Trust me, 4v1 isn't much of a handicap when monsters are involved.
Developer Turtle Rock Studios worked on the Left 4 Dead series with Valve, so it's only fitting that the same company manages to create another meaningful "co-petitive" hybrid experience with Evolve. The game presents a novel twist—four human players attempting to kill one terrifying monster—and uses the idea to create a singular mix of stealth, hunting, and class-based teamwork. Some of the game modes fall flat and the progression system features few rewards, but the minute-to-minute thrill of the hunt continues to hold my attention after many hours with the game.
Evolve shines in its premise, as it focuses on both single players and larger teams. All matches feature a 4v1 formula, in which a group of hunters attempt to kill (and avoid being killed by) a giant monster. Players control both the hunters and the monster, and the dichotomy of the two roles makes Evolve a fun experience for a much larger audience. Folks who have friends to play with will enjoy teaming up to kill monsters, while solo players can jump into the monster role and tear other players limb from limb. In both scenarios I participated in plenty of memorable matches, and I even got some enjoyment out of games with AI-controlled bots.
Though the hunters vs. monster formula makes a strong first impression, Evolve also excels in its execution, namely the way in which it highlights all roles in the game as important and dynamic. The hunter side of the competition touts four different classes: assault, medic, trapper, and support. All four of them are crucial for victory—if one player under-performs, the whole team suffers. On the one hand. it creates pressure in multiplayer games, but it also establishes an oddly enjoyable sense of tension. No matter what class I play, I can't just sit back and do whatever I want. I'm important to the team, whether I like it or not.
It also helps that each class plays differently and features plenty of unique tools to use. For example, the first medic has more than just a healing gun. She also carries an armor-piercing sniper rifle that creates weak points on enemies and a tranquilizer gun that slows down the monster. The beauty of Evolve's class system is that each one includes numerous functions within its larger purpose, so players don't just repeat the same action again and again. The assault class has to juggle its numerous weapons, the trapper has to know when to corral the monster or lay down harpoons, and so on and so forth.
Meanwhile, playing as the monster becomes an entirely different experience. Monsters prey on wildlife. They hunt, grow, and eventually evolve. The best path to victory in hunt mode is to evolve to stage three, eat more wildlife to build up armor, and then go destroy the power generator or kill all hunters to ensure victory. Along the way the hunters try to trap the monster, so stealth emerges as a pivotal strategy. In stealth mode, monsters don't leave tracks or attract birds, two ways in which hunters track them down. Thus, playing as the monster becomes a tense and nerve-racking experience. Every time the hunters find me, my heart sinks until I evolve to stage three.
Eventually the monster and hunters must fight, and that's why evolution is so important. Each level allows players to put points into one of four skills, all of them unique to the specific monster. The higher the level, the more effective the skill. Trust me when I say Goliath's rock throw ability deals serious damage at level three. Monster combat boils down to cooldown management and separation. A monster is more likely to kill a hunter one-on-one, so players must consider which class to kill first and how to best separate one or two of them from the rest of the team. All of these strategies result in exciting battles that often come down to the wire. No matter how many times I played as the monster, I had a blast in the final showdown.
The hunter/monster dynamic stands out in the primary Hunt mode, but Evolve features a few different variations. There's a Defend mode in which the monster automatically starts at level three, a Rescue mode that involves saving or killing survivors, and a Nest mode that finds the monster protecting eggs from Hunters. All of them fail to capture the same tension and excitement of the Hunt mode, especially Defend which eliminates the entire evolution process. An Evacuation option combines all game types together in a dynamic match, but it's better in theory than in execution. At the end of the day, it just reinforces the weaknesses of the non-Hunt modes.
Evacuation provides more opportunities for experience though, and Evolve's progression system allows players to unlock new characters. The unlocks are more than cosmetic—new characters feature different weapons and thus different playstyles. For example, the second medic revives characters from far away, a huge benefit in hectic matches. In order to unlock characters, players must continually use class abilities/weapons and upgrade them. It forces players to truly learn each class, but it also means they have to use abilities they might not like.
The same holds true for the monster—upgrade all of Goliath's abilities to unlock the Kraken, and do the same with Kraken to unlock the Wraith. I ended up repeating a bunch of matches with bots just to unlock new characters and monsters, which was a tedious process. Beyond the character and monster unlocks, there's not much in the way of progression. Badge designs and single perks can be earned, but that's about it. Lots of multiplayer games feature deep and content-rich progression systems to mask flaws, but Evolve places the emphasis on the hunt itself.
Fortunately, the hunts in Evolve stand out as the game's greatest strength. There's no denying that some players will find the formula repetitive after a short while, and the lack of other great game modes contributes to that repetition. But the complexity and depth of each class coupled with an entirely different experience as the monster allows Evolve to create its own niche within the larger multiplayer genre.