Evolve, the name itself once sent a shiver down my spine, triggering post-traumatic flashbacks of E3 hype and praise, and the promise that the game would live up to its full £45 price tag upon release.
Before its 2015 release date, Evolve had what could be considered the industry's biggest hype train, chasing it down the tracks as it stumbled and sprinted to stay ahead of the promises which had been made by those promoting the game. The premise of the game was quite simple, but at the same time, revolutionary.
In Evolve, a team of 4 hunters are tasked with the job of hunting down and killing a monster on the planet Shear, where dangerous wildlife and hostile terrain attempt to thwart their attempts to kill the ugliest looking monster since Doctor Who's "Abzorbaloff" (I still have nightmares about that thing to this day *shudders*).
Now, this simple formula of tracking down and killing a monster looked insanely fun in all of the E3 demos, and the inevitable intense stand-off between the hunters and the fully evolved monster made Evolve into a captivating e-sport of sorts. To be honest, it was easily more entertaining than watching the England football team during the recent Euros tournament, for example. But quite frankly, watching an elderly person race a tortoise up a steep hill would have been more entertaining than watching England play.
Needless to say, Evolve looked incredible, and it swept up a truck load of awards at E3 prior to its launch.
However, upon release, people began to see a problem. And then another, and then a sprinkling of a few more problems. First of all, the game lacked content. Imagine buying a new car at full price, opening the bonnet, and finding that instead of an engine, there was a small army of huskies being used to move the car. This was the feeling which many players had when they first played Evolve.
Secondly, there was WAY too much DLC at launch. Now I'm not usually one to complain about DLC, but there was more than $60 worth of cosmetic skins available to purchase at launch, which just seemed like a sleazy attempt to gain more money.
And finally, the gameplay was repetitive. Put simply, the best game mode by far was hunt, but chasing an elusive monster around a huge map over and over again got stale. Fast.
The next evolution
Over a year later, with the Evolve player base barely holding on for dear life, Turtle Rock Studios made an incredible decision.
They made Evolve free to play.
Only a week ago, Turtle Rock announced that Evolve would be free to play on steam (moving to consoles in the near future), under the new banner of "Evolve Stage 2". As one of the people who first believed in Evolve, and one of the many let down by it upon release, this news excited me.
Suddenly, Evolve had players again. New and old hunters alike, jumping in to hunt monsters for the first time, or simply revisiting a game with so much potential, which had finally been given the evolution it deserved.
As well as the new "free to play" strategy, Turtle Rock made the decision to change some major elements of the game.
First of all, Turtle Rock have changed the balance of matches. Matches are now shorter, moving down to 12 minute rounds from their previous 20 minute rounds; which sometimes became boring and stale during the course of a match. The trapper class has also been equipped with a "Planet Scanner", pointing the hunters in the general direction of the monster, whilst outlining its shape if it gets close enough. All hunters can now also deploy the dome, making combat encounters much more frequent whilst adding more danger for the monster player. These three changes have drastically altered the intensity and pace of each match.
No longer can a monster player slowly stalk around the map, always evading the hunters and sometimes losing them for the entire match. Now the monster is always being hunted relentlessly. The HP of wildlife has been decreased to aid this new direction, meaning that a monster player must be constantly mobile, with any slight lapse in concentration being punished quickly and brutally by the unrelenting hunters.
These simple, but immensely effective changes have almost changed the feel of the entire game. I played as the monster for the first time since returning to Evolve yesterday, and the entire time my heart was beating out of my chest; almost as though I'd been on a light jog, or a particularly scary piece of toast had startled me as it popped from the toaster.
It was exhilarating.
And that's not all. Everything in the game can be unlocked for free. For FREE. Not since I was a kid, when me and my brother sat playing hours and hours of "War of the Monsters" on the PS2 have I been able to unlock everything in a game through gameplay alone.
I really want to go and give the guys at Turtle Rock Studios a great big hug. Unfortunately, I'd probably get arrested, or pepper sprayed, or both. But anyway, what I'm trying to say is that Turtle Rock have inadvertently taken gamers back to their roots. Finally we have a game which we can play casually, unlocking things along the way and not having to worry about purchasing season passes to "enhance" our gameplay experience. It's all there, you just need to earn it, and that's the way it should be.
Overall, I really think Turtle Rock have redeemed themselves for the initial mistakes they made with the first iteration of Evolve. They laid the foundations for a game with the potential to appeal to both casual and competitive gamers alike, with a refreshing game which shone brightly among a saturated market of other first person shooters; and that idea has finally come to fruition in the form of Evolve Stage 2, the next evolution in what I hope will be a successful future for the franchise.
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