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Asymmetric 'Evolve:' Too much change?

“Evolve” — developed by Turtle Rock Studios for 2K Games — pits four players acting as hunters against a fifth player who controls the monster. The resulting battles are intense and exhilarating.

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By BRIAN BOWERS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 21, 2015

The planet Shear has a problem with enormous man-eating monsters and it’s your job to deal with it.

Luckily, you’re not in this alone. You can bring three friends to help. Just remember to work together to avoid ending up as Kraken chow.

“Evolve” — developed by Turtle Rock Studios for 2K Games — pits four players acting as hunters against a fifth player who controls the monster. The resulting battles are intense and exhilarating.

But that should be expected from Turtle Rock, the studio that also created the popular team-based zombie shooter “Left 4 Dead.”

The two games display a slight family resemblance. Both feature four team members fighting against a persistent foe, but the similarity pretty much ends there. “Left 4 Dead” offered interchangeable characters who fought hundreds of human-size enemies using familiar weapons. “Evolve” offers something different in each of these aspects.

Each member of the monster-fighting squad in “Evolve” is unique. The assault character’s primary job is to deal damage. The trapper is responsible for tracking the monster and setting up traps, of course. The medic heals. And the support character can boost other players’ performance by using various gadgets and he can call on friends in orbit to deliver help, such as deadly barrages. Each hunter must play his or her role for the mission to be successful. If one player drops the ball or wanders off, all are likely to die.

Each of the hunter classes contains three different characters. And each of these characters has a different set of weapons and abilities. For example, Maggie is a trapper who brings along a doglike critter to track the monster, while Griffin uses sound detectors to find the enemy. And Val is a medic who carries a healing pistol, while Lazarus can revive dead. The different weapons, gadgets and abilities can make a surprising difference in the way combat unfolds so it’s wise to know each of the character’s abilities and learn how they complement each other.

The same basic idea applies to monsters. You start off with a Godzilla-like Goliath and can unlock the Kraken, which resembles a flying squid, and the Wraith, which has the ability to teleport as well as scythe-like talons. Once again, they have unique types of attacks that can be devastating to unwary hunters.

Of course the primary departure from “Left 4 Dead” is the asymmetrical gameplay in “Evolve.” One vs. four competition is pretty rare and some were skeptical about Turtle Rock’s ability to pull it off. Developers spent a lot of time balancing the abilities of the hunters against the abilities of the monsters to ensure a level playing field. They claimed in the final beta test, the ratio of wins was split pretty evenly between the two sides.

I tend to agree with their assessment when it comes to multiplayer matches. It seems that the results are equally divided. Of course, a lot depends on the players’ abilities. An experienced monster won’t have much trouble gobbling up a pack of noobs who don’t play as a team.

However, things don’t seem quite as balanced when you battle an opponent guided by the game’s artificial intelligence. In both solo games and online co-op, it can be very difficult to defeat an AI opponent unless you have a great team — or tweak the settings in a custom match.

The most basic mission is the hunt. The hunters wander the environment searching for the monster while the monster tries to stay hidden until he can eat enough of the local fauna to evolve into a more robust beast. If the hunters can catch the monster while it’s in the first stage of its evolution, they can defeat it without too much difficulty. A second-stage monster is a bit more difficult. A monster in the third, and final, stage can be very difficult to deal with because he has increased armor, health and attacks. He also can defeat the hunters by destroying their power station even if he doesn’t kill them all.

In most missions, hunters run frantically around the map trying to find the monster before it evolves. The two sides periodically collide amid explosions, flying lead, energy beams and slashing claws. The chaos usually continues until one side scurries off to lick its wounds. This scenario is repeated until one side is eliminated.

However, it’s also relatively common for an unfocused or inexperienced team of hunters to spend more than three-quarters of the match wandering the map in a fruitless search for their enemy. In these instances, the monster reaches stage 3 of its evolution and everyone hightails it to the power station for the first — and last — battle of the match. By this point, the monster is virtually unstoppable because it hasn’t been worn down by previous encounters and the results are usually predictable.

While individual hunting matches are enjoyable, the most fun is to be found in the evacuation mode. This involves a sequence of five missions that lead up to the evacuation of Shear’s inhabitants.

Evacuation offers four types of missions: hunt, nest, rescue and defense. Nest missions place six monster eggs on the map. The monster tries to hatch the eggs while the hunters try to destroy the eggs and any hatchlings. In rescue missions, hunters must find scattered survivors and escort them to safety. In defense missions, players must hold off repeated attacks by the monster and its slightly smaller minions. Defense missions are the most exciting and challenging events in the game.

Each evacuation starts with a standard hunting mission. For each of the next three missions, players choose from hunt, rescue and nest missions. The final mission is a defense.

The winner of each encounter gains an advantage in the following mission. For example, if the hunters win a mission associated with a medical facility, scientists will launch a rocket that delivers healing stations to the next battlefield. If the monster wins, the rocket falls to the ground and chemicals in the medical pods cause carnivorous plants to mutate. This can make life a little more difficult for the side that lost the previous mission. However, things won’t get too far out of sync because the losers get a few buffs to their stats to keep things somewhat balanced.

If you’re uneasy about jumping right into the action, you can hone your skills in solo play. Each of the game modes is available for this. The only major difference is that you can switch among the characters. That means that if you’re medic isn’t doing something you’re way, you can step into her boots and get it done. Or, if your preferred character falls in combat, you can quickly switch to another.

Most of the game’s technical aspects are very good. The graphics are usually excellent, though you’ll occasionally see the remains of a monster’s meal floating in mid-air. And the controls are smooth and efficient. You can switch among weapons and gadgets, fight and maneuver with ease. And traversing the countryside is a breeze thanks to jetpacks that permit super long bounds and cliff-climbing.

The only problems I encountered were long load times between missions and occasional difficulty with matchmaking. On several days, I tried repeatedly to link to a hunt mission or evacuation game but was unsuccessful. I’m not sure whether it was because of problems with the “Evolve” servers, lack of players on Xbox Live or simply a wonky connection. I’m leaning toward the latter because I have not seen similar complaints online.

The game earns its mature rating for violence and strong language.

Bottom line: "Evolve” can deliver a tremendous amount of fun but a lot depends on finding the right teammates.

bowers.brian@stripes.com
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
Online: evolvegame.com

The assault character’s primary job is to deal damage. The trapper is responsible for tracking the monster and setting up traps, of course. The medic heals. And the support character can boost other players’ performance by using various gadgets and he can call on friends in orbit to deliver help, such as deadly barrages.
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