Big on action, and big on loading screens: watch this space
Summary : A very Big Alpha, showcasing the very best the game can be, but also the very worst. Looking to see some big improvements in the January Beta
The Evolve Big Alpha was on earlier this week, the highly anticipated four-vs-one shooter’s second alpha outing, this time spanning all supported consoles (though jury’s still out on whether PS4 players got their worth out of it all). Developer, Turtle Rock Studios, appears to be taking development slower after it was announced by Take-Two Interactive and 2K Games that Evolve would be delayed till February 2015 as opposed to releasing on its original release date of October 2014. Seeing as that original October release date has now passed us by, how did the Big Alpha stack up to everybody’s, and our, expectations?
Now, we know many of you who are reading this will already be fans of Evolve already – you know the idea behind the four-vs-one gameplay and how intense the gameplay can get – so won’t cover the basics of how the game works, instead just talking about the things we liked or disliked about the Evolve Big Alpha.
How’s this for a story: Monster meets my gun.
Evolve has no story. Unlike Turtle Rock’s hit PC game series, Left 4 Dead, which had a loose narrative of grim survival to follow, Evolve has no narrative or lore to speak of. The main reason I want to discuss it at all is that the core gameplay of Evolve feels a little hollow. While the action and the gameplay is all well and good, there appears to be no bigger plot or reason for everything that’s going on in Evolve. Perhaps that’s a little abstract, or a little too picky, but I personally feel that if Evolve is to rise above being just a repetitive arena-type game, it needs to invest in a story (or many, many more game mode types) – more on that point later.
Get back here!
The Evolve Big Alpha only one game type for previewers to play, and that’s been the mode that pretty much everyone has seen already. That mode is Hunt, which pits four Hunters against one insanely powerful Monster, and actually has quite a lot of intricacies in it depending on how your team, or the Monster, likes to play. What was there of the gameplay was awesome and I really want to see more. Unfortunately, this doesn’t give us much of an opportunity to see what else the game has in store for us (if indeed it has anything else regarding game modes) and is probably the primary reason Evolve was delayed in the first place, which isn’t really giving us that much confidence.
Having said that, this is an alpha i.e. in game dev talk, a very, very early look at what the finished product will look like, so there is hope that the final game will take a lot of the community’s feedback before the beta in January. What we’d like to see specifically is perhaps a Monster-vs-Monster mode, or if no other modes are going to be added, get rid of the “Game Modes” option completely and introduce new maps and modifiers that make the game feel different. In the end, it’s only going to add to the replayability of the game in the long run.
You’ll be seeing this screen a lot…
Oh. My. Word. I came into Evolve having played Destiny on an extremely regular basis and discussed with my Fireteam members how long the loading screens pretty much every day – Evolve takes the cake on this, by a long way. In Destiny, at least the time you spend in orbit will offset (in most cases) the time you spend in game. In my experience with Evolve, if you are joining a game fresh from the lobby, my record for longest time before actually entering a game was twenty minutes. Two. Zero. And the game only lasted less than five minutes.
Every. Single. Game.
Now, again, this is only an alpha and a lot of this has to be blamed on the matchmaking and server-side connection speed which will presumably be ironed out by the final game. What does make it unbearable, however, is just how many loading screens there are. Trying to join a game from the menu will require you to visit several separate screens – the player lobby where players are assigned to the party, the character selection lobby which lets you customize your characters and their perks, the map loading screen, and last of all, the cutscene that starts every single match in the Hunters’ dropship. Staying in a game will allow you to cut out one or two of these screens, but the fact is many of these screens don’t need to be here at all. Case in point: character customization can be preset before even trying to search for a game.
Gameplay is obviously the strong suit of Evolve, and the Alpha didn’t disappoint. There were actually very few bugs that I saw that weren’t related to connection or lag issues, and it was just as intense as the gameplay videos that have been teasing the game since E3 earlier this year. This time around, the game offered four Hunters, one from each class, to start with a chance to play a second one if you leveled up that class sufficiently. Similarly, the Monster had one option, Goliath, initially with the Kraken, which featured in the first alpha, unlockable if you leveled that up.
Ooof, someone needs some mints
What I began to discover as I played Evolve is that the gameplay heavily depends on the characters in the game. Because many of the people playing only had one of the characters in each class unlocked, everybody played largely the same, Goliath included, which means everybody became accustomed to a particular type of play. Soon enough, it seemed like I’d hit a wall towards the end of the Alpha as Goliath seemed to be winning many of the matches I was in. But the first match that I faced the Kraken in was completely different – I had no idea what was going to happen, nor, giving I didn’t play in the first alpha, did I know how to fight it. This for me was one of the most fun matches I played, and I’d say as Turtle Rock introduces new Hunters and Monsters, the game is going to, for lack of a less pun-riddled term, evolve
into a completely different game. Obviously, we’ll have to wait and see those new Hunters and Monsters before we’ll be able to make a real judgement, but this seems like one of the areas in the game that I can see improvement will be easy to come by.
Run, Forrest, run!
One of the coolest things in Evolve, that I’m only experiencing now because this is the first Evolve alpha I played in, is the post-game menu. In that menu is an overlay of the map for the match that just ended, which will show a loop of what happened in that match using dots and path lines. It’s a really neat way to check out what the Monster was doing, or conversely what the Hunters were doing, at any point during the game in real-time. It even includes various actions that the Hunters do like dropping the arena cage or missile strikes coming down.
Music and Sound
This is a very “me” thing seeing as I put a huge emphasis on game music and sound and how it creates atmosphere – while the music and sounds in the Evolve Big Alpha was wonderfully atmospheric and brooding like the calm before the storm, a few things really irritated me to no end. First, and this is by far the most mundane complaint, which is that the menu music quite occasionally sounded like a phone vibrating on a table. In fact, I found myself removing my headphones on a regular basis to check whether I was getting a call, especially since so much time is spent in the loading screens.
I don’t want to say how long it took me to realize the Kraken was actually in the air…
The next comment relates to in-game sounds, which I found to be too overpowering. In most games, you will use your hearing, even subconsciously to help you place enemies and identify threats. For a game that has such a strong contrast between the tranquility of the hunt versus the insanity of a battle, I thought sound would have had more importance in the game. Too often, when the Monster was nearby, I would look around trying to place where he was, rather than hearing, because I could literally hear the roaring from everywhere. It was horribly distracting, and I’d love to see more attention paid to tweaking the sound for Evolve’s next iteration.
You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry… or Level 3
The Evolve Big Alpha was a great proof of concept and lived up to the hype of its intense, unique gameplay. It still has plenty of issues, though, some of which, like loading screens, somewhat ruined the experience for me. But it is only an Alpha and a lot can happen in a short amount of time – Turtle Rock now has a few months to work on tweaking what they have before the beta happens in January, so we’ll see what changes they make then.
Evolve is due for release on February 10th, 2015 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.