“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”
I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t been able to shake off the bad taste in my mouth that Titanfall left behind when I gave it a solid go last year. The tissue-thin excuse of a storyline and tired repeat of the same PvP matches all day robbed me of any hope regarding the success of future “multiplayer-only” games. And while Turtle Rock’s Evolve does hold my attention for more than thirty seconds, I fear it too has a fast-approaching expiration date.
Welcome to Shear: Satan’s zoo
Much like the aforementioned Titanfall, Evolve delivers its scantily clad storyline through one of the briefest intro scenes to date. You, one of twelve unique hunters (who, when combined, apparently represent every stereotype in the world), have been flown down to the planet Shear and hired to hunt a collection of monsters before they can consume each and every colonist on the planet. The only other snippets of “story” we get are brief vocal interactions during each match or while you wait during a loading sequence. This skimping on the story really is my first complaint. It’s such a lovely set you have, Evolve, so why are you sweeping it under the rug like a broken vase?
Army of four vs. Militia of one
Once you get over the fact that the story isn’t going anywhere and settle down to wait through the one hundred different load screens it takes to enter a match, you’re soon greeted with a choice: Assault, Medic, Trapper, Support, or Monster? The game allows you to line up each class in ascending order of preference, and I never really found it difficult to end up as my number one choice almost every time.
Once all the job titles are divvied out, the four hunters and single monster are dropped into one of the sixteen extremely well-crafted maps to basically play violent hide-and-seek in the game’s most common mode, Hunt. The monster, starting out at level one, must evade the hunters and feed on local fauna in order to grow more powerful, eventually reaching level three and having the ability to either kill all the hunters or take out a power relay station, effectively ending the match. The hunters, on the other hand, are tasked with tracking down and neutralizing the monster before it can grow to out-of-hand proportions.
If four-on-one deathmatch isn’t your cup of tea, Evolve also provides a handful of other gameplay modes – Nest, Rescue, and Defend – all of which focus on protecting AI civilians, monster eggs, or local power plants. All four modes can also be combined in Evacuation, an amalgam of all the monsters, hunters, and maps spread out over five separate matches. The outcome of each match directly effects the environment of the upcoming match (in terms of additional AI assistance, poison clouds, turrets, or mini monsters), and it’s reported that there are over 800,000 possible combinations per series.
A buffet line of guns and claws
Allow me to preface this next bit with the following disclosure: No matter how many options or upgrades you give my character, things will always eventually get old when I’m slogging through my seventy-eighth match that day. It’s the inevitable, game-killing tumor “multiplayer-only” games will always face, and Evolve is no exception.
With that being said, one of Evolve’s strong points is the amount of variability made available to the player. While there are only four main hunter classes, each class has three separate characters, all of which have different weapons and abilities (though they each share the one characteristic perk of said class). Sure, all of the Assault guys look like the same burly space marine, but the differences in ordnance really help to shake things up.
The monsters, unfortunately, are a bit on the shallow side. With only three available at launch (Goliath, Kraken, and the almighty Wraith), we’re graced with only four special attacks per creature, and the perks granted by experience really don’t do much to switch up the pace. This, however, means trifles when your monster reaches level three and absolutely thrashes the hunters, viciously punishing them for their lack of tracking skills.
Life is about balance
While four-on-one may not sound not a fair fight when you say it out loud, Evolve does an excellent job of upturning your assumption. The four hunters together are strong enough to take on a level one monster with no problems, but the second that little critter reaches level two or three, the puny humans are in for a nasty fight.
Along the lines of balance, being the monster for the first time reminded me a lot of my high school prom: Going up against a crowd of enemies by myself seemed intimidating at first, but as soon as I felt comfortable with the monster’s movement and abilities, I was tearing up the dance floor with claws of primal fury (yeah that analogy fell apart quick). The monster’s playstyles are all extremely different in terms of basic assault or stealthy slaying, and the ratio of monster:hunter wins was fairly even throughout. It takes a lot of testing to reach that kind of equilibrium, and such a feat deserves to be recognized.
The inevitable “But..”
In the end, there were a great deal of things I quite enjoyed about Titanfall 2: Pacific Rim. It was exciting, challenging, beautiful, and balanced, but my fascination with the game really only pertains to the first ten hours of playtime. There’s no story or side missions for the game to fall back on, and I found myself tiring of the same old search-and-destroy mantra being drilled into my brain with every new match. Even when I play by myself against the AI (which I actually preferred), I’m still performing the same old song and dance. You’ll always have a solid group of career levelers in your lobby, Evolve, but their numbers pale in comparison to the amount of people who just got bored and turned their attention elsewhere.
I suppose I could also bring up the fact that people’s knickers are in a twist over the Scrooge McDuck-ian price tag attached to all of the day one DLC (uttered like a curse), but what do you people honestly expect? If you keep throwing money at every shade of puce to dress up your character’s left butt cheek, then developers are going to milk you for all of your stupid money. Stop buying the baubles and they will cease to have value! Otherwise, shut up and play what you paid for, which is in this case the same match over and over.