The awkward asymmetry of Evolve



In Now Playing PC Gamer writers talk about the game currently dominating their spare time. Today, Chris is on the hunt in Evolve.

The first time I played the monster in Evolve was a story worth sharing. I chose the Goliath, because I had to—thanks, restrictive unlock system—and sneaked my way through the jungle, only feeding when the four players hunting me were nowhere to be seen. I reached tier two without encountering them at all, but shortly after evolving heard the first sound of gunfire—the hunters, killing creatures that might be food for me. I crouched in a cave entrance and waited.

Shortly, one of the hunters jetpacked down from the clifftop above. I was a 20ft godzilla-ape; remaining concealed seemed unlikely. I struck first with a boulder, then charged, smashing one hunter to the ground as the others jetted in. With all four engaged I wasn’t confident of winning, so I knocked a few down and fled into the undergrowth.

They couldn’t keep up, and I hunted in peace for a few more minutes. They seemed content to hole up in the reactor plant that I’d have to attack as soon as I hit tier three. At least, most of them did. One wandered off from the group, and I could see him picking his way to where I’d been feeding. I waited in the bushes. Would a stealth attack work on a player?

Evolve 1

It would, and it did. I pounced and killed him before his team could respond. A man down, they stayed in their reactor. Now at tier three, I made my play from above, diving into the depths of the facility and flattening one hunter with my impact. After that, flame breath, then a boulder, then a charge, then another leap. Two hunters dead, the other in flight. I held down a key to tear into the reactor. The reactor exploded. Victory! A miniature sci-fi horror movie with a bad ending for the heroes.

I had that experience about half an hour into my time with Evolve . I’ve played a further ten hours since, and never had it again. The heartbreaking thing is that I only had that experience because the other players were inexperienced—they made mistakes, like splitting up, that other players simply won’t do. The game gives them no reason to. They also failed to use some of Evolve ’s more artificial means of forcing combat, like the arena- dome that can be cast over an area to effectively force a teamfight.

A miniature sci-fi horror movie with a bad ending for the heroes.

When people know what they’re doing, Evolve is an awkward game—trapped between wanting to be an immersive experience and wanting to be a form of sport. I’d had the former, but only because my opponents had been so uninterested in the latter. It’s a huge disappointment. Most of the time, the game feels like it’s balanced against itself: monster movement calibrated to keep you just ahead of the hunters, hunter movement calibrated so that they’re always pushing just against the limit of their fuel tanks. When players are playing effectively, nobody feels particularly powerful—and what is an asymmetrical multiplayer game ultimately about, if not power?

Evolve 2

The problem with offering two divergent types of experience is that one only really works if the other breaks. In Evolve ’s case, their combination is a kind of mush—balanced mush, perhaps, but mush that I’ve finally given up extracting further nutritional value from.

My experience of Evolve is of a game that works on paper but not at all in practice. So many of its systems fight one another, from combat to the structure of the campaign to simple traversal. I played it and played it and played it in the hope of recapturing anything like that initial thrill, and I simply haven’t. The core ideas it experiments with are still very attractive to me, but I’m afraid this isn’t the form I wanted them in.