Evolve Wot I Think-In-Progress: Conclusion

Please note this is the last instalment of a multi-part Wot I Think (done that way as we didn’t have pre-release code) and may seem a little bamboozling out of that context. Previous instalments – one and two.

One week later isn’t anything like enough to be definitive about any online shooter. No matter how few parts it might have will inherently shift and – oh, I’m so sorry – evolve over time, so I’m not going to pretend this is anything like a definitive judgement. It does, however, mark the likely end of my own time with Evolve [official site], at least until the DLC monsters arrive.

Evolve’s real game is hidden, and perhaps even lost to, its fake game. Start playing it and you’ll immediately be suckered into unlock-chasing: gotta get all the characters, gotta get all the bonuses. While this is relatively brief – allow for some 8 hours of play in either multiplayer or solo mode, and that’s without having to win all that often, as grinding weapons and skills will do the trick – it does provide purpose. The game itself takes a backseat to opening up menu options. After a time that purpose dissolves, as you’ve earned access to most, if not all, of what there is, and Evolve then needs to be able to provide a replacement purpose.

That replacement purpose is becoming skilled at the game, learning its nuances, how to use its environments, and how to mislead other players if you’re a monster or how to work together if you’re a hunter. These are not straightforward accomplishments. They require patience, observation, research and a whole lot of communication with other players.

Evolve’s matches aren’t designed to be high speed, sustained action, but extremely tense and strategic hide and seek. I suspect an ideal Evolve game is one where Hunters and Monster barely see each other, and arrive with a precise, even inflexible battle plan once they do. Frankly, I’ll probably never make it to that level of play, but that’s at least as much because I simply don’t want to as because I don’t have the steadiest trigger-finger or, more importantly, a steady group to play it with.

In short, I think Evolve got its priorities wrong. And I’m not talking about the DLC. For the record, that stuff’s unfortunate, particularly because even one more monster would have made a not inexpensive base package feel like better ‘value’ (but what a mealy-mouthed, useless word that is in this context), but I don’t feel that it’s what stops Evolve from being the game I’d hoped it would be.

It would have been a different game, I think, if all the characters in the core game were simply available from the start. Again, it doesn’t take all that long to unlock them, but having an open-access toybox right up front could have brought about an urge to play and experiment rather than an urge to grind. But this is a guess – I’ve no doubt various options were experimented with, and the devs had a reason to settle on the one they did. For my part though, I felt as though I’d exhausted the game once my roster was more or less complete.

I hadn’t, of course. After all, you’d be called an idiot if you declared that you’d ‘completed’ Counter-Strike, but we’ve become so accustomed to our CoD, Battlefield and Destiny treadmills being so very long that some people are feeling short-changed by Evolve. I think it’s more that the game has misrepresented itself. Its meat is its careful matches, not their easily-attained rewards. There is so much more I could (should?) learn to truly understand Evolve, but unfortunately I don’t particularly want to.

Blame the games critic’s conveyor belt of titles to some degree there; it might be a different state of affairs if I’d bought this needing it to occupy me for a good couple of months. Yet also in the mix is that, after initially offering a huge surge of power trip joy, monster play has begun to feel repetitive, and the degree of co-operation needed for Hunter play isn’t easily found with randoms (this may change over time).

Furthermore, to some degree playing one of the Hunter roles is like playing just a fraction of one larger character. There’s no-one who deals out big, meaty-feeling damage or can turn the tide of battle, and everyone must perform their role with rare rigour in order to succeed. You can only play a quarter-role in managing an often very slow war of attrition, and while this is infinitely and refreshingly more tactical than the online shooter norm, increasingly I struggled to find great excitement in it other than in those usually final moments where either monster or Hunters were almost intractably on the ropes. Despite each having an impressive range of distinct skills, individually each Hunter character feels a little like they’re shooting water pistols at Godzilla. I’m not at all certain whether that’s deliberate in order to emphasise the absolute requirement for teamwork, whether it’s because something’s lacking in the weapon feedback loop, or both.

In any case, it wasn’t enough to keep me in. Then again, I’m a guy who played WoW (and most of its expansions) until I hit the level cap, struggling to find enough meaning in mastering Raid runs or pursuing particular pieces of rarefied kit. Evolve doesn’t have the latter, but its true nature is very much the former. Know your role, know how it relates to everyone else’s role, learn behaviours, learn the map, communicate communicate communicate, repeat repeat repeat. Extract joy from precision management rather than raw adrenaline.

If you are that kind of player, I would say that Evolve is an uncommonly rich multiplayer shooter, far more nuanced and tactical than those which appear to be its stablemates (very much including the relatively straightforward carnage of its predecessor Left 4 Dead). I just fear that there’s not enough surface-level variety in it to keep the legion of people who want more direct purpose playing. As I’ve said before, it might be Titanfall.

I had a better time with Titanfall, because as small as that is it does do raw adrenaline well (plus its visual bombast is more appealing than Evolve’s murky, enclosed-feeling maps), but I’d hold this up as the far smarter game. Don’t underestimate how clever and how careful Evolve is, and just how many deeply different elements it genuinely manages to balance. But sadly that’s not backed up by a huge amount of personality. As I said in parts one and two, the Hunters’ characters are thin and overly tropey, while the bestiary never quite explodes into the craziness it arguably needs.

Between that and the front-loaded, thunder-stealing unlocks, I feel that Evolve is an extremely well-observed and ambitious multiplayer game which repeatedly shoots itself in the foot, and for reasons far more profound than the DLC that the internet’s so cross about. I admire Evolve far more than I like it, but I admire it a lot.

28 Comments

  1. Asurmen says:

    Pretty much my thoughts exactly and why I haven’t, despite actually enjoying the game during the beta, bought the game. It felt like I had seen all there was to see really. Anything left was mastering the game, and I simply don’t have the patience or the time for that anymore.

    • OutlawDr says:

      Unfortunately, I feel most people haven’t given Evolve a chance. Most gamers these days don’t have the patience anymore that you decribe. They want the next sequel and me-too clone. Evolve is a very different game than anything out there. If you are expecting the game to just fall into your lap, then its probably not for you. However if you take the time to learn and ins and out, its an incredibly rewarding game. The skill ceiling on this game is high, but yes, unfortunately, so is the skill floor and most people won’t get past it. Playing with pubs past level 30 is actually very good, if you can make it there.

  2. MistaJah says:

    I agree with you 100% Mr. Meer.

  3. ThatFuzzyTiger says:

    My big problem with Evolve is the same problem I have with Titanfall. It’s entirely a multiplayer experience. Payday 2 is co-op PvE, which is why it mostly works (though you really need friends to heist with to get the best out of it there, too), L4D and L4D2 got best of both worlds, but charging AAA prices for a game that’s really only got a shelf life until “the next big thing” ? Unless you hit upon the next Team Fortress 2, the chances of you sticking around long aren’t great, and therefore the value proposition is pretty terrible.

    Evolve won’t be talked about in a few months time, and that’ll be that. The community will be a lot smaller, probably quite veteran, which means public unfriendly, and very few people will be interested in getting involved. Honestly if games like Evolve are going to survive a decent length of time they’re going to need to become enjoyable after their immediate shelf-life has expired, and that means revisiting bot matches and making bots that are worth a damn. These ones aren’t up to snuff from what I hear. Too bad.

    • Hex says:

      Exactly.

      I feel like the best long-term move these people could have made would have been releasing it for $15. Exclusively multiplayer games run such a risk of being crippled by a small playerbase, it’s imperative to price accordingly.

      • farrier says:

        I bet releasing for full price is the better move overall. With the amount of hype this game had, they probably would not have had that many more sales at a lower price point — certainly more, but not enough to make up the price difference.

        And they’ll make even more money on sales, with so many people already setting the sale price for them when they say, “Well, I would have bought it for $20 or $15.”

        If they had released it for $15, there’s still only so many people who would buy it before the rest say, “Not enough game; I’ll wait until it’s $5.” But this way, we’re primed by the $60 price tag, so the “fair” sale price that pops into our head is more likely to be higher than if it started out at $20 or $15.

        They had good hype momentum. A shrewd business decision that will probably pay off in the end.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          Yep, the hype lets them sell it as the “next big thing”. More casual gamers, especially on consoles, are looking to walk into a game shop and buy the thing that has the most artwork hung around the place, because “this must be the best thing to buy, right?”.

          Not having it as a full price AAA kills a lot of the hype, as daft as it sounds because lots of people would see a £15/20 game as inferior because “it must be, why is it half the price?”. They aren’t after a long lasting competitive experience that people will play for years, they are after the first quarter of the years big release that people buy based on hype and it doesn’t matter if they move on after a short while.

        • Hex says:

          You may be right. It’s still in Steam’s top-sellers list, (though not dominating it). I’m still betting the game doesn’t end up having great lasting appeal.

          We’ll see!

    • Hex says:

      Also, I know this is super anecdotal and may very well not mean anything, but I can’t help but feel like the lack of activity in this WIT’s comments section is reflective of the lack of passion Evolve will ultimately inspire.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      That’s the business model they have created sadly. They don’t give a crap about longevity. Hype the game up, get everybody buying DLC for as long as possible to stop them getting bored and who cares if the servers are dead in 6 months time if they made their profit already.
      I refuse to buy this, I’m pretty sure already that it is a style over substance affair that will get boring sooner rather than later, that is not what I want from a multiplayer experience and I refuse to keep buying £10 monsters and hunter packs to keep the game interesting.

  4. Baines says:

    For my part though, I felt as though I’d exhausted the game once my roster was more or less complete.

    That is a risk of using unlocks to extend play time.

    On one hand, unlocks get people to stick around longer than they otherwise might. People like those doled out rewards, and will even stick with games that they don’t much like just to get the next.

    On the other hand, once the unlocks are over, you risk instilling a feeling that the game is “over”. Games that people previously might have played indefinitely, or at least until the next game came along, now have a shelf life based on how long it takes to unlock everything. That is why Call of Duty implemented Prestige, as some players will only keep playing as long as they can keep leveling up and unlocking stuff, even if they are really just resetting and unlocking the same stuff over and over again. MW3 showed players returning to the game simply because the prestige limit was increased in a patch. COD players even requested the ability to prestige infinitely, because even though they obviously wanted to keep playing, they needed that extra hook to keep their interest.

    Yet also in the mix is that, after initially offering a huge surge of power trip joy, monster play has begun to feel repetitive

    Jim Sterling pretty much described Evolve as a game that, despite its name, sticks to a rigid formula that lacks depth or variety and becomes routine after a few hours. It is kind of what I feared Evolve would be, that it would be so structured and planned that it risked quickly becoming boring. (To be fair, Jim does acknowledge that it is something he could see himself returning to in short bursts.)

    • Cinek says:

      That is why Call of Duty implemented Prestige” – I thought you’re going to put here a reference to CS and how long-lived this game was is thanks to giving players everything right off the bat, only limit being per-match money. But CoD Prestige system is really poor alternative. TBH: I prefer regular progress that actually has an ending than the Prestige system. Each time when I met an option to reset down to zero for a new badge or other BS I rage-quitted the game. It’s way too frustrating and kills any feeling of “accomplishment” game might offer.

      • Cinek says:

        It is kind of what I feared Evolve would be, that it would be so structured and planned that it risked quickly becoming boring” – I’d be more worried about having extremely strong meta-game where any attempts of going beyond it will get you called “noob” and bashed by entire team. So in the end you’d be forced to grind it in the exact same way over and over again.

        ps. where’s damn edit button?!

      • Spluff says:

        Attributing the longevity of CS to having everything immediately available is – at best – underselling the game. It has enjoyed extreme longevity because its a highly satisfying game with incredible depth, balance, competitiveness, and (for most of its life) polish. A game that has these sorts of characteristics will generally succeed for a very long time, regardless of whether it has unlocks or not. For example, League of Legends requires the players to unlock most of the content through an initial levelling system, and yet most players play for a long time after they hit max level due to those aforementioned game qualities.

        • Cinek says:

          Spluff – Why you are going into crazy absolutes. No game can attribute longevity or lack of thereof to one simple factor. And LoL does not require players to unlock anything – they get random free set of characters every week. So “leveling” in LoL is completely different to the leveling in Evolve or leveling in CoD.

          Baines – IMHO a better solution that that problem is not creating a problem in the first place.

      • Baines says:

        I’m not praising COD’s Prestige. It is a ‘solution’ for a problem that COD created for itself as it shifted focus toward leveling and unlocks (and that whole Skinner box of increasingly constant rewarding fanfares).

  5. Yargh says:

    Much as it saddens me, I have to admit that your take on this game almost spot-on.

    If you are lucky enough to have a pool of friends/gaming acquaintances to draw from then Evolve is a wonderful game to play with them. The need for exemplary teamwork from the hunters makes playing with strangers a much less enticing prospect.

    I’ll be playing this until we can no longer gather enough for at least a full group of hunters, no real idea how long that will be though.

  6. mpk says:

    It sounds like the game is trying to emulate the type of dedication needed to master a Dota or LoL, although on a smaller scale.

    I really wanted to be able to play LoL for fun, but had to give up on the game because players – even in pug games – were rigidly sticking to the perceived ‘best way to play’. I don’t really give a shit about the unlocks or XP or even winning all that much, I just wanted a game I could pick up and play.

    I was never overly interested in Evolve to begin with, but this review has killed that interest completely stone dead.

  7. Gribbstar says:

    I’ll preface this by saying I didn’t buy Evolve. I’ve also watched many youtube let’s plays and streams. I’ll also say that I so, so, so wanted this to be “the one”.

    This game has been the start of something new for me though, an evolution in itself if you like. I’m a massive impulse buyer. Yet somehow with this game I was hovering on the Steam buy button with all that day 1 DLC staring me in the face… It turned me right off.

    I have more than enough disposable income that buying all of it wouldn’t make the slightest dent but I can’t bring myself to do it with so little up-front product. This is the very first time a game that I am so hyped about has done that to me. Normally I’ll just buy it anyway but 2k just seemed far too shady with this one.

    Now a few days later with my limited Steam friends list already showing interest in Evolve dying as they unlock everything, I don’t regret my decision at all.

    If the devs smash out some free content in the form of maps, hunters and monsters maybe with a GOTY edition then maybe, just maybe they can start getting paid by the likes of myself too.

  8. Stevostin says:

    ‘They require patience, observation, research and a whole lot of communication with other players’

    Oh so it’s a niche game then.

  9. The First Door says:

    Perhaps it is a really silly thing to say, but (beyond the DLC idiocy) the thing that really put me off this game is the lack of split-screen play. I just find that playing games online which require lots of communication between players never works for me and my friends, where as when I can get a couple of people around my house and play on the same screen it works better and is hugely more fun.

    L4D2 played locally on two teles in 2 v 2 vs mode is one of the best times I’ve had playing games… but Evolve just seems dull in comparison without that option.

  10. Al Bobo says:

    I played Evolve 25 hours in beta and now additional 50 hours, when the game was actually released. To me any game has proven it’s worth if I play it more than 100 hours and it won’t take long for me to achieve that with Evolve.
    Good game. I got what I wanted; tactical cat and mouse -game. Oh, and I don’t even have a team. I just play in pugs.

    • Lyrion says:

      I must say I agree with this, I’ve put some time in the beta so I knew what I was getting. The tactical cat and mouse-game can be great fun. Nothing creates as much suspense as hiding in the bushes as a monster and seeing the hunters running right infront of you and not finding you.

  11. Bobtree says:

    Reviews are rather mixed, as I expected. Naturally they want to sell it to everyone, but Evolve is a competitive and strategic asymmetric PvP game with high learning curve & high skill-cap, demanding communication and coordination, so this sort of response does not surprise me at all. I agree in general about the unlocking (it’s pointless and shallow), but there’s so much nuance in the larger game that I think it’s well worth taking a break and returning to when you’ve rested and studied up.

    I love playing as the monsters, because it can be so knife-edge tense and exhilarating, but probably would not have picked it up at release without friends to play with. My experiences with random players have been very inconsistent. What’s important is to always learn something from how each match unfolds. The ever-persistent chase of Hunt mode invites mistakes of timing and positioning that can be punished by either side. The monster should set traps and force fights in their favor, while the Hunters need to diminish the monster’s options and fight defensively, without giving it too much leeway to eat.

    The more I play as the monsters, the better I understand how to hunt them. The more I hunt, the more I learn when and where the hunters are weak. The most common mistake I see on both sides is trying to end a match too soon, and throwing fights as a result. The asymmetry and role options (and combinations) and maps all favor different approaches.

    At 40 or so hours played (alpha/beta included), there are still characters I haven’t played, abilities I have not mastered, and skills I’ve yet to learn. The campaign does feel rather casual compared to the focus of Hunt, but it makes me want a crazy mode where all these things are happening at once, to have a big fight with lots of contextual options to force tradeoffs and strategic engagements.

    Evolve isn’t always fun (much like Dota, you’re generally at the mercy of the matchmaker), but a great round can really be incredible. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do, yet Evolve continues to grow on me and rewards the time and effort I spend on it.

  12. Fiddlestickz says:

    It’s a well written Review, most likely Casual gamers will quit the game very soon, because it simply takes too much effort to really reach the top tier of gameplay and a casual game with randoms can end up in frustration. As hunters it is almost a necessety to play perfectly without mistakes or the monster will wreck you.

    What i don’t like that you spend a whole paragraph on ‘treadmills’, have players really become so primitive that their only motivation to keep playing a game, is to unlock shit and when that’s done, the game is not interesting anymore? Personally i find this is a very closeminded attitude, play the game for the game, not for the shit you unlock.

    Sometimes i wonder that the massmarket is just a bunch of zombies who need a carrot spanned in front of them, so they can be happy.

    • airmikee99 says:

      “Sometimes i wonder that the massmarket is just a bunch of zombies who need a carrot spanned in front of them, so they can be happy.”

      And you don’t see how easy it is for someone to assume the exact same about you accepting the game? This kind of argument is just as needless and stupid as the shill accusations anytime there’s a controversy over a game. Because other people can’t possibly like things you don’t like and dislike things you like, right? THAT’S UNPOSSIBLE!

  13. Jakkar says:

    I can’t help but feel this reflects the writer more than the product.

    I didn’t feel like I was chasing unlocks, except for one or two rounds during which I had an awareness of a single ‘power’ I underutilised not being ‘complete’, and would then ruthlessly apply it to the foe for a single round and usually achieve the desired unlock.

    Other than that I simply play as I did in the Alpha and Tech Test – enjoying the hunt. You can be hooked by this lure of progression, but this *isn’t* Call of Duty, these things aren’t fascinating upgrades, they’re a gated sequence of unlocks designed to ensure the player learns to use each of the four abilities of each class and monster before being given a new toy, so that they won’t leap in completely clueless and fail their team entirely when the moment comes.

    You may read it as a grind, but I see it as a form of tutorial.

    Unlocks come when they come, and that’s usually very quickly, and as a result people do at least need to know what an ability does, use it repeatedly to understand that function and its varied applications, before they can stop using that class and be distracted by the next one.

    That covers the first two weeks of play for new owners – when they return for another run with the game, they’ll know their business and be ready to dig in and enjoy the next layer of complexity.

    … my only problem with Evolve is that for me it’s almost intolerably unstable and glitchy, crashing frequently and piled high with bugs that inhibit my movement and abilities ingame, often ruining rounds.

  14. jeeeeeeeef says:

    I felt like after playing the Big Alpha and Beta, there wasn’t much more to do. I only really enjoy playing one class, I don’t have much motivation to play the other classes, but I went ahead and shrugged that aside hoping the final product would blow me away. It didn’t, although there have been a few matches I’ve endured that are worth writing home about. I’m riding the DLC train with a season pass, so maybe when that hit’s I’d be willing to explore it more. As of right now though, the game died quick for me and it looks as if Twitch doesn’t see it as hugely popular either. I’m skipping The Order, so I hope the DLC is enough to carry me through to The Witcher 3.