It’s not the money-grubbing that will leave Turtle Rock’s new shooter left for dead, says Matt Martin.
Evolve is taking a lot of stick right now for its perceived greed. The game is happily charging for cosmetic content on day one and has a pre-order and DLC system so ridiculously convoluted it has long overshadowed any goodwill players had for the makers of Left4Dead.
Add to that the technically ropey alpha and beta tests, and the fact that publisher 2K clearly didn’t give a toss whether you thought its DLC plans were aggressive or not, and you have a game that arrives this week having put a lot of potential players’ noses out of joint.
It’s hard to put that all to one side and focus purely on the game at hand. But when you do, it becomes apparent that there are problems here that could be equally as damaging.
“Playing as the monster lacks the feeling of power and domination that a hulking brute should have. There’s not enough feedback.”
The concept sounds exciting on paper. Four tooled-up players track down a fifth, who takes control of the bad guy – a snarling monster that can level up and flip the table so that the hunters become the hunted. When the two come face to face it’s usually an abrupt showdown of traps and mines, relentless firepower, slam attacks and explosions. If one of the hunters get separated from his or her teammates it’s lights out. If the monster gets trapped in the environment it quickly goes from Godzilla to Godzooky.
And yet the reality isn’t nearly as exciting as all that sounds. Playing as the monster lacks the feeling of power and domination that a hulking brute should have. There’s not enough feedback. Striking physical blows against a hunter doesn’t feel like you’re connecting. Breathing fire is like blowing dust, not unleashing scorching death.
There’s a lack of finesse to the monster controls. They barrel forward snarling and thumping in a rage – as it should be if you’re playing as a giant alien creature – but there’s little precision to attacks. Part of the problem is playing from a third-person perspective where hunters are obscured by the monster’s own body. This leaves the player chasing a health bar instead of a small character on screen. There’s not a lot of excitement in thumping a block of flashing colour.
That feeling of chasing icons is something you experience when you take on the role of the hunter, too. Turtle Rock’s design and attention to detail for its alien planet is fantastic, with some really interesting fauna and local wildlife. It feels like an inhospitable world – no welcome place for the human race – especially when the rain starts to fall.
“Evolve falls short of its ambitions, and remains full of interesting concepts that are buried in functional execution.”
But when the hunt is on (and it’s always on, because you really need to take down the monster before it fully levels-up) you spend the majority of your time following big on-screen prompts. Birds flee the trees or circle carrion, which is intended to give the hunters a good idea of the monster’s recent position, but in reality it’s an effect that’s too subtle. Turtle Rock has to resort to showing a giant icon on-screen as well as the fluttering of wings, undermining the feeling of really tracking your prey. It may as well be a giant yellow arrow screaming “HERE!”.
This signposting crops up with smaller enemies across the map. Creatures that are previously hidden leap out at you but then are instantly painted with a big coloured outline so you can’t miss them. Worst of all, when you approach the big showdown the giant monster glows in neon, so you never lose sight of it (edit: I understand this is a highlight of using the tranquiliser dart, and it lasts for at least 30 seconds). Whoever’s playing as the monster has to flee pretty much entirely from the area instead of using rock formations or trees to their immediate advantage.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to praise in Evolve. Player movement with jetpacks in particular is great, enabling you to cover a lot of ground or quick dash to safety much better than it was implemented in Advanced Warfare or Titanfall. With four friends co-ordinating their hunters and a fifth creeping through the undergrowth there are tense moments even though it lacks the thrill the concept suggests.
Some early impressions of the game have questioned the longevity of the formula, and it does look like it could be limiting once the first couple of weeks of play dies down. But it’s not all about selling extra content to keep this game alive – Turtle Rock is planning free maps, something to be commended in the middle of a paid-content sandstorm. There is effort there to keep the player coming back, at least.
But regardless of the $7 additional skins, the $25 season pass and the extra characters for $7.50, I have trouble recommending Evolve. It falls short of its ambitions, and remains full of interesting concepts that are buried in functional execution.
The assumption by 2K that players will shell out for the extras before they’ve had their $60 worth of game showed a lack of understanding of the final product. It’s not compelling enough in the first place. It’s worth playing for a short time, but at the moment it’s not worth buying.