Evolve certainly lives up to its namesake. Although we were pretty critical of its gameplay during the Big Alpha, the biggest issue being the Monster gameplay, there was still plenty of time address some of the problems we saw. With the game a month away from release, we had chance to play an Early Access demo on the PC. Although the demo is not representative of the final game, it does include many features and improvements that addresses some of the issues we had.
It became painfully apparent during the Big Alpha that Evolve's sense of fun is very closely tied to the skill of whoever is playing as the Monster. With no tutorial explain the Monster's mechanics, and no way to practice using it, hunters could often overwhelm the Monster in short time. Evolve now features both gameplay videos and full interactive tutorial that teaches players basic moves and tactics. It's through the tutorial that I learned that the Goliath has the ability to sneak, which is kind of amusing when you think about a 20 foot monster crouched over in extremely tall grass, but it works. While staying undetected in sneak mode, the Goliath can launch a surprise attack on local wildlife and hunters for extra damage. You move considerably slower while sneaking, but prevents birds from being frightened and revealing your location. Sneaking can also be used strategically, since the Goliath won't leave tracks behind, so players can potentially have tracks going in one direction, then sneak around to flank unsuspecting hunters.
Even with the tutorial, I never got the hang of playing as the Monster. Even with the short head start, I couldn't get into the rhythm of biding my time, hiding, and hunting wildlife to evolve before the hunters descended upon me. It's all over for me once that happens, because I have a fatal personality flaw that compels me to crush the puny little hunters instead of retreating, even though I don't have the strength to withstand their sustained attack. So, it's a good thing that you can set up class preferences before starting a game. Alternatively, you can remove the human element from the Monster altogether and leave it as a computer controlled class. Although an AI controlled monster lacks some of the creativity a human player would have, it has the potential to be a stepping stone. Since much of Evolve's fun still hinges on the Monster, a certain degree of predictability could help ease inexperienced players into the game.
In addition to the recently announced third Monster, the Wraith, the preview includes a dynamic story-based mini campaign mode called Evacuation. In it, the hunters are charged with evacuating a colony before the Monsters take over and destroy everything. Strung together with a sparse narrative, hunters have five days to defend key facilities, destroy monster eggs, and rescue colonists. Each area is impacted by the success or failure of the previous one. For example, saving the Aviary releases more birds into the world, providing more opportunities to spot the Monster. On the other hand, there are consequences to failing certain areas. Being unable to keep the waste processing plant from being destroyed may cover the next level with toxic hotspots.
Monsters have some strong benefits across the different game modes. Where hunters are tasked with defending colonists and leading them to an evacuation ship, the Monster is busy killing and eating colonists to evolve and grow stronger. Although the Monster initially seems to be at a disadvantage on maps where hunters are out to destroy eggs, since it takes a while before its strong enough to defend the eggs from attack, but the Monster has the ability to cause the eggs to hatch - bringing mini monsters onto the map. However, the Monster player has to use this skill sparingly, because hatching an egg counts as losing one.
The computer controlled monster won't necessarily blow a lot of players away, which is why it's better for learning maps and casual games than it is to get a true sense of Evolve's excitement. When playing an Evacuation sequence, my team had a significantly higher success and rescue rate than the monster. It seems like the computer has the same problem with retreating that I do, and we often made short work of it. The game accounts for this by balancing the Monster out after each level. With every win, the Monster starts next level pre-evolved another level. At one point, the Monster became so powerful that it wiped us all out soon after we dropped onto the ground. Losses mean that the Monster will be a little less evolved in the next match.
Evacuation builds up to a final sequence, where the hunters must defend a location from waves of Monsters. This is the Monster's chance to go on the full offensive, but it has to be careful, because the hunters have traps, mines, and turrets at their disposal. From the hunters' point of view, this final stand amounts to a wave-based defense, and doesn't require any much running or vertical movement.
Other modes include the single match skirmish mode that was featured in the Big Alpha, which will randomly combine objectives with maps. There's also a solo play option for those that want to practice alongside bots. AI controlled characters are only so-so, but the solo mode is an excellent way to practice using the Monster and perhaps - in my case - learning some patience. Experience earned in solo mode applies to multiplayer, so a few solo skirmish matches may be a great way to level up little used characters and earn unlockables. The important factor here is that the solo mode helps prepare players, in some small way, for online multiplayer instead of tossing players in as a trial by fire. Also, the preview does not represent all of the game's content, so there could more reveals before Evolve releases on February 10th.
Steven Wong posted a new article, Evolve Early Access PC Impressions: We're all Monsters
Awesome that their is a SOLO mode with bots, very cool, thanks for the write up.
I wish you were more nimble like the invisible in The Hidden. It's really fun to fuck with people because you were twice as fast as them. Doesn't seem like this game will keep you on the edge of your seat in that respect. Once combat begins between monster and humans it turns into a button masher. The humans can sure take a lot of hits. Would be nice to pick them up and toss them across the map to divide and conquer.