I've been playing a lot of Evolve over the last week and the questions I hear are all the same: Are you tired of this game yet? Is it really repetitive? The answer to each is, simply, no and yes, respectively.
Some of you will hate this game. You'll think its rote nature too boring or find your teammates constantly lacking. Some of you, like me, will fit naturally within the "one more round" structure of Evolve, and you'll have found a group of friends to play with who don't totally suck. You'll learn your roles, you'll communicate, and you'll have fun becoming expert hunters and expert monsters. That's just the kind of divisive experience Evolve is.
Evolve is a competitive, multiplayer first-person shooter made for five players. You can play on the side of the humans—as one of four hunter classes—or choose to play as their enemy, as the boss who they battle.
If you're not interested in multiplayer games, Evolve is probably not for you. Sure, there's a singleplayer campaign in which you play as either one of four hunter classes or one of three monster classes, while the computer controls the other players. It's more of a glorified tutorial than a campaign, though. When it comes down to it, Evolve has been built with the intention of putting human players up against other human players. And, really, it's the players who make the game good.
When you play as a monster—either the fist-flinging Goliath, the Wraith that aims to confuse its prey, or the Kraken that deals in heavy lightning damage and flight—you'll learn the merits of stealth, of fighting on your terms, and of manipulating both the map and the hunters' eagerness to your advantage. It is often said that humans are the weakest point of any technical infrastructure, and that is no less true of Evolve. Developers Turtle Rock Studios may have created a solid team of human teammates whose skills complement one another quite well, but it's up to the players to make the best use of that.
When you play as one of the four hunter classes—assault, trapper, medic, support—you'll learn to work as a team, and to respect the chain of command as it shifts between stages of the fight. Evolve is a first-person shooter, sure, but this is no Call of Duty. Each hunter has a specific obligation to the team and specific points at which they become most useful. If someone doesn't pull their weight, everyone will feel it.
In my experience, matches from the hunters' perspective should typically go something like this:
- The trapper, the newest class concept that Evolve introduces to the first-person genre, rushes out first at the start of each mission, with all other hunters following them diligently. The trapper concerns themselves with tracking and trapping the monster. Depending on which of the three trappers you select, that'll either mean following a pet dog/trapjaw who can sniff out the monster, placing sound spikes at choke points where the monster might run them over, or shooting at the monster with a tracking dart.
- If you play as a support class, you can help with tracking by setting off "dust tagging" that'll highlight enemies in the vicinity or by sending a UAV out in search of the monster.
- This part of the match is a mad dash; players are anxious to get the monster before it can eat enough wildlife to evolve, meaning it'll be stronger and faster. It's a stressful moment for both the monster and the humans to try to gain the advantage right at the start. This phase can make or break the whole round.
- As soon as the trapper is on the monster's tail, they'll drop a dome, encasing the team and (hopefully) the monster in one arena for the fight. If the monster has yet to evolve and is at stage one, and therefore vulnerable to attacks, it might try to hide somewhere within that dome. Any class that might have other tracking options (dust tagging, tranquilizers, etc.) should attempt to tag it. This is a worst case scenario for the monster. The humans are uninjured and probably thrilled to have gotten the monster so early on.
- If the enemy monster is the Wraith, it probably has a good chance of survival by tossing out decoys while it warps across the arena to hide and lead the hunters on a chase until the dome drops. The Wraith can be incredibly frustrating to fight.
- During the fight, the assault class—with whatever combination of heavy weapons and mines or grenades the chosen character has—will lay down as much damage as they can at this phase while the trapper attempts to keep the monster as still as possible with harpoons or stasis grenades. Support will attempt to protect the team with shields or a cloaking field or lay down damage with sentry guns or an orbital barrage of missiles.
- While the rest of the team focuses on protection, additional damage and keeping the monster in place, the medic has to keep an eye on their team members' health. Depending on the character chosen, though, the medic can be useful in combat, too. They can either shoot weak points into the monster, resurrect fallen teammates, or boost their speed either to chase after the monster—particularly after the dome has fallen—or to run away from it when the team is injured.
If everyone plays their role, it feels choreographed, like everything is playing out exactly how you always imagined it in your best Evolve dreams. And if not, it's a nightmare. Support might be flying around aimlessly while the medic is getting pummeled and the trapper is looking around confused as to what they're supposed to do after the dome is set. Meanwhile, poor assault thinks that maybe some bullets will help the situation, but it probably just pisses the monster off and gets it to come after them instead.
Some rounds end before the monster has even had a chance to eat enough wildlife to reach a stronger stage two. Some teams of hunters will be bested enough times for the monster to reach stage three, pushing them back to a final round in which they must protect a relay while the monster has to destroy it.
By far the weirdest round I've experienced was one in which I played as a monster, the Goliath, and continuously demolished members of the hunting team, only for the survivors to lead me around a chase long enough while they each respawned one by one. This went on for several rounds before I finally bailed, reached stage three, and demolished the relay while they went for a similar tactic of waiting on respawns. I caught on to their flight-not-fight strategy, and decided to spend my attention elsewhere, thereby securing the win anyway. Different teams with behave differently, and it's up to everyone involved to adapt and, hopefully, communicate where necessary.
Everything in Evolve hinges on teamwork, on each player both mastering their class as well as respecting their role and their teammates' roles in the fight. Without a good level of understanding of who is best at what, and maybe even which characters in each class mesh best with each other, the hunters will be at the monster's mercy.
When playing as the monster, matches become an entirely different, actually somewhat lonely experience. They usually go something like this:
- Run, run, running, running still, but trying to be stealthy. New players typically don't quite understand the benefits of playing stealthily (and are the best targets). You won't leave tracks, and you can find quiet areas of the map to feed off of wildlife and get a sense of the terrain you're working with without feeling the stress of constantly pushing forward. You can often mislead the hunters off your track, giving you some breathing room. You can sometimes even straight up hide in a bush while the hunters walk right by you—unless they've got Maggie and her trapjaw tracker on their team. Then you're fucked; go back to running and just be faster at eating wildlife, sorry. (There are class perks for that.)
- Climb, climb, climbing still. Monsters can climb (or fly, or warp) higher and more easily than the hunters who are beholden to the limited fuel in their jetpacks. The height advantage works very well for monsters because they can push players off, wasting their precious dome time limit as they try to scale back up to the fight.
- If trapped at stage one, the monster should do its best to move around and keep the hunters chasing it. Sometimes a monster can even hide around a bush or rock, or just run up and off cliffs enough times for the dome to drop so it can flee again.
- If trapped at a higher stage, the monster can make good use of its evolved abilities to tackle the team of hunters. Killing the medic off first is always a good bet, especially if you've found a team with a medic who can also resurrect his teammates. If they're smart, the hunters will know to support the medic class as best as they can. Once one falls, it's really not too long before the others do. A monster can kill all the hunters and win the round at stage two if they play the arena well and the enemy team isn't too organized. But they've got a better chance of survival at stage three, when they're fully evolved. At that point you can win the round either by killing the hunters off or demolishing the relay that pops up at the stage three evolution.
- If it's down to attacking the relay, it's a guess of whose health seems lower: the relay, or the hunters? When hunters are downed, their overall health meters are docked a notch. Smart monsters will attack the most vulnerable of these options.
Playing as the monster can be hit or miss. They're often stressful experiences; you can feel like you can't get away long enough to get your bearings. You're painfully aware that you're being hunted and that you're fending for yourself. Everything on the map either runs from you or runs at you. Trees collapse around you, giving away your location. You leave behind corpses in your desperate need to feed to evolve, giving away your location. Birds fly off as you walk by, giving away your location. There's not much you can do that doesn't work against you. Every step is a careful one, or one towards your inevitable capture. And you realize that quickly.
As the monster, you will undoubtedly be put in at least one uncomfortable position per round, unless you're lucky enough to have experience and go up against an inexperienced team of hunters, but that's no fun.
The moments of struggling and despair make your triumph that much more empowering, though. You get to experience this three times over: once with the Goliath, once with the Kraken, and once with the Wraith. I'm still having a hard time getting a handle on the latter two, but I feel like I've finally perfected the Goliath's movements and attacks. I like that, even though each round asks the same of you. It can feel like you're hitting the reset button once you switch to a different monster.
Matches don't always go as planned, even with the most put-together of teams or most trained monster player. The appeal to Evolve is in confronting the same challenge in different scenarios. See, the problem with the repetitive nature of a game like Destiny, for instance, is that it's literally the same task over and over that you're often forced to carry out. In Evolve, it certainly looks like you're just playing a game to kill a monster or kill a bunch of hunters out to get you, but it plays out differently every single time. I've had rounds last a minute and rounds that lasted 20. I've demolished teams and monsters, and I've been demolished. And I'm still learning the best method to tackling a Wraith.
There is technically no difficulty variance in Evolve—no 'normal,' or 'hard' options—but the differences between the monsters feels like the equivalent of one. Going up against the Wraith feels like the toughest challenge. It takes time to figure out both how to play effectively as a Wraith and how to go up against one. Facing a Wraith helps you realize just how crucial the differences within each hunter class are, and how much of a difference seemingly small things like class perks and buffs found on wildlife in each map can make. Each monster requires a different strategy to tackle, and so they require a specific team of hunters to do so effectively.
There's a fairly steep learning curve as you are introduced to each new monster, both in playing and fighting it. It's like relearning the rules of the game. So, yes, it's technically repetitive. But it doesn't really end up feeling that way.
As for the elephant in the room, sure, there are already plans for new hunters and new monsters in the form of DLC that publisher 2K would love for you to pay for. Evolve could certainly use variation in the available modes—I find the current objective-based missions lacking and in dire need of ones where several monsters might go up against several teams of hunters—and I could see those being sold as extras later down the line. But I've found enough variety in the selections of characters—the 12 hunters and three monsters available across 16 different maps and five different modes.
In fact, I like that there isn't too much variety in the selections of characters. I like that my focus is restrained to a handful of permutations of scenarios so that I can refine and perfect my methods. I'm perfectly at home loading up another round, with the same team of the same hunters, against the same monster on the same map and figuring out the better route we could have taken or training towards becoming a better team together or sniffing out hunter weaknesses, as the monster, in a more informed way.
I'm ok with the redundancy because I'm interested in taking a game structure and perfecting it. It's not enough to simply win. Evolve pushes me to perfect. I can't say how long that challenge will last, or how long my interest in flaunting it after that will last, but it's certainly got my attention.
It doesn't take long to get familiar with Evolve. After a few rounds spent sampling all the available playable characters and monsters, you've pretty much got the idea of what you're playing with. But to know the game intimately, and to play competitively, you'd have to spend hours with each character alone.
Evolve is, by its nature, repetitive. But the first time you play it won't feel like the 100th time you play it. Imagine you have never played basketball before. The first time you pick it up, it's hard. You're frustrated. You don't understand the rules or how to play well with your teammates. But once you start getting the hang of it, your 100th game won't feel like the first one. Because you'll be better, and you'll be employing skills you didn't even know were available to you. And at that point? Well, it's more like you're playing basketball rather than letting basketball play you. It's a lot more rewarding to be a good monster, and a good teammate, rather than just passable ones.