The games industry has been through quite a change in the last half-decade. Its newfound evolutionary nature has allowed games to develop with the needs of their player bases. It has given titles such as Destiny, The Division, No Man’s Sky, and Fortnite the opportunity to solidify their foundations, and not only reach the level of entertainment that was originally promised, but surpass, reangle and revitalise their intrinsic identities.
While we gamers are a fickle bunch, we love to see a game’s vision fulfilled, and it is in part why I think the masses will flock back to Cyberpunk 2077 when its slew of game-fixing updates come to an end. But some games missed the patient parade that has conquered the gaming space in recent years, leaving them agonisingly and unfairly in the dust of what came after. One such game is Evolve; an asymmetrical multiplayer experience born at the tail-end of the wrong era.
Cast your minds back to 2014, and Evolve, a first-person shooter developed by the Left 4 Dead creators Turtle Rock Studios, is promising to be the next evolution of multiplayer. A bold claim? Sure, but Evolve had the premise to back it up. Its concept would see four player-controlled characters drop into the exotic sci-fi world of Shear, where your team of hunters were tasked with bringing down a giant and earth-shatteringly dangerous monster. The selling point? The monster was also player-controlled. It might sound a bit run-of-the-mill but let me explain.
Evolve arrived before the surge of asymmetrical multiplayer titles like Overwatch or Rainbow Six Siege reared their heads (albeit only just). Playing as a trapper, assault, support or medic, each player had a part to play in the eventual defeat of the monster, and this played into its on-the-fly dynamic. Would you help steer the team towards their target as a trapper or shield them from a powerful foe as support? What many struggled with was that you actually had to do all of that. If you wanted to come close to seeing that big beasty fall to its death, you would have to work together as a team and know your role. And this was because your target wasn’t just a hulk of flesh to shoot at.
At launch, players could choose one of three monsters – Goliath, Kraken and Wraith. Each of these monsters came with its own variable of abilities, falling within the archetypes of brutes, glass cannons and run-and-guns. But despite their differences, all monsters had the same goal: eat enough wildlife to evolve to the next stage. With three incrementally more powerful stages, Evolve’s monsters became ticking timebombs for the pursuing hunters, and a delicate game of cat and mouse for the monster.
With the ability to mask tracks, hide in shrubbery and even yank some hunters away from their pack as certain monsters, Evolve became a brilliant power dynamic between the two forces, creating an immensely fun and intense experience that truly felt like an evolution of multiplayer. Why then did Evolve die as miserable a death as either of its hunter or monster parties could? And it all comes down to patience.
Now, I am not suggesting by any means that it is the responsibility of the gamer to wait for a good game. Developers should ship something resolute, yet unlike the aforementioned Rainbow Six Siege – which launched just 10 months later – Evolve wasn’t given the opportunity the evolve itself – missing out on a version of the game that better reflected the current gaming climate.
In 2015, multiplayer experiences were still finding their feet when it came to pricing, and players were understandably irritated by a constant strain on their bank accounts. Destiny was feeling the heat of its first paid-DLC expansion, The Dark Below, with players getting sick of paying additional prices for already expensive titles and Evolve felt the brunt of this with its egregiously priced special editions. With its full-priced starting point and what was only a few multiplayer modes, it was hard to imagine most player shelling out for something that ultimately could be dropped after a day or two’s session, and this train of thought only doubled down when it came to convincing friends to also shell out to play together.
Couple pricing with its lacking post-launch support, a struggle to form a cohesive team with random players, and eventually struggling servers, Evolve was trickling its way out of existence. Over a year after its release, Turtle Rock Studios delivered a massive rework to the game, titled Stage 2. It was a free-to-play version of the game available on PC that delivered a redesign to maps, as well as a revitalisation of perk systems and character abilities – but by this point, it was too little too late.
Evolve Stage 2’s servers were eventually closed in 2018, signalling the end of any future support coming from Turtle Rock or its publisher 2K Games. Matt Colville, the lead writer on the project, would eventually admit that many elements such as pricing and its 4v1 structure were to blame in its failure. Of course, I believe the latter to be false, but as we begin to see more titles angle themselves as free-to-play it’s easy to see a world where Evolve stands among the ranks of Apex Legends, or even the 4v1 comparable like Dead By Daylight.
I believe Evolve’s failure is a concoction of both a terrible pricing strategy and launching just before a turn in the tide. While Turtle Rock may have never wanted to launch into the realms of live service, Evolve’s adoption of purchasable skins, its structure allowing more hunters and monsters to be added to the fray, and its multiplayer-based experience, seemed purpose-built for that type of experience.
With success stories coming from the likes of No Man’s Sky, stalled launches aren’t always the death sentences they use to be. Of course, there are those that struggle to recover, with Bioware’s Anthem being the latest to get the chop, but the intrigued masses can result in booming player bases with Rainbow Six: Siege now sitting with upwards of 70 million players.
As 2021 is conquered by team deathmatch, coop adventures and battle royale, I believe there is a world where Evolve succeeded. Bringing the asymmetrical experience to the fore with a diverse range of gameplay and a solid foundation that was ripe for building upon, it isn’t just a shame that Evolve failed; it is a shame that it wasn’t given a chance to evolve in the first place.