With an obnoxious marketing campaign, a controversial amount of planned DLC, and multiplayer betas after discs have been pressed, it has been hard to not hear about Evolve in the past few months. Lost in the media shuffle though was that Evolve - despite whatever concerns one may hold over its business plan - is a fantastic game. Developer Turtle Rock's pedigree was well-known, having created Valve's hit co-op zombie shooter Left 4 Dead, so it shouldn't be a surprise to fans that Evolve seems like the natural evolution of co-operative fun.
The core gameplay of Evolve revolves around four player-controlled Hunters in a battle of wits and brawn against a player-controlled Monster. Hunters must track down the Monster by following footprints or by using the skills of the group's trapper. While the Monster is initially weaker than the group of Hunters, it can become more powerful by devouring wildlife in the game's environment. This makes for an epic cat and mouse chase that would make Tom and Jerry blush.
If the group of Hunters want any chance at taking down the Monster, then all four of them will have to play to the strengths of their character class. The brute of the group is the assault class, which can deal the heaviest amount of damage. The all-important medic must keep the team healed from the constant attacks from both the Monster and the wildlife. The support class can help strengthen everyone else and even prevent teammates from taking damage. Finally, the trapper is the only class that can keep the Monster from fleeing combat. All of these four classes perfectly complement each other to the point that if one player isn't playing their class then it is almost impossible to be victorious.
Controlling each of the Hunters is a joy, as their mobility is comparable to other recent first person shooters such as Titanfall and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. All Hunters are equipped with a jetpack that can help them quickly cover ground and reach high areas. Besides their guns, most of the Hunters' abilities and weapons are limited by cool-downs which encourages smart play and lessens spamming. There are a few drawbacks to combat though as there are no melee options, which makes wildlife a hassle when they get up close. Clicking the right analog stick instead marks locations on the playfield, which is a great way for players to communicate non-verbally.
There are three different Monsters that players can choose from, each with their own play-styles and abilities. The first Monster that players will have access to is the lava-based Goliath who can attack by throwing rocks and breathing fire. His up-close, melee attacking style is perfect for beginners and is fun to play as. The other two Monsters available are the Kraken and Wraith. The Kraken can fly around the map and attack from afar while the Wraith is a stealth-focused character that can quickly pounce in to deal major damage. Each Monster can evolve two times and become a complete wrecking machine. A fully powered up Monster almost guarantees that the Hunters are doomed.
All of the Monsters are played from a third person perspective but the core gameplay carries over from the Hunters. All of the abilities are again limited by cool-downs which limits everything but the Monster's regular attack. The Monster can also go into a stealth stance to eliminate tracks and gain the element of surprise. Monsters are also incredibly agile as players can hold the left trigger in to make them automatically climb up surfaces.
While all of Evolve's game modes revolve around hunting the Monster, there is enough variety to make them stand out. Rescue tasks the four hunters with reviving and evacuating five different survivors before the Monster can get to them. Its an intense affair and one that requires quick action on the part of Hunters and the Monster. In Nest, the Monster must defend his eggs from the Hunters. Nest has a surprising amount of strategy as the Monster can choose to hatch an egg prematurely to spawn an additional AI-controlled enemy at the cost of an egg. Finally, Defend mode has the Hunters defending their transport ship's power source for a set amount of time.
All of these modes, in addition to the core Hunt mode, can be played in Evacuation which serves as a dynamic campaign for the title. Evacuation consists of five separate missions where the results of the previous mission affects the rest of the campaign. For example if the Monster wins a round then there will be additional enemies in the next mission. The mode is accompanied by cutscenes that help flesh out the universe of Evolve and is highly replayable.
One of the aspects that Turtle Rock completely nailed was the constant sense of progression. Players always feel like they are building towards unlocking the next character, badge, or perk due to the way Evolve expertly dangles a carrot in front of them. To unlock the additional characters, players must show mastery of the character class by completing tasks such as tranquilizing a monster ten times. These tasks can be slowly completed throughout dozens of games, so even losing efforts are a worthwhile endeavor.
The most interesting aspect of Evolve might just be how similar it is to MOBAs such as Dota 2. Both Monsters and Hunters will be competing to kill the wildlife that litter the world, as the Monster needs to eat them to evolve and they sometimes drop temporary power-ups. These power-ups range from faster movement speed, regenerating health and other abilities that can change the tide of a battle. Also like a MOBA, playing public matches online can be a mixed experience. If a player is matched up with careless players, Evolve quickly becomes a frustrating and annoying game to play. Teamwork is so important that players almost need to find a core group to play with and to build chemistry with if they want to find any success in the game.
However, Evolve provides one of the most rewarding gameplay experiences in recent memory. When you are playing with the right group of players and everything clicks, there is no other game that can scratch the same itch as Evolve. All four Hunter classes compensate for each other's weaknesses which can lead to an amazing display of teamwork. When the Monster is defeated, it truly feels like the player has accomplished something and there are few co-op experiences this satisfying.
From a visual standpoint, Evolve is one of the more impressive games on the system although there are some instances where the Xbox One's limitations are shown. Due to the game's mobility it isn't uncommon to be high enough in the air to be able to view large portions of the map at once. This leads to some expected but noticeable pop-in as the player quickly moves around. Despite a few technical hiccups, the game is still gorgeous due to a top-notch art style and great character design. The creatures that make up the world of Evolve are all interesting to look at and crucially, are even more fun to shoot.
When Evolve is at its best, it is one of the greatest co-op experiences ever crafted. Few games require so much teamwork and are as satisfying when everything falls into place. Conversely, it can be a complete mess when played with hunters that are incompetent or not playing their position. If you have a group of friends that are willing to put in both the financial and time commitment for Evolve then there is no reason not to buy it. Otherwise your mileage will vary.