Halloween weekend, those privileged enough to be graced by alpha keys were able to try our hand in the Evolve Big Alpha. While the game is still has a ways till launch, here are our thoughts on the game as it stood in the Big Alpha… The following is just an opinion preview, and is no way a review of the game.
Evolve is due to hit shelves February 10th, 2015.
Your aircraft hovers a hundred feet or so above the landing zone. You check your weapons and make small talk with your fellow hunters as the floor releases and you dive down towards the ground, slowing your descent with your jet packs. Making sure everyone is set, the Trapper picks up on some tracks… Giant footprints that make their way through the mud and into the dense jungle ahead. Twisting iron structures jut from the landscape, and a factory breaks the horizon; that’s where your Power Relay resides, and its what you have to protect if shit hits the fan.
Suddenly, screeches and cries break out ninety meters away; a flock of birds that have been alarmed by the behemoth. You and the other hunters jetpack your way over downed logs, boulders, and up sheer cliff faces. Finally, the medic cries out and pings the beasts location. She declares that she has hit it with a tranquilizer, which also subsequently tags it momentarily; the beast is lit up like Christmas. You spring in to action.
Jetting to its location, the medic keeps peppering it with tranquilizer darts, keeping it slow and dumb. The Trapper preps her mobile arena and tosses it towards the beast. As it tries to flea, a glowing dome of blue energy traps it inside. As you round a corner, you finally get a good look at it. A monstrosity of epic proportions; the face of Cthulu and arms like a mega gorilla. You lower your lightning gun and begin blasting it with electricity, throwing down mines as you chase it around the glowing cage. The beast realizes running is out of the question, and it takes a different approach.
Turning, the creature breaths fire from its gaping maw and simultaneous crushes you into the ground. Had it not been for the Supports shield generator, you would have been hurting. What little damage you take is quickly healed by the medic, and the Trapper is working on getting harpoon traps to tether your target. The arena only lasts so long however, and as soon as the walls flicker and die the creature is sprinting, running, climbing faster than you can keep up… All is quiet.
You try to track the creature to no avail. Occasionally you catch what you think are glimpses through the dense brush, but you can’t be sure… The wild life is giving you trouble now; man-eating plants slow your progress, giant turtle creatures that initially blend in to the environment like boulders trip you up and the Tyrant, the underwater nightmare that waits to drag you under, nearly kills your hunting party. You finish off a group of quick and lethal Reapers when you hear it… A guttural roar… The sound of the beast’s third and final evolution. The Power Relay is in danger.
Rushing back to the base, you lay down mines and the trapper prepares her harpoons… Then you wait. A flock of birds takes flight two hundred and fifty meters away… A few moments pass… Birds one hundred meters away take to the skies in fright. Then you hear the footsteps… Distant at first, but growing with each passing moment. You all huddle together inside the factory, looking every which way; unsure of the direction the beast is coming from… The footsteps stop. Nothing..
The last sound you hear is a roar from above, as the beast meteor drops towards the ground from the catwalk up above. The last thing you see is a wreath of flames exploding from an octopus head.
Close but No Cigar
When matches went this way, they were undeniably awesome. Jet packing over obstacles, following footprints, bird calls, and sounds through the jungle was a lot of fun. The first time I encountered the monster was adrenaline pumping to say the least. A thing three times the size of me, I kept my distance and tried as hard as I could to heal the party and keep them fighting. Smart monsters would target me, the medic, first to eliminate any chance of their pray being sustained. Trapping the monster in the mobile arena and pummeling it as it tries to defend itself is thrilling… for a while, anyway.
Evolve is a very good looking game. The jungle looks lush and intimidating, and the creature models and landscapes are fresh and exciting. Despite the shear amount of wildlife and interesting level design, the maps didn’t quite breathe for me, however. Evolve tells you the wilderness is dangerous and out to get you, but the amount of times I found myself interacting with the wildlife was unfortunately minimal; people actually would get annoyed if you turned your attention to the beasts of Sheer and hampered their progress towards the end goal. The only exception to this being the “rare” animals in the wilderness that grant buffs that are usually quite helpful; jet packs last longer, bullets are poisoned, etc. That’s the thing about Evolve; its a breakneck sprint in the beginning. If you don’t find the monster fast, it makes the game a whole lot more difficult for the hunters later on. This means your party usually just blazes through the forest, over the heads of anything that may have been a threat, and towards the behemoth that’s trying to be sneaky and eating. Sure occasionally one might get snared by some nasty critters, but helping them out is usually quick and painless. The hunt would be much more tense if danger was literally everywhere, and it might give the monster more time to Evolve (more on that later). There is still plenty of time for Turtle Rock Studios and 2K to balance things, of course.
There is also a disconnect between the feel the game is trying to inspire, and the visuals that they have decided to go with. Evolve is meant to be scary. Its meant to make you hold your breath and just listen… listen for the snapping of twigs or the cracking of flesh and bones as the behemoth eats its prey. This dark and dreary jungle coupled with the UI and feel of a Borderlands game just doesn’t quite work for me. Its terrifying until your first combat encounter, which feels more like Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead than anything else I can really think of. This isn’t bad by any means, in fact it’s very enjoyable; however when almost comical beams of energy are healing and shielding your team, and the monster begins to glow different colors for various effects, it gets a bit busy and lighthearted on screen. I wish the interactions between hunter and monster were more gritty; black ichor spraying from the beasts wounds, a minimal HUD and heavy weapons that make you feel the impact of the bullets… But of course that is just an opinion.
Grind on, baby.
The leveling up system is fairly generic and works a lot like Battlefield games. Use a particular character and weapon and you will unlock bonus skills and abilities slowly over your hunts. Skins and other characters can be unlocked by playing a lot as their respective classes. Lazarus, the second medic for example, is unlocked by using the first medic, Val, and completing the challenges for her healing gun, tranquilizer, and sniper rifle. This adds a certain amount of addiction that continuously makes you say, “Ok… one more hunt.”
It’s essentially grinding, but the best part about it is that it really doesn’t seem like it. You hunt because its fun, and if you happen to unlock some perks then its just an added bonus. If you have a perk you want to unlock really badly, you can focus your attention that hunt on the sniper rifle, for example, and try to adjust your gameplay to get the most experience you can during the round. At the end of a hunt, the game also displays your performance compared to world average based on the three key performance benchmarks of your class; for the medic Val its amount healed, amount of time you tranquilized the beast, and bonus damage granted from your sniper rifle, for example. This was always enjoyable to see, and gave a very real review of what you could work on next time; further giving you reason to boot up another round.
Your role in the game (Assault, Support, Medic, Trapper, or Monster) is determined by a scale you set at the beginning of the game that can be changed at any time. It asks you to rate the five roles from one to five, one being your favorite; the game then tries to make everyone happy by giving you your top three choices. My last choice was the monster for most of my time spent playing, but I was still forced into the role a few times; it’s not perfect but it allows for faster queuing and I ended up really respecting the system.
Hit or Miss Monster
One of the most glaring characteristics of Evolve is that the amount of fun you have in a hunt is directly related to how competent the person playing the monster is. If they are completely new, sprint through the forest leaving tracks everywhere, and allow themselves to be caught and killed in three minutes, it’s miserable. The long load times, which absolutely could become shorter in the final version, made me pray the hunt lasted at least fifteen or so minutes so I could get some bang out of my waiting.
On the flip side, if you have a player that is utterly perfect at stealthing as a Monster, you and your group will get a great tour of the map and foliage until the creature hits stage 3 after 30 minutes of walking around, and you suddenly have to run back to your base after an actionless “hunt”.
The perfect balance is when the monster occasionally slips up, and you froth at the mouth knowing your JUST trailing behind it. Small skirmishes that end it the monster fleeing or wiping out all but one of your group is the most thrilling, and when it culminates in a dramatic finale at your Power Relay the game really comes to life.
“You’re a Monster!”
The second part of the game, and the part that is obviously most unique, is when you get to play the big bad evil guy. When you are chosen to play the monster, the game completely changes. Instead of jetting around and travelling across the land confidently, you creep and crawl around and try to eat as many local animals as possible before the hunters catch on to you. Sprint around and you will leave footprints. Walk carelessly and you will send birds into the sky that alert your location. I found it strange that the huge hulking beast was reduced to sneaking, but it is certainly tense and exciting. If you can keep the hunters off of you for long enough, you can evolve to stage 2 and 3. Playing the monster is essentially hide and seek. Your animal senses allow you to ping your surroundings to see if they are close, and this further helps you adjust your location and hide. I found this radar system not only useful for hiding, but for taking advantage of when one or more of their party members were weak; as it also shows your their health bar. More times than once I pounced on an unsuspecting medic or trapper that had just had a near-deadly bout with a local creature, wiping them out before their group could come to their aid.
As you eat and evolve, you allocate points into four different skills. The Goliath, for example, has a rock throw, leap attack, breathe fire, and charge ability. This allows for some player creativity, and is enough customization that the beast doesn’t feel like the same beast every hunt. One beast I fought had maxed his fire breath and had ignored all other traits, so while he was slow and relied heavily on swiping at us, when the fire erupted from his face we were all hurting badly.
Once you hit stage 3, you are big and bad enough to take on the hunter’s Power Relay. This is a big contraption you wail on by holding the left mouse button. You can try to ignore the hunters and go straight for it, but it seems the acceptable meta is to wipe out at least three of the enemy hunters and then to turn your attention to the objective.
When the monster, Evolve has the gritty nature I so desire when I play the hunter. The HUD is minimal, blood explodes from your prey as you devour them, and your heart thumps heavily for fear of discovery. using my radar senses to narrowly escape the hunters was very exhilarating, and I wish there was more of that primal fear when in the hunter’s shoes.
A Promising Start
Evolve is in a good place right now. While the hunts do get repetitive after a while, and the long load times make you think twice about queing for another go, most of the problems are ones that can feasibly be fixed by launch. The only major concerns I have is the confusing atmosphere the game creates, and the seeming lack of personality the game has so far. As stated before, the game tries to be both tense and colorful and arcade-y… this didn’t resonate with me. After playing several hours of the game, I also didn’t have a great sense of wonder. It’s hard to explain, but it lacked that “wow” factor that I had been given from trailers and previous previews.
Only time will tell if these things will change, but the game in it’s current form is looking like a solid title for Turtle Rock Studios and 2k – let’s just hope it can evolve a bit more.