You’ve been tailing this monster for a solid 15 minutes, yet it always seems to be two steps ahead of you. Either it’s flying away just when you try and trap it in your arena or sneak attacking a party member, crippling the team long enough for it to make a great escape. You know the odds are too stacked if you let it get to stage three, it’s final form, and take you on. You haven’t even put a good shot in yet. It’s just too fast. Then, a roar rips through the sky: it’s stage three. You’re quivering in your boots, standing in formation around the power relay, hoping that this defeat goes quickly. The Kraken bursts through the trees, lightning bolts flying and the fight has begun. It’s as if, in those quintessential moments, something clicks, and you and your team are one cohesive machine. A few intense minutes go by, and the stage three Kraken crumbles before you. Victory has never felt this sweet.
Evolve is a lot of moving parts, which materialize as four humans and one monster, with a ton of dangerous jungle between them. That’s the layout you see when attempting what they call “asymmetrical multiplayer,” two uneven sides; different teams of different combatants going at each other. Turtle Rock succeeds in just about every way they wanted to make Evolve uniquely special. Balancing one horrifying creature against four diverse styles of human players is an insurmountable task, and adding two more monsters and three variations on each class of human make it an even taller order.
Evolve’s balance works as such: the monster is weaker than the humans at stage one, it’s starting stage. Come stage two, they are about on par with one another: it’s anyone’s game. Then it evolves to stage three; the monster becomes the terror of your nightmares, and killing it is almost impossible. By focusing on the monster, the aspect that changes across the course of any given match, and leaving the humans completely static, you essentially have two games playing against one another. The monster feels a bit like playing a MOBA, your focus is leveling and getting stronger, but by teasing your opponents and preventing them from working together, your job gets easier. The human players definitely have a taller task, with playing a human functioning more or less like an airy first person shooter, with environmental hazards and one big bad in their way.
When you drop in the standard mode, Hunt, the monster has launched itself in one direction, and you have to follow this hulking beast as fast as you possibly can. It’s breakneck, and the pacing always has to keep a high tempo, or else the player gets bored. This is the first aspect of Evolvewhere who you’re playing with drastically alters the experience. Of course, playing with friends will have better or more successful results than just jumping in with randoms from the different edges of the globe, and teams of friends communicating can intelligently cover a wide area and corner the monster in such moments. But in a multiplayer-only game like Evolve, you get the experience you anticipate: either friends to play with or ‘randoms’ to deal with.
The monster has more drastic changes on the pacing of a regular hunt too, with three very different variations on them: an all around beast, a ranged monster, and a stealthy hunter. You could also have a particularly courageous monster that results in it turning around and assaulting the players more frequently, or possible a wiley beast that eludes the hunters with ease. All these factors will vary from game to game, but I was pleased that most players I matched with, friendly and random, seemed to “play their class” and stuck to stalking the prey with as much velocity as it deserved.
So between Evolve is two games: monster and hunters, MOBA and first person shooter. How does it balance with all of these conflicting philosophies? A lot of small details cropped up as I played more and more. The world itself acts against the hunters, meaning they can’t just mindlessly walk around looking for monster tracks, but there is a give and take with the monster as well. Vicious beasts and man-eating plants are scattered about to slow or kill the hunters if they aren’t aware and attentive. On the other end of that, birds will fly, trees will crumble, and vultures will pick at remains of all of the monster’s trail, depending on its actions. Both work in tandem to help the other ‘team’ in accomplishing their goal, but the most skilled players will understand these systems and use them to their advantage. The player evolves with the game, if you will.
But above all else, the two drastically different ways to play just work together. Playing just one side, for example the Monster; trying to stealth around the world and eat minions to grow bigger and better. You would never even associate this with a first person shooter, but there are the other players, hunting you down. The worlds are so directly opposite, but never out of balance. If the monster pays attention to the different human characters, like seeing Lazarus, and knowing he can bring people back from the dead, he or she can adjust their priorities accordingly. The same is true of the hunters, who can spend time with each monster, and as I did, learn to spread out the party more and more if fighting, for example, a Wraith, or to keep together for fighting a Goliath. The aspects of the game just start to make more and more sense to you as you play, and that’s the true genius of Evolve: it works, but you have to take the time to learn how it does, and work with it.
Plus there is a ton of variety to the game. Though the progression takes longer than it should, mostly in the case of the monsters, so unlocking later characters is a bit of a slog, it is necessary. You play each class and each character in a class to see more of what it has to offer. In that regard, the time you spend learning each character is essential, and necessary to combining different groups of hunters, or knowing how to deal with groups of certain hunters if you’re more concentrated on being the monster. Plus the match-making takes a priority “list” system, that just asks you to order what you like to play from favorite to least favorite, and it works surprisingly well.
I’d say the other game modes are less of a draw than Hunt, which puts monster versus man. There are some cool modes where the monster can create minions to hunt down or assist them in combat, which adds a really fun and challenging dynamic of multiple monsters to the balance. They all complement the main draw here well, but don’t distract from the real appeal: monsters versus people.
Evolve works because it is so well balanced, with two completely different games standing together in harmony. If you saw one half of Evolve, you probably couldn’t have even guessed there is another side to the experience, but there is, and they’re both awesome. This dynamic multiplayer experience takes ideas from both MOBAs and cooperative shooters to create something new and very exciting for both genres.