Editor's note - we only received review code for Evolve [official site] yesterday. Rather than now wait a week or so to run a review, I'm posting a very short series of my thoughts as I think 'em, in the hope of providing more timely information to those who want it. Here's part 1 ICYMI.
I'm into the swing of things now, having tried out all the classes in PvP matches with randoms, and unlocked a couple of new characters. Before I get into that stuff though, let me tackle the singleplayer mode, such as it is, in case anyone online-phobic has been curious about that side of things.
There's no special campaign here (and nor was one ever promised). It's a carbon copy of multiplayer, only with the other four players - be they human Hunter or monstrous Monster - puppeteered by AI. Now, please bear in mind that I am not the most frequent attendee of multiplayer deathparties, so this next comment is aimed more at the similarly solo-inclined rather than it is at Johnny or Jemima Clanpants. The AI is not bad. It's been giving me a reasonable challenge, but doesn't seem cheaty. It doesn't come anywhere near achieving some of the insta-stomps I've suffered at the hands of semi-experienced Evolve players, but an act of barrel-based piscine cruelty it most certainly is not. Pleasingly, the whole unlock/levelling business carries between single and multiplayer, so if for some reason you wanted to grind away at opening up new monsters or classes without the TRAUMA and SHAME of getting your bottom spanked by other players, that's there.
A proper singleplayer game this does not make, however. Without the shaky adrenaline thrill of besting other humans, and the joy or outrage of dramatic upsets, the grindy progression system has an even tighter strangehold on Evolve than it already did. Singleplayer thus feels too hollow to be anything other than a training mode. That was clearly the intention though, so I'm not chewing Evolve out for that, just advising that multi-o-phobes shouldn't buy it thinking there's singleplayer. It's not even Quake III in that regard - there's no escalation.
On the other hand, multi-o-phobes should be aware that the rules of engagement are identical online, their identities are minimally exposed, and as I mentioned yesterday, everyone has a ton of hit points so you're not going to suffer either significant shame or misery-inducing repeat insta-deaths. As multiplayer playgrounds go, this is an accessible one. There's plenty to learn in order to become good at the game, but very little if you just want to wade in and do some damage. It's OK! It's safe! But it does feel a bit small. That's something I'll come back to in the next (and probably final) part of this.
OK, humans. I don't enjoy playing them as much as I do playing as the monster, but that's probably because I'm an uncooperative sod at the best of times. There's no scope whatsoever for lone wolfing here. Even a few seconds away from your squad can be deadly, either because the Monster can pick you off without great effort or because some of the local wildlife is almost as deadly. Many of the AI-controlled creatures look pretty similar too, which is possibly a consequence of the gloomy presentation, but the result is that you'll often get surprised by something with more teeth than a Street-Porter family reunion while you're running about the place. Without someone to double the damage or chuck over a heal, you're pretty screwed. Stick close, pay attention, ideally talk.
Collaboration is fairly involved compared to your average team shooter - it's certainly not just a case of follow/heal. The trapper has to throw up energy domes which keep the monster temporarily contained, the medic's chucking tranquilisers to slow it down as well as keeping an eye on who's injured, assault needs to learn the timings of his powers well, and everyone's got to be prepared to deliberately snare the beast's attention in order that it doesn't relentlessly focus on just one player. My nagging suspicion is that some teams are going to rapidly become so good at working together that the poor lonely monster's going to have a super-tough time, but we'll see how it shakes out over time.
For my part, Hunters don't do a great deal for me even though they have an impressively wide range of distinct abilities, because being a part of a puzzle isn't personally satisfying. Other team games, such as Battlefield and TF2, at least allow for moments of individual heroism, but this is very much about everyone working together, doing particular stuff at particular times, in the manner of a WoW raid or a MOBA. I can see the appeal, and that this means kills in Evolve can never be cheap, but I'm all about the selfishness Hulk Smash. I also don't find that the characters have a great deal of personality - they don't say much outside of cutscenes, and as I mentioned yesterday the cutscenes are tiresomely posturing. There's no element of Oh! Oh! I want to be that guy or woman in the way there was with Team Fortress 2, but then little else has managed to hit those heights (or had the resources to).
OK, that's it for now. The probably-final part of this is a few days off, so that I can get a clearer sense of what Evolve's going to be like once it's bedded in somewhat.