playing the monster is a wholly solo experience, but one that takes a unique set of skills. You need to be alternately stealthy and kamikaze, all the while paying close attention to your surroundings.

Evolve

If the monster gets this close, I hope you have a Plan B

Being the boss monster in a first person shooter is allot more strategic that one would be led to believe after decades of killing them. At the first phase of your evolution, you are a starter boss monster, the kind that you would face shortly after the tutorial phase of the game. You don’t really have the means to go toe-to-toe with the hunters, even with full armor, so it is in your best interest to hide and evolve. At stage two, you’re a mid-game boss monster, something that shows up about halfway through the game to keep the player on their toes. You can probably kill uncoordinated hunters at this point, and usually do enough damage to down one or two of them at the least, earning the hunters strikes against their health (unless they’re revived by the medic Lazarus, who is a right pain in the ass due to being able to negate that strike as well as revive the dead). Your best bet is to continue to feed and evolve to your final phase, stage three. At this point you are huge, powerful, and a fitting end game boss monster. You are now the monster that you would kill in a normal first person shooter just before the credits roll. At this point you can take the fight to the hunters and kill them all, earning a victory that way, or – in the Hunt game mode, at least – destroy their power relay and win regardless of how many hunters are still alive.

I personally do not like playing as the monster, and even my better games as the big bad beast usually are comedies of errors. One of my best games ever as a monster involved me getting caught evolving as a Goliath (the big, fire-breathing tank-style melee monster) into stage 2, and getting confined in the trapper’s dome ability. The dome ability basically turns the area into a Borderlands dual arena with the goal of forcing combat between the hunters and the monster. In this case, I knew they had Lazarus, so I knocked him out of the game early before turning my attention to the other hunters. I managed to tear through the remaining hunters and take a rare monster win, but it was only after watching the map replay that I realized how suicidal I was being. The dome was down long before the confrontation ended, and I had next to no health left. If I had any idea how low my health was, or that the dome was down, I would have made a run for it to get armor, likely resulting in getting shot from behind and killed. Thankfully my panicked assault kept me blind to both of those facts and I managed to earn the victory.

I have played numerous matches versus the AI as well as against human players, and my assessment of the AI is that it is both cheaply ruthless and hopelessly incompetent. For example, when playing as the Goliath, the AI nails rock throws that would cause a master trickshot artist call BS, and then it’ll go and get stuck on a cliff edge or jump up and down in a corner while you murder it. The hunters range from deadly precise to pathetically useless, depending on if you’re for them or against them. When I’m playing a hunter, the AI hunters play like they’re trying to lose, and I’m expected to make up for all of their shortcomings by either all but soloing the mode or constantly switching between hunters. When you’re the monster, the AI hunters are almost too alert to your location, a sign of possible AI cheating, and they appear to use their abilities more astutely. All of this prods the player to play online instead, which ultimately is what the developers would prefer.

Evolve

There are various modes, as covered in our First Opinion article, but one I did not cover was the Evacuation mode. Evacuation is a combination of the various maps and modes set over five in-game days with accumulating rescues and losses based on which side wins. The most unique aspect of this mode would be the map effects that take place after each round. They favor whichever side won the previous round, including such effects as more aggressive wildlife (after a monster win) to ships flying around tracking the monster (if the hunters win). This throws a short-lived level of continuity and story into the game that I enjoy. I wouldn’t want a whole long story mode of Evolve, but these five round Evacuation games are fun, flexible and just the right length to not get burnt out.

The graphics in Evolve are solid with good weapon effects and good monster models, but the levels feel largely the same after a while and the often murky look brought on by all the nighttime or rainy levels contributes to that. The banter between the hunters mildly evokes the party chatter of Dragon Age Inquisition but repeats the same lines far too often. The hunters’ propensity toward calling out dangers they spot or shouting for help when they need it harkens back to the developer’s previous game, Left 4 Dead.

Having fun with Evolve boils down to your answer to two questions. First, do you have people to play with you, and second, if you don’t, can you put up with either uncoordinated pick up groups or the spotty AI? As someone who used to run a bunch of random pickup group heroic dungeons in World of WarCraft once upon a time, I’m somewhat accustomed to silent coordination and the occasional Rambo type torpedoing an entire run, but others may not be. If you have one to four friends to play with, then I whole heartedly recommend Evolve. When all of the pieces fall in to place, it is a one-of-a-kind shooter experience, and one that I really enjoy. The hunters’ abilities mesh well with one another and the monsters are appropriately dangerous when played properly. So Evolve may not be an FPS evolution, but it is still a lot of fun.

Final Score

8.5

Pluses:

Minuses:

+ Surprisingly good balance

+ Very unique experience

+ Spot-on controls

+ Fun variety of playstyles

– Shaky bot AI

– Requires team coordination

 

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