Evolve and the Art of the Close Match

image credit trueachievements.com / turtlerock / 2k
image credit trueachievements.com / turtlerock / 2k

“Clearly, we are dealing with something far beyond ordinary wildlife.”

Welcome to planet Shear. Following an amazing launch day and boasting improvements to nearly every aspect of an already exceptional game, 2K and Turtle Rock Studios “Evolve” shows beautiful things follow a well executed beta test. Not only did they incorporate some feedback from their testers, the release included finer tuned the play controls, quicker matchmaking times, numerous graphics improvements and tighter-than-ever hunter vs monster balance. The results are epic.

The beta was an outrageously good time, despite some rough edges at the time I was already sold on the sum of it’s virtues and flaws. As I mentioned previously in my beta review blog, one of the coolest things about the game can at times be one of the most frustrating – it’s hard – but I’ve come to see this is no accident by any measure. The balance between four hunters and one massive monster necessitates tight teamwork on the part of the hunters to stop the match from quickly turning into a quick, often comical snack for a skilled monster. Since beta, fine tuning of hunter abilities and some key monster abilities has narrowed the gap, and in practice has made it less likely for a match between players who are trying to become overwhelmingly one sided. Yes, there is a learning curve, and the game is not as easy as some other traditional space shooters, but the end product dares to be different for all the right reasons.

Weather you queue alone, with a full team of friends, or with a mix of strangers and AI controlled hunters, if you spend the time to learn your hunter or monster abilities you’ll see no match is truly over until the last body drops. Each map abounds with seemingly innocuous details ranging from elevation changes, low clearance tunnels or overpasses, ambient wildlife, buildings and other terrain that if used correctly can turn a massacre back into a close fight for either side. A clever monster learns to ignore carnivorous plants and certain critters, knows when to hide her tracks, and which corners of the map she’d rather not get caught in. Hunters in turn must learn acute situational awareness of their own in addition to working together, and not a whiff of this is force fed by game mechanics. No glowing arrows, no dialog hints  – just prior experience, careful observation and intuition.

In addition to the intense pure PvP online modes, Evolve includes a very cool looking campaign mode “Evacuation” which can be played competitively, cooperatively or solo. I haven’t taken a break from PvP “Hunt” mode yet to try Evacuation but from what I have seen it looks solid enough to stand as it’s own game. I am interested though, as the character dialog, personalities and plot opening hint at a very creative and enjoyable story. This was one of the best surprises about Evolve – a competitive “battle arena” style romp that could afford to go light on the plot and writing – instead the opening sequence alone manages to fit in more clever characters and plot potential than some other “story driven” shooters manage in their whole span.

During my first night, I had the pleasure of playing with and against the same group of similarly skilled players – all folks I had met randomly via the matchmaking system. Not all of us had the special edition, so we saw a pleasant mix of tier 1 and tier 3 characters and monsters. I found my losing matches to be just as invigorating as my wins (ok, nearly as..), largely due to the fact that most of the matches were close ones that could have gone either way – a balance I believe Turtle Rock and 2K worked hard to achieve. Finally, while I haven’t played Evacuation mode yet to say for sure, if it is anything as cool as PvP Hunt mode I think Evolve stands as the best candidate yet for Game of the Year.

And yes, Daisy.. you are my favorite trapjaw. See you on Shear.

Evolve Beta: The Good, the Bad and the Delicious

Image credit: Gamespot / 2k / Turtle Rock
Image credit: Gamespot / 2k / Turtle Rock

When does poor teamwork become a game flaw, and not just the burden of the player? In Evolve – an insanely fun 2K / Turtle Rock production that pits four hunters against one player controlled boss monster – the answer is far from clear.

The Good

Spoilers – I had a blast playing beta. Despite some rough edges, most of my matches were vigorous and rewarding no matter which side I played, win or lose. The graphics are fantastic and the combat is over the top, but what surprised me the most was that the characters, simple plot and dialog were actually very clever for a game that doesn’t really need much of a story. The short prologue fit in more character and plot than some games manage in their entire span, and the evacuation story mode shows much promise. Character advancement and unlock options within a given role (medic, trapper, support and assault) add a rich layer to team building possibilities, just as the multiple types of monsters and abilities each have very specific strengths.

The Bad

Evolve’s most unique feature can at times be the most frustrating one. Balancing the main abilities of each type of hunter against a single, far more powerful foe necessitates tight teamwork on the part of the hunters. I’ve only been in *one* winning match where not all of the hunters were on task, and it was a close match against a monster who’s heart might not have been in the fight, either.

I cannot overstate the discouragement felt when I enter a match as a medic and one or more of the party randomly breaks off from the party hunting dog’s lead or trail to go fight random wildlife, explore, or just go AFK. This match turns into either a very short or painfully long but easy win for the monster. As a hunter you are at the mercy of the match-making system unless you always game with a premade team of friends.

With all that said, is this an actual flaw in the game design? In some cases,  simple fixes like a “vote to kick / downrank player” party match making feature might help with chronically bad teams, but it might come with its own problems. Furthermore I’d be wary of any enhancements that also benefit a good team, since four competent hunters are exceedingly difficult to kill as a relatively new monster.

To be fair, this problem is shared to a lesser degree by any multiplayer RPG/Shooter with raids or dungeons. Also, Evolve does have a solo play mode although I am not certain if progression there carries over to multiplayer, which may or may not be a good thing if it did.

The Delicious

In the end, the sum of Evolve’s flaws and strengths turns out to be outrageously fun, most of the time. The thrill of a properly executed hunter team victory is matched only by the feeling of devouring a worthy team of opponents as the monster. I look forward to wrecking havoc when it is released February 10 – with friends. 🙂

Below is more havoc, from beta.

Evolve Beta fun with the Kraken:

https://t.co/gSc2fh2eFg

Goliath goes on a “see-food” diet:

https://account.xbox.com/en-us/gameclip/ee62d501-1eb1-4855-87ba-1bb2567a0dc8?gamerTag=BadDaddyDragon&scid=03a80100-9ff3-46ea-be76-e00e7fe465df

 

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