Article first published as Xbox One Preview: ‘Evolve’ from 2K Games on Blogcritics.
The use of public alphas and betas seems to be picking up steam as a marketing tool with this generation of consoles. Typically used for bug checking, these short previews seem to be more focused on building up hype for new intellectual properties. The latest title to use this approach is Evolve, a game created by the company that brought us the surprise hit, Left 4 Dead, back in 2008. Evolve was actually one of the few unexpected titles during Microsoft’s press conference at the 2014 E3 Expo, and at least in concept was a surprising change of pace, for a console shooter.
The premise for Evolve’s narrative is somewhat similar to that of James Cameron’s film Avatar. Instead of Pandora, humanity has travelled to distant planet named Shear, and is attempting to colonize the wild planet. The colonies are unsurprisingly attacked by the native alien monsters. The answer to the monsters is of course elite teams of hunters. This is where you come in, but instead of just allowing the players to hunt the monsters, one player actually takes on the role of the beast. If you have the required number of online players, the game allows for an interesting 4 vs 1 match.
The group of hunters is always made up of four roles. There is a trapper, a support provider, a medic, and an assault class member. Each of these classes contains a number of different characters with somewhat different abilities. These abilities are selected in the matchmaking screens and both the hunters and monster can use a variety of abilities. Once the match begins, the hunters start looking for the monster, and the monster must start feeding on smaller creatures to evolve and become stronger. The Evolve alpha, which ran October 30 through November 4, 2014 revealed three maps and allowed players to play as two of the three monsters.
That group of five is really the crux of enjoying Evolve. Playing as hunters, the four roles are very specifically defined and require your teammates to be disciplined. If the group of hunters don’t work and stay together, it really ruins the experience for the rest of the team. As the monster, you’re on your own, but it’s probably the least fun role. Though the environments, character models, and animations are great looking, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d rather play Nintendo Land’s Mario Chase on the Wii U. Which brings up the larger question of value.
Though the final release of Evolve, due out early 2015, will feature some sort of single-player campaign, if it’s anything like Left 4 Dead, it will be minimal. If the Evolve alpha is a representation of the meat of the full game, it seems to me like Activision deciding that they want to release Call of Duty Zombies as a standalone game, for full price. While the same argument could have been made against Left 4 Dead, its subject matter is arguably more compelling. My overall thoughts on the Evolve alpha is that it seems to me to be an add-on or a mini-game with limited appeal and a short shelf life.