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Evolve Wot I Think-In-Progress: Conclusion

Final Form

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.

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