Sad Story of Evolve
I am a fan of shooter games. Few experiences in gaming are better than using a gun that has personality, has weight, is powerful, or is just different and interesting. A number of games scratch this itch, Battlefield 4 with its building destruction, Killing Floor 2 with its weighty guns and slow motion, Dead Space for its dismemberment mechanic. But compared to all those Evolve stands separate. Why? Well because it’s not just a gun, it’s the equipment. Gas grenades, stasis rifles, resurrection gloves, harpoon traps and of course, orbital bombardment.
I am a fan of story games, Mass Effect, Fallout, Dark Souls. Games with interesting and unique takes on universes we shall only ever get a glimpse of. The lore of the universe where Evolve is set is a sight to behold. A well crafted and well thought out history lies beneath Evolves shooter exterior, a deep lore of which the game barely scratches the surface of. Despite all this achievement, or perhaps because of it, what has become of Evolve is just plain sad.
So for those not familiar, Evolve is a 5 player asymmetric multiplayer only game. 4 hunters on one side which plays like a typical FPS verses 1 monster, which the closest comparison I can make is playing the tank from Left 4 Dead. This comparison is unsurprising since the developer, Turtle Rock Studios actually made the first Left 4 Dead. Now this may sound unfair when you consider the hunter team has things like space lasers, flamethrowers, heal beams, alien bloodhounds and a whole host of other weapons and equipment to take out a monster equipped with only has its fists (or tentacles, claws, fire breath etc). But the gameplay facets blend together nicely leading to a surprisingly balanced game.
But enough of the game itself, if it plays well then what’s the issue? Well there are a couple if I’m honest. First off, the game is online only. Now admittedly you can play offline with or against bots, but the hunters are about as much use as a wet paper bag and the monster abuses all the tricks in the book, meaning offline play is often disappointing. But the game is now over a year old and the player base has fallen off drastically, with an average on PC of 270 players a day. Additionally the fans are becoming increasingly jaded towards the game for its expensive use of DLC and a developer who is aggressively pushing the game into the territory of Esports.
Before we get into the DLC issues though it’s best for me to explain why it’s important, and to do that we need to dive into the story of Evolve, or rather the way it tells the story. You see, Evolve sits in that category alongside games like Dark Souls. You’re not lead through a story per say, a loose one does exist, but for the most part you’re left to find it yourself. It is less of a story and more lore, a vast and detailed universe existing with the game serving as only a window. Dark Souls tells this story by optional character dialogue, object placement, enemies and the world itself. Evolve isn’t quite that clever but it does use character dialogue and the game maps to startling effectiveness. Each of the 12 original hunters (20 if you bought the DLCs, yes that is plural more on that in a moment), have varying pasts and backstories that are never fully explained, but leave you wanting more. The majority of this information is relayed in pre-mission dialogue, 20 – 30 second jolts of personality at the start of each mission that show off the characters. The dialogue ranges from back story rich to universe building, to just plain stupid banter. Throw a 16 year old batman wannabe, a happy go lucky sweetheart, a cockney rhyming slang psycho and sassy CIA agent onto a team together and watch the fireworks.
Take Cabot and Bucket for example. Both hunters sit in the support role and as such cannot be deployed in the same mission, meaning pre-mission conversations between the two never happens. But through many snippets of dialogue with other members of the team we understand that Cabot was once a police officer, with Bucket supporting him. Cabot’s son and wife was murdered, he quit the force and killed those responsible. Taking Bucket with him Cabot them became a planet tamer, an explorer as it were, which eventually ends with him being hired to hunt these monsters. This is but a brief summary of one of many stories the crew share, Hyde and Lazarus served in the mutagen wars, Parnell Abe and Sunny were at one time guns for hire, Maggie is the sole survivor of the last colony the monsters attacked. The list goes on and on with each of the 20 hunters having refreshingly unique (though sometimes bordering on stereotypical) personalities. I’ve never seen characters this detailed or as well thought out outside of an RPG, but here is where the DLC nightmare comes in.
The game has 2 season passes, which in itself is a cardinal sin, each priced at $15. Each season pass includes 4 hunters and 1 monster, which are individually available if you don’t want the whole pack. Problem is the monsters stand alone at $10 and each hunter at $8 per pop, in short not cheap. At pre-order customers were told their pre-order included the season pass, which it did, but it was only the first one. With 8 hunters and 2 monsters stuck behind a pay wall roughly 20% of the game cannot be experienced even after putting down $60 for an online only game. This meaning a good portion of players will miss out on pre-mission dialogue and much of the universe. Indeed the most recent support character, Kala, is so key to the story it’s near criminal to leave her out. It’d be like playing Mass Effect without Wrex. Sure it’s doable, but you miss out on so much perspective. From here unfortunately it only gets worse.
Skipping past the DLC, Turtle Rock seems obsessed with trying to push the game into the territory of Esports. Though not necessarily a bad move, this comes with its own challenges. Keeping an asymmetric game balanced is hard at the best of times, but making it balanced enough to be a viable competitive game becomes an obsession. An example of this obsession came with the introduction of the Gorgon monster, the 5th and most recent in the series. Recognised as being chronically underpowered, the Gorgon was evidently subjected to major balance changes before release which have not done the creature any favours. The constant push for tournaments and teams is not driving the player base higher, and if anything, is putting off current and new players alike.
But I digress; the truly sad part about this is that Evolve is a fantastic game. The gameplay is smooth and exciting, the environments are lush and vibrant, the lore has been well planned and you’re always given just enough to stay engaged. I have yet to find a more exhilarating experience as hunting the monsters, knowing every second you waste it get’s stronger, your chances of winning diminish, the thrill of the hunt. The problems are caused externally to the game, the DLC, the constant balance changes, the overpricing.
It’s disappointing really. Evolve is set in a universe that was obviously somebody’s dream. It’s got heart and soul; it’s hilarious at times, tragic in others, and exhilarating when on the hunt. The love and care poured into the careful crafting of the game is evident in all its aspects. But what is perceived as an overarching drive to make money, be that from DLC or Esports profits, has marred this beautiful example of great gameplay and technical achievement with a lore rich universe creating a perfect example of how not to manage a game.
Written by Dominic McLaughlin from the Rooster Teeth Community