Imagine my surprise when I logged into Steam, only to find that my brother had been playing Evolve. This surprise was further compounded when I saw it was in my library. The penny then dropped; I wasn’t special, or chosen….it was simply an open Alpha. Jump to the cut to find my thoughts on the game as it is.
Well, they say first impressions count and they usually do. With an Alpha or Beta though, you have to be a lot more forgiving. Which is good for Evolve as on the server side things were rather unstable with long load times and dropped connections frequent, and there were clear optimisation issues.
These are only small considerations however, and after I finally got into a match – following ten minutes of loading screens and one dropped game – I started to try to see what all the fuss was about.
For one, it is a rather pretty game. It’s one of the things that hits you straight off. There are texture issues, and these are quite apparent in certain lighting conditions (and if you’re looking for them, as I were, but again, this is an Alpha) but overall it’s a very nice looking game. The scenery and character models are all, usually, excellent and even the animation seems pretty good. No mean feat given the host of context sensitive actions you can perform in this game.
I decided to start my time in Evolve as a support character, mainly because it’s a role I don’t usually play, and partly because the character had a snazzy beard. I fell into step with the character (such as it is) and the suggested play-style well and was playing intuitively within a single round. This speaks volumes to the accessibility of the title, though this is somewhat helped by my many many hours playing both Left 4 Dead games; a complete newbie may not pick it up as quickly.
I got to play as two characters and the monster in my brief time in the Alpha and superficially at least, the hunter characters seem to play and handle differently. A nice range of weapons and load outs (you have four slots) means you’re equipped for most situations and the abilities chime well with those of your compatriots. Casting a shield over a character about to get immolated by the monster is just as good a feeling as hitting the perfect shot or taking the beast down. There’s a wealth of combinations that could come into play here and I think it’ll be great fun figuring out the best combo’s and methods for taking on the monster.
The hunters, ostensibly, are there to hunt the monster, but you also have to protect power relays. The monster in it’s earliest incarnations doesn’t really pose a direct threat (unless you’re daft enough to go about on your own), but when it reaches the third evolution level it is strong enough, and big enough to take on the power reactor and for, what I can only describe as “reasons”, win the round. The other win condition is to obviously kill all the hunters. The hunters in turn have to take down the monster.
Many a round I was led in a merry dance around the map, chasing footprints and startled birds nests to find the thing only to have it pop up behind us or back at base. Some of the people in this Alpha are far more adept at playing the monster than I was. In fact my only two times at the helm of the beast ended in a quick, summary execution. Conversely when playing against the monster I suffered two wipes, an inexplicable draw and one win.
This speaks to my greatest fear for the game. As it stands the game favours the monster. When the hunters learn enough to act together and complement their skills effectively i’m worried that it may swing too far the other way. The game works when the monster has the upper hand and the hunters are struggling to control the situation. It’s more visceral and more fun.
If however it turns into just another bug hunt, then I feel that this will be a lost opportunity. Hopefully the character progression and upgrades on both sides will keep the game dynamic, varied and unpredictable enough to give it the longevity it deserves. These games thrive or fail depending on the attraction of a vibrant community.
Only time will tell. As it stands though, i’d be cautiously optimistic.