Game of the show, game of the year, the best thing since sliced bread, better than sliced bread, better than Left 4 Dead, much better than Left 4 Sliced Bread – these are just some of the accolades I’ve seen Evolve receive since E3. It’s a game I’ve struggled to fully grasp myself – beyond the obvious prestige of Turtle Rock Studios the central concept just doesn’t appeal to me all that much – so I jumped at the chance to check the game out at E3 and see what all the fuss was about.
2K are putting an awful lot of faith in Evolve. They paired up with Nerdist for a tournament event, constructed a giant statue, and advertised the game heavily around E3. At their booth they unveiled a new monster – the Kraken – and opened the game up to all attendants. I’d only booked half an hour with 2K at E3, and given a choice between Evolve and Civilization: Beyond Earth, I went with the former: I’m already pretty sold on a new Civ, but I wanted to see what everyone who had already gone hands-on with Evolve was talking about.
E3, it should be noted, is not an ideal environment for every type of gameplay experience. Unless the booth has a special media section behind closed doors you’re generally filtered through a single quick experience and then sent off so that the lengthy line behind you can inch forward. For a multiplayer game like Evolve it’s important that you get the right mix of other players if you want a good experience, and when you have an extremely important meeting soon after the appointment you’re currently in you hope that multiple crashes and glitches don’t prevent you from jumping into the game immediately.
I wasn’t so lucky on either account. There was a fifteen minute gap between picking up the Xbox One controller and actually getting to play the game, including a station change when it became clear that one of the modified PCs we were playing on wasn’t going to play ball. This is the sort of thing you just sort of have to forgive in a situation like this, but the irritation of the wait exacerbated the general crappiness of the experience that followed.
For my session, I played the medic class. The medic has a cool sniper rifle, can regenerate their own health and that of their allies, and has a cloak and the ability to bring teammates back from the dead. They are, one 2K rep told me, the most important member of the team – if they did, everyone else will probably soon follow. The mission starts with the players tracking the monster, either by seeking environmental clues or by following the ‘tracker’ animal, a big ol’ dog-like alien that leads you right to it.
We had to track the monster twice, and damn if there just isn’t a whole lot to that process. I wonder what experience others had in the demo, because mine consisted of following the tracker alien until the monster appeared, using my jetpack occasionally but otherwise not being particularly engaged.
The idea, as I understand it, is that you track the monster until it evolves sufficiently, at which point the hunters become the hunted and the game turns into a struggle to survive. This sounds like an idea with some potential, but it really relies on the guy playing the monster having some skills. The second time we encountered our monster, the team’s trapper threw out his forcefield, trapping the monster within the space we were all in. I threw out a few healing moves and shot the levitating monster in the face from a distance a few times, and then….oh. That was it. After 4 minutes and 36 seconds, the monster was dead, and a 2K representative was congratulating us on the fastest clear time he had seen all show. Huh.
Certainly there’s potential for Evolve to be great, but I am wary of any multiplayer game that is absolutely and utterly reliant on the skill level of a single individual. If you have a regular group of friends you play with, this might not be such an issue, and outside of E3 – where players actually have a chance to play around and learn the game’s systems a bit better – maybe this will be less of a problem. But my one round of Evolve was rubbish, I’m sorry to say. Whether that’s the fault of the game, or the guy playing the monster in our game was just unusually awful, or whether E3 is simply a terrible place to experience a game like this for the first time, I’d have a harder time saying.