Evolve: Stage 2

Whenever I see a game becoming over-hyped, I can’t help but think “you are going to fail and it will be hilarious”. A few big launches have turned out this way and I can’t help but think I have a pretty awesome superpower. One day in the future, I’ll talk about the remnants of Wildstar, Elder Scrolls Online and SimCity, but today I will focus on Evolve.

Or, as it has been rebranded now – Evolve: Stage 2.

Evolve immediately turned me off at announcement, when the developers seemed to spend more of their time plugging the downloadable content as opposed to actually programming their game – granted, the downloadable content made up 95% of the game, so maybe they just had a lot of spare time. Monster packs, hunters, weapons, all sorts of shill were thrown up on websites and at conventions as a way to entice their audience – the game was a shopfront for a load of assets they were throwing together.

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Here we stand, just over a year later, with Evolve having lost all of its players and as a free-to-play experience. You can still buy seventeen tons of crap to make the game more interesting if you like, but you don’t have to pay upfront for the privilege – big improvement, now I’m interested.

Evolve uses a different sort of multiplayer experience, one that I really enjoy and have been looking out for more examples of, is the asynchronous style. Many vs 1, each with their own skills and abilities to use against the other. In Evolve’s form, one player is the Monster that the other 4 players hunt down and kill.

There are different classes that you can purchase, on both sides, that bring new abilities and skills to the game – there is also a weekly rotation in place, so you can try different Hunters and Monsters (eventually). Before each match you’ll get to choose some Perks, which add minimal boosts to your character and may add a little bit of edge to your playstyle. After each match you can earn Silver Keys, a currency used for purchasing various things throughout the game – obviously, you can just buy a gazillion for hard-earned cash as well.

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Probably the easiest way to show the range of options

The lobby does have an interesting mechanic built in: you can rank your preference of class to play in the round and, unless you’re a particularly unlucky friend of mine, you’ll usually get to play it. It might be programmed to keep a group of players to playing Hunters as a team.

In the world, after a little bit of exposition in the ship, you have two objectives: track and kill the monster or, if you have particular trouble with that, defend the pylon (and kill the monster). The maps are fairly basic affairs: large maps that would usually encourage splitting up, but advise against it. There are a few different zones to experience, a lava world and a few forests – there may be more but I don’t want to pay for them.

Upon landing, you’ll need to track the monster by following the footsteps on the ground and making good use of your class. A particular Hunter may have sound spikes they can stick in the ground, which will pick up sound as a Monster stomps past and show it on the minimap for everyone to see. Otherwise, you’re on the ground, following footsteps and making guesses about directions to the cut the Monster off.

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Should you manage to successfully find the Monster, you have the chance to trap it in an arena and start unloading rounds of ammunition into its (mostly) defenceless face – or the convenient critical strike points that appear on every joint you know, and four hundred others you didn’t. The dome doesn’t last forever and traps everyone within it, so the Hunters need to work quickly to destroy the Monster’s armour and do as much damage as possible.

On the Monster’s view of things, they were having a pleasant day in the forests when suddenly 4 humanoid parasite dropped from the sky and started shooting everything they saw. Fearing for their life and family, the Monster must hide and find beasts to slay for experience to level up. A Monster has 3 stages of evolution, gaining new abilities when it does so, making them stronger and harder for the Hunters to beat – in some cases, they can gain abilities that make them harder to track across the map.

Should the horrible invading Hunters fail to put the Monster down in time and it successfully evolves to its final stage, the objective switches to Defend the Base. In its fully evolved, understandably enraged, state the Monster will make towards the pylon in the map and have a massive tantrum all over it. If the pylon is destroyed, the Hunters lose and the Monster can go back to paying its mortgage on the planet.

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In all fairness, it is actually quite good – the rounds are usually quite quick to play through and the classes (including the Monster) do have little things that make them unique and fun to play. The whole experience is quite fun to play, especially knowing it’s free to play. It could do with some different maps and regions, because it can get very repetitive over a night – you’ll see them all, a few times each. Matchmaking is pretty fast as well, so once you’ve stomped a random Monster to the ground, you’re quickly into another round with a different player.

From shaky beginnings, through an arduous year, Evolve has… developed into a fairly decent game.

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