Evolve: Review - Games Weekly

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Evolve: Review

When the co-op tactical shooting comes together, this monster battler is an exciting thrill ride through lush, dense and dangerous alien lands. When played alone or with a group of not-willing-to-work-as-one team-mates, it too often falls apart, resulting in boring combat and repetitive movements from stage to stage. With such a focus on diving in with friends in 4v1 matches, it’s even more of a shame that the monsters themselves are fantastic to fight, but less fun to play as. As a game that centres on progression both mid-match and beyond Evolve feels inconsistent.

As a current gen only release, it does at least convey the rich, colourful alien landscapes of the planet Shear without over-stylising for the sake of more immediate variety. It’s gorgeous, especially on PC. There’s a lot of green, but each of the game’s 12 main arenas has unique features that make running through them in succession consistently enjoyable. The Aviary is a particular highlight, taking place within a huge, Jurassic Park-like biome, while The Dam is much darker with more extreme changes in elevation, making it tougher to track your target. There are various visual factors, too, including different weather systems, times of day, and a huge amount of customisation options to tailor your experience.
“As fun As listening to Peter Dinklage recite the same lines As A bored, floating rubik’s cube”
The science fiction feels inspired by the Alien franchise, and not only because you’re so focused on a central monster. The rag-tag team of four banter-heavy hunters straddles a line between James Cameron’s gung-ho marines and the cast of 2011’s mad shooter, Bulletstorm. Sadly, Evolve never comes close to besting either of its inspirations, quickly arriving at annoying dialogue exchanges that repeat the same stories we lost count of how many times we had to hear the story of how Maggie came to own her pet Trapjaw, and how support class Hank cooked a dish of living aliens for the squad. It quickly becomes about as fun as listening to Peter Dinklage recite the same lines as a bored, floating Rubik’s Cube in Destiny.

Spay day
Minimal story and lacklustre character development aside, Evolve is absolutely brilliant at involving each of its four hunters in the battle. Assault types are the damage dealer, while the trapper is responsible for dropping the mobile arena to contain the monster for a limited period of time. The medic and support classes are essential, both only capable of dealing minimal damage, but used mostly to buff the others via the Medgun and the Shield Generator respectively vital when the going gets tough.

We never felt shortchanged when cast in any of the roles, and it’s satisfying to find new ways of playing the game, winning tense combat encounters knowing you were responsible for pulling things back from certain defeat. Weapons and abilities level up as you use them, improving performance; you’ll also gain access to the two other characters in every class, and each one adds a slightly different method to the basic function, with surprisingly strong results.
“As a four-Player co-op game, evolve frequently hits its mark, Delivering thrilling battles”
For example, the starter assault class, Markov, carries an electric rifle and a full auto, while our personal favourite assault character, Hyde, packs an arm-mounted flamethrower and a devastating mini-gun that deals big damage at long range. Going from something as easy to use as the electric blaster which automatically locks on to your targets to the flamethrower which is tricky to wield
and requires you to be super close to your prey is a challenge in itself. This makes experimentation and exploration of Evolve’s characters fun to learn as you perfect each of the class systems.

Poke him on
The trapper is even more diverse. When you first start you’ll use Maggie’s pet Trapjaw, Daisy, and it all feels very hands-off utilising an AI character to investigate and follow the monster’s tracks. The hunts often devolve into a boring search through the woods while you watch your helper run up ahead. When you unlock Griffin, who sports an impressive blonde moustache and an awesome hat, you suddenly become far more involved in events, using sound spikes that you place across the map to monitor whenever the monster comes close. Further still, when you unlock Abe you can use a dart gun to cleverly tag the alien, or even mark wildlife in the anticipation of it becoming food. These are clever, subtle changes to a key role.

When you’re fighting the monster you’ll be impressed by its ferocity hacking, slashing and warping its way to victory, using a variety of impressive-looking attacks to take down the four humans tracking it but playing it isn’t nearly as fun. With three to choose from the lizard-like Goliath, the tentacled Kraken, and the fast-moving, stealth-focused Wraith each one feels very different to control. The Goliath is a great hulking beast that thunders around the map, while the Kraken and the Wraith are much more subtle. The latter is by far the coolest of the three, but in our experience it felt completely overpowered (if tougher to get used to).

It’s disappointing, then, that you probably won’t want to work towards unlocking the Wraith. This is mainly because playing as the monster feels so uninteresting compared to the team-based dynamism of the hunters. The monster’s main objective is to stalk, chase and feed on wildlife to consume enough sustenance to evolve to its next stage. You’ll go from an already formidable beast to a truly terrifying juggernaut with a health bar so long that the hunters will have a real job of bringing it down to nothing. This level of power is satisfying in theory but can be tedious in practice. Learn to wield your abilities properly and you can be a dominating force, yet combat still largely boils down to using your skills and then watching them cool before you go again. It certainly lacks the satisfaction of
communicating with a team of pals.

Four wins out of five is pretty good going, but Evolve’s campaign and individual matches also feel inconsistent and imbalanced. The game presents different ways to take down monsters, from the standard, self-explanatory Hunt, to a ‘destroy all the eggs’ Nest mode, and a dull ‘save the AI companions and escort them to the dropship’ Rescue affair. Then there’s Defend, the cream of the crop, which starts with a fully-evolved monster and its minions trying to destroy three generators against a time limit.

Home advantage
The game’s best feature is Evacuation, which strings five levels together to create a mini-campaign that changes dynamically depending on if you win or lose. It starts off with a preset scenario, but then starts to add interesting extras to each map. Victory in the first as the hunters means you might receive a squad of AI colonists to aid you in the next mission, or gain a dropship that helps you spot the monster from a greater distance. If you triumph as the monster, you could get an AI underling to assist you in battle, or the environment might begin to work against your foes, adding a higher density of dangerous wildlife or even carnivorous plants. It’s fun, is player-driven, and rarely feels the same from game to game.

As a four-player co-op experience, Evolve frequently hits its mark, delivering thrilling battles that are challenging, tactical and dynamic when playing as the hunters. As a humans vs mutant experience, however, Evolve is imbalanced. Consider how awesome the monsters are and it’s truly disappointing that they’re so overwhelmingly dull to play as, and that the matches themselves become repetitive so quickly. Occasionally we had a contest that was fraught, with frantic back-and-forth as each team gained the advantage before it slipped quickly back into uncertainty, but this is rarer than we had hoped.

Like the game’s dynamic campaign, Evolve feels like a sequence of constantly shifting factors that are ready to make or break the overall experience. The dice rolls in the game’s favour more often than not, but it’s a close call.

Characters: Val, Lazarus, Caira
Medic class is the health buffer, and they’re vital to the squad as they patch up any owies you might have. They also carry a sniper rifle Val’s is bolt-action, and later you even get automatic, silenced variants. Lazarus also has a resurrection device on his arm which revives others.

Characters: Hank, Bucket, Cabot
Support players use a shield generator to protect the health bar of fellow hunters when it all kicks off. Beyond that, Hank uses an incredibly strong orbital strike attack, and Bucket can even remove his own head to send it into the air as a mobile surveillance drone.

Characters: Maggie, Griffin, Abe
Trappers are responsible for containing the monster in a huge, visually impressive biome that stays up for a limited time. Maggie has an AI pet who helps to track the alien’s footprints, while Griffin utilises sound spikes to detect any nefarious activity nearby.

Characters: Markov, Hyde, Parnell
Assault is the damage-dealer at both close-and long-range, capable of wrecking the monster’s health bar. They can also use a personal shield, which defends them against damage for a short period of time though you’d best have a medic close by.


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