EVOLVE: Playing an Alpha Predator in the Alpha

So I played some Evolve. 12 hours of it, actually. Well 12 hours of the alpha, which is in no way representative of the final product. That’s in addition to playing some of the August alpha, too. Safe to say, I’ve got a pretty good handle on the game.

And I think it has some promise, and I have some reservations.

Evolve is an asymmetrical multiplayer game. 4 people play as hunters, and 1 person plays as a monster.  The hunters’ only goal is to kill the monster. The monster itself has a bit more freedom of choice. It can kill the hunters to win, or it can evolve, eating wildlife to, in effect, level up. Once it reaches stage 3, the monster can destroy a power relay and win that way. That’s Evolve in a nutshell, and that’s what’s available in Alpha. Turtle Rock, the developers, call it Hunt.

But it’s no walk in the park. Monsters are no slouches. Killing them requires teamwork, regardless of how competent each individual player is. This is no place for heroes. A single hunter is no match for the monster. So organized teams will definitely be the way to play. A team of random hunters will usually be spread out and hardly working together. These teams will be easily picked off by more experienced monsters.

Of course inexperienced monsters are at a disadvantage, too. Most will rush in right from the start and probably be obliterated. But once a player has a handle on the monster, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

And therein lies the first problem. Hunters require teamwork to succeed. Monsters do not. Once a player knows what they’re doing as the monster, they’ll be able to roll over most random groups of hunters while giving organized ones a good run for their money. Good monsters will exceedingly hard to kill, by anyone.

This is just the nature of the game. The hunters rely on teamwork, and the monster relies on nobody but itself. Balancing all of this must be a real pain. Make the monster too strong, and no one will want to play the game solo as hunters. Make the hunters too strong and organized teams will be at a steep advantage.

As for me, I played solo for the vast majority of the alpha, with priority set to the monster. In something like twenty games, I only lost a couple of times. And in both instances, it was me that misplayed, or got too greedy.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the game. As the monster, I had a blast, and the best matches I played were against half-competent teams. These games were back and forth. They’d find me, and we’d brawl a bit, then I’d escape to lick my wounds, only to return stronger than before. In the alpha, games like these were in the minority, but as the weekend progressed, they were becoming more prevalent.

I didn’t enjoy playing as the hunters as much. Fighting the monster is exhilarating, but when you’re not fighting it, you’re searching for it. That involves a fair bit of running from one side of the map to the other chasing icons. Hey, the monster just scared some birds over here! Hey, look over here, footprints!

Hunters can slow down and trap the monster, but a lot of the time, people will begin to fall behind in the process of chasing it down. Or someone will run ahead to play the hero. In these cases, the monster will be able to pick someone off solo, or in the case that it becomes trapped, the team is ill prepared. Then the monster just escapes before the hunters can even wear it down. Worse yet, good monsters can be exceedingly hard to track down, because they – appropriately – learned to play evasively.

As the monster, playing evasively is damn fun. Throwing the hunters off your tracks, misleading them, losing them after they’ve found you – all of it, loads of fun. On top of that, the monster’s hunting wildlife in an effort to evolve to the next stage, and once they reach stage three, they are damn near unstoppable. So there’s a lot of motivation for the hunters to kill it before then.

That’s the hunter’s goal: chase down the monster and kill it. That’s it. I feel like they need to have some other objectives, some other goal. Because trust me, if the monster doesn’t want to fight, it won’t. So the hunters are left chasing it, without much else to do. And chasing something that refuses to be caught can be, for obvious reasons, damn frustrating.

For the most part, that’s Evolve in its current state, as an alpha with limited content. Two monsters that both play quite differently, eight hunters, and three maps. When the final version of Evolve launches in Feb 2015, it will definitely have more stuff. Another monster, four more hunters, nine more maps, more game modes, etc.

In terms of what there is to do? Turtle Rock has been pretty tight-lipped about what else the game will have to offer aside from Hunt. There will evidently be a single player campaign of some sort, but from I can tell, it’ll basically just be the multiplayer portion of the game with bots. So that’s nothing to write home about.

So the real question: will the full package have enough content and longevity to warrant its $60 price tag? Who knows? Evolve offers a pretty unique experience. The game looks great, and plays exceedingly well. Even now, a few months off from release. I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun with the alpha – specifically playing as the monster.

I have no doubt that Evolve will gather a devoted fan base for whom the game just clicks, like Left 4 Dead did before it. How big that fan base will be isn’t something we’ll know until the game comes out. But I see the game having some legs, regardless of their size. At its core, there’s a lot here to like.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see what else it has to offer in the months leading up to its Feb release. Till then, I’ll probably be hopping back into the alpha to pounce some more hapless victims.

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