Balanced. It’s neither a sexy or thrilling word, nor is it a particularly stimulating, it does however inspire technical confidence. Ask me to describe Evolve in one word and balanced would spring to mind. Press me for more one word descriptors and I’d probably jump to formulaic, then tactical and finally streamlined. Honestly these aren’t the words I expected to use to describe Evolve. I expected to be describing the 4v1 human vs monster battle as chaotic, scary and uncertain – but those feeling dissipate after a couple of games. That shouldn’t put you off, Evolve is great fun, just a lot more by the numbers than I presumed and a hell of a lot formulaic that it appears. Thankfully that formula is rock solid. Playing as man or beast a round of Evolve is never dull so long as everyone’s giving their all; playing by the rules.
Don’t mistake balanced, by the numbers or formulaic to mean dull or sterile. The careful balance between the team of four hunters and one monster goes a long way, not only to ensure everyone playing has a good time, but also to make sure both sides always feel they’ve got a chance. Neither side is truly beaten until the final curtain call. An average round of Evolve is a carefully structured game of cat and mouse. Who’s the cat and who’s the mouse is ever changing, dictated primarily by the monsters current power level. When a round begins the monster is at power level one, at this time the hunters have the clear advantage. Hardly an unstoppable wrecking ball the monster is relatively small and it’s skills undeveloped. In order to power up the monster must hunt and feed on local wildlife.
For the monster the opening portion of a match is a tense one. The player controlled beast will spend the opening five minutes or so of a round scavenging food whilst moving quickly and erratically to confuse the hunters tracking their movements. Stealth is key, local wildlife is best left undisturbed unless it’s to be devoured: each carcass, fleeing wildlife or set of scattered birds is an obvious clue the pursuing hunter team can use. Monster tracks are a reliable way for the enemy to locate a fleeing monster, to hide movement it’s best the monster weaves in and out of thick flora, leaps long distances and climbs like a maniac. I found I did my best when I walked paths not entirely logical, the enemy expects you act like a human, so don’t.
For the hunter team: medic, assault, trapper and support tracking and forcing the monster into an engagement in the preliminary stages of the match is ideal. Knowing where the monster is early can be the key to success. Each team member is equally important to both the chase and ensuing battle. The assault class deals heavy damage using powerful weaponry, but is also the best choice for dealing with troubling wildlife. The medic keeps the team alive during a fight, but is also capable of dishing out much needed extra damage in a monster battle. Support comes with a big gun, capable of backing up the assault with damage, utilizing abilities to bolster the other classes and has a team-wide cloaking field. Finally the trapper is the best bet for hunting down the monster and containing it exactly where it doesn’t want to be.
Should the hunters track and kill the monster in round one it’s game over, but that rarely happens. Typically the monster feeds enough to evolve. Once the food bar is filled the monster should find somewhere to lay low for about ten seconds to trigger an evolution. When it evolves the monster can choose which of their skills to level up and gain more health, but they’ll also lose all accumulated shields. During their evolutionary downtime they’re vulnerable too. It’s a gambit, but one the monster must take. Once they’ve evolved to power level two the playing field is leveled. A well played monster is equally as powerful as a coordinated hunter strike team at this point, equally a poorly handled monster is as easy to kill as a haphazard bunch of hunters.
Evolve is at it’s best in this phase. Typically matches end in this round, the monster player is equally as likely to challenge a team as it is to continue amassing strength. A well hidden monster might continue to pursue food knowing they have an advantage, a monster with hunters hot on the heels might find an opportunity to ambush hunters blindly following tracks. On one occasion I knew the hunter pack wasn’t far behind. I led them into a human facility through massive steel doors, deciding the hunters would think I was passing through on the way to denser pastures the moment they arrived I barreled out the doorway scattering the team easily wiping the surprised hunters out.
Every round of Evolve has the opportunity to tell such a story. Hunters tales are rarely as exciting but victories are equally satisfying. On the rare occasion the monster makes it to power level three it’s earned a significant advantage. Armed with more health and potentially maxed out skills the monster becomes a killing machine. The hunters will have to pull out all the stops to take the monster down. Thankfully for them at this point the monster is given a target to destroy. Their best hope to achieve victory now is for to create a well designed trap to confront the monster in. Even then they really need to pull together. Win or lose, hunter or monster there’s a good chance you’ll get a story out of the round.
Evolve’s formulaic approach strives to create a framework where exciting tales are inevitable, and it works. The only downside is your games will always progress down the same pathways. They’re multiple different game modes to play, but all of them boil down to cat and mouse chases between hunter and monster. It doesn’t matter though because it’s really fun. Evolve creates variation through it’s range of playable characters. With three drastically different monsters, and three different hunters for each role with a wide differentiation of equipment and skills there’s multiple characters to master. Assault with Markov’s lightening gun or Hyde’s flamethrower, it’s up to you. It’s worth noting too that Evolve’s whole suite is playable entirely offline, but online is really the only way to play – the AI just don’t cut it.
The greatest strength of Evolve is that its always fun. Playing as a hunter in first person is slick, responsive and the jet packs make movement super fluid. As a monster lumbering around wrecking trees, leaping unnaturally far and stomping on puny hunters in third person is equally thrilling. An intelligent preference mode even let’s you prioritize what you would like to play as in match making. Only Evolve’s puzzling progression system gives me pause. Asking players to unlock new powers and characters feels strange. It would make much more sense for Evolve to subscribe to the MOBA system of picking a hero and learning to play them. It’s a small qualm, but it’ll take you hours to unlock even just the hunters and monsters.
Slick, tactical and fun each round of Evolve always does it’s best to make sure you have a story to tell at the end. There’s no story here, no overarching narrative but the hunters do their best add small drops of humor to proceedings. Ultimately Evolve is a sublimely balanced game of cat and mouse, a fair 4v1 hunter vs monster battle. There’s plenty of maps and heaps of variation between playable characters. With a steady package of DLC planned there’s plenty to keep players coming back in the future. Evolve does exactly what it promises. Well balanced, formulaic yet exciting Evolve might not be chaotic, but it’s still fun.