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Evolve’s four-chums-hunt-a-monster is a lot like your first day at school. not in the sense that you’ll probably wet yourself or get told off for eating handfuls of sand, although you’re more than welcome to try. it’s more that initial feeling that it’s going to be terrible, and for the first few matches, it arguably is but once you get into the flow,  start making friends and become au fait with Evolve’s unique pace, it turns out that it’s not all that bad after all.

It takes a while to warm up because turtle Rock expects you to know its mechanics just to survive to the end of a round. You’ll neglect certain items or ideas because they don’t have instant payoff or because you don’t even know how to activate them, your team dynamic begins and ends with four keen hunters stampeding off in four different directions and when you do stay together you often find yourself accidentally separated from the pack because you wanted to deal with an intriguing dinosaur and then, oh no, now you’ve been accidentally separated from your limbs. tough luck, pal.

Part of the reason the game starts off slowly is that more than half of the content is shut off from the outset. Unlocking new characters and monsters requires mastery of the ones you already have levelling up your weapons to one star each will give you access to the next hunter in the same class, forcing you to get to grips with everyone’s basics. it’s a slow start, for sure, especially if the weapon or skill in question requires input from the monster such as you having to trap them a certain number of times. Play against a sneakier monster and you might never level up.

Fix the fight

Push through the early confusion and start throwing down sound spikes and healing grenades in time with a battle’s throbbing rhythm, however, and Evolve transforms into a totally different experience. no longer as overwhelming as it was to begin with, your fight will be less about running away and more about engineering things to go your way with the tools at your disposal. it also allows you to enjoy the game’s neat take on the traditional FPS campaign.
Evacuation is a sprawling five-match marathon strung together from different modes, with each outcome impacting the following map pick. if the beast wins, the next map might be cloaked in hunter-choking gas. if hunters win, they might activate force fields to limit the monster’s freedom. it’s cleverly done. match types keep it nice and varied, from the standard hide-and-seek of hunt, to the frantic race-to-find-survivors mode of Rescue and the egg-destroying nest mode. the latter’s too friendly towards the hunters, but they’re otherwise nicely balanced.

Finally, there’s the all-out defend finale, pitting a full-strength monster and two respawning minions against your team of hunters. no more hiding or skulking around here, because this one’s all about charging at each other, guns and grenades blazing like that bit in braveheart but with less facepaint.

If evacuation does a nice job of crafting a narrative, however simple, over the five fights, the maps don’t do it any favours. they’re all a bit dull, with ‘grey foggy wilderness’ and ‘scratched, industrial metal’ being the aesthetic order of the day. there’s some variation parachuting into a hole at the top of the aviary’s huge birdcage is notable but for the most part, the 16 maps are barely distinguishable from one another. does it matter so much when the mixture of battle types, teams, monsters and classes offer a new experience every time? nah.

The class system is what kept us coming back for another pop at the monster. each character’s four skills may look simple on the surface, but allow for incredible tactical depth. the trapper class, a role we’ve not seen in a multiplayer game before, has tools that aim to find the monster and then keep it as close as possible. the first trapper character, maggie, has a pet trapjaw that can track the monster, as well as harpoon traps that hold the monster in place and a mobile arena that stops the beast from escaping.

Unlocking the second character, griffin, gives you a harpoon gun, a more controllable version of maggie’s traps and sound spikes that tell you where the monster is when you can’t rely on the flocks of birds being scared away by its presence. abe, who looks a lot  like griffin but with an even better moustache, uses tracking darts and stasis grenades to pursue and slow down a monster that would much rather run and hide.

The other three assault, medic and Support are similarly varied, with instruments that range from machine guns to healing grenades (for the person who feels that normal healthcare isn’t nearly explosive enough). Evolve wants you to get intimate with its characters oh god, not like that, no to make the game work the way it’s supposed to. and it does a great job of keeping you in the moment in the actual execution of your abilities. tracking three depleting life bars as the medic is a very different prospect to making judgement calls as to who deserves the Support’s shield at any given time. the assault is a more conservative role, but even they can target weak spots created by others.

Knowledge is power

getting your head around the intricacies of your weapons and feeling like a total boss is a highlight an efficient team member can make everyone’s lives a lot easier, and being the badass with a good handle on when and where you’re needed makes you the best person. it also explains why we’re drawn to the hunters over the monster no matter how well it does, it must party alone.

This sense of effective role-playing is the crux of Evolve, and proves both its downfall and its salvation. when the hunters gel, knowing their jobs well enough to provide support and death in  equal measures, and the player behind the monster behaves unpredictably and keeps them on their toes well, that’s when the game excels. to achieve this level of excellence, you’ll need a team
you’re familiar with, voice chat to share tactics, most if not all of the cast  unlocked for the maximum potential of skill combinations, and a good personal mastery of all your weapons. and that’s assuming the matchmaking system doesn’t give you an ai hunter or monster, or mess up the class choice you can rank your choices, but we found ourselves being forced to play our fifth choice more than we’d have expected, especially given we never played as our third or fourth choice.

Unlocking all that stuff requires you to put a good few hours into the game, too, even if you’re mainlining one character from the start. if you want extra bonuses stat buffs such as faster movement or reload times you can add even more hours on top of that. if you can’t enlist four dedicated, well-trained friends to play and chat with, you’ll be thrust into the chaotic world of the matchmaking system, which pairs the good with the bad indiscriminately. if there’s even one idiot on your team, the balance is thrown way off. hey, better that than play against four bots in limp solo play.when we look over our time with the game the balance of great battles to wash-outs is reasonably matched; it’s testament to the former’s quality that we’ve given it the score we have. it’s a great game built around ideas with an dangerously large scope to go wrong a rubbish monster that is found in one unsatisfying minute, or a moronic team member who tries to do battle alone rather than wait for his team to respawn. Unless you have four friends with time on their hands it’s difficult to get quality battles on tap, but when the planets do align there are few shooters quite like it.

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