Following the appearance of a mysterious counter on the Evolve website this week, and the game's removal from Steam, many speculated that the game was about to go free-to-play. Well, it turns out those speculations were correct, because studio Turtle Rock has confirmed as much in its official forums.
Studio co-founder Chris Aston made the announcement, revealing that the newly resurrected monster shooter will go into beta on July 7 (or July 8 in the southern hemisphere), allowing time to iron out bugs "over a period of weeks and months". Those who already own Evolve will get "Founder status" in the free-to-play version, with all owned content still accessible, and the promise of "gifts, rewards and special access" in the future.
Meanwhile, the studio is making a series of improvements to the game. Most importantly, experienced trapper and medic players won't be as essential as they were. Maps and UI are being tweaked, more customisation options will be available, and the game's progression system and tutorials are being completed "reworked". Performance and loading times are being seen to as well.
In the announcement, Ashton admitted that while the original version of the game was highly anticipated, it failed to have the impact the team expected. "We worked on it for years and then, suddenly, people got to experience our game, controller in-hand," he said. "There was genuine excitement – real joy – when people played. It was like nothing they’d ever played before and watching it happen was like no high we ever felt."
But the game's well-documented and heavily criticised season pass removed most of that lustre. "When Evolve launched, the reception wasn’t what we expected," he continued. "Sure, there were some good reviews. There were also bad reviews. Yes, there was excitement. There was also disappointment – for players and for us. The DLC shitstorm hit full force and washed away people’s enthusiasm, dragging us further and further from that first magical pick-up-and-play experience."
There's no word as yet on how the studio plans to make money from the free-to-play version, but whatever the case, it's worth having a go when the beta launches tomorrow. In his review, Evan Lahti described Evolve as "a refreshingly asymmetrical FPS with terrific competitive depth, but the thrill of the hunt eventually begins to wane."