In keeping with this week’s unofficial theme, let’s talk about Evolve! Matthew Colville worked for Turtle Rock Studios as a writer on the creative team that designed the world and many of the core aspects of what would eventually become the asymmetrical multiplayer game, Evolve. The world was incredibly interesting and the core concept was novel, so pre-release reactions to the game were very positive. It even sold well when it came out, but it was plagued by a variety of problems that ultimately lead to its demise and the shut-down of its servers a couple of years after release.
The basic plot of the game is that you and your allies are a squad of monster killers that are occasionally called in to protect an at-risk Human colony on a new planet. The planet in question, Shear, seemed like a great place at first, but the colonies were eventually attacked by native inhabitants that showed the ability to quickly evolve in response to whatever defenses the Humans mounted. In each mission, you and your three human allies are tasked with taking out the monster. The monster, another human player, is tasked with killing all of the hunters or completing an objective (destroy a particular part of a facility or something like that). It is possible to play with fewer than 5 human players as you can set up a game with one to four AI players, but the main mode of play is online with a group of humans.
In concept, the game was a lot of fun. The battles were interesting and, though every game I played ended with the hunters winning, it was still a lot of fun to play the monster since there aren’t many games out there that have a similar style. It can be really fun to basically play hide-and-go-seek with a bunch of people online. It can also be incredibly frustrating if they always, unerringly hunt you down before you have a chance to even get established. Or if they seem to always find you as you find a hidey-hole in which to begin the annoyingly slow process of “evolving” so that you’re forced to give up your progress and flee only for it to happen again the next time you think you’re safe. Or if you wind up playing two dozen matches in row as the monster since none of your friends play the game and solo-queuing seems to always mean getting stuck as the monster.
There were a lot of problems once you got past the novelty of the game. You needed a bunch of dumb, negligent players on the hunter side of things for the monster to win and I don’t think I ever won as the monster and won maybe half of the matches I played as a hunter because my fellow hunters seemed to be incapable of working together or rudimentary communication. My hunter teams would almost always start to fall apart as soon as we started losing. Everyone ran off in their own direction, certain they alone knew what to do, and got picked off by the monster who was able to easily take us down when we separated. In short, it was every problem you’ve ever faced with online multiplayer compounded by a higher-than-average frequency of one-sided fights.
All that is without mentioning the various exploits and bugs that showed up every few weeks. The developers didn’t update very frequently (which we eventually learned wasn’t the fault of the developers but the publishing company who wouldn’t put out updates more than once every few months), so a lot of exploits and broken gear/abilities/etc stayed around long enough to make it difficult to play against.
Most of the problems could have been fixed with enough software patches and a better response from the PR team of the publisher, but they seemed very uninterested in trying to please their customers once the game had achieved commercial success. I’m sure there’s most to it than a simple money grab from the studio that published the game, but that’s what it felt like at the time and it is ultimately why I stopped playing the game.
Looking into it now, after I discovered that Matthew Colville was a part of the creation of this game and did some research since the way I felt everything played out didn’t seem to jive with the way he acted in his videos and various online accounts, I’ve learned a lot. Originally, the game team was put together to create an alien world and that’s what they did. Incredible art, different modes of evolution, how species adapt to their environment, and so much more came out of their first years of work. It wasn’t until about two years of this research and development had passed that they learned the game was going to take the form we got: asymmetrical shooter. If it had been an exploration game or a team shooter against only computers, that would have been another thing entirely. I would have loved the shit out of the game if it hadn’t been so heavily dependent on the only PvP multiplayer.
It was nice to learn that the game they poured their hearts into wasn’t the game we got. I can only imagine how disappointed the team was when they learned what all their research and work was going to turn into. From some of Matthew Colville’s posts on the matter, it sounds like they didn’t get much of a choice in the matter since no one at the publisher believed that an exploration or PvE game would sell enough to pay for the development and distribution costs. I’m pretty sure a lot of people who have bought that and the studio would be swimming in all the money they got from it if they’d actually delivered the game the writers and artists had spent two years creating. It would have been like what No Man’s Sky could have been if it hadn’t been hyped so idiotically when it was still clearly far from complete.
Honestly, as the game slowly winds its way to complete shutdown (the servers are being turned off for good in september), I’ve gone back to play it a couple of times. It still isn’t the game I would like it to have been and I’ve spent more time waiting for a match than actually playing it, but I can see the game the development studio wanted to make in the background. Knowing what it could have been makes it a little more fun to play since I’m more focused on that than the outcome of the matches, but it leaves me sad once the match is over because I feel like I’m missing out on what would have been an amazing opportunity.
Until September of 2018, the game is free to play for anyone who downloads it. If you want a glimpse into what is an amazing world and what could have been a game to remember a few decades on, download it and play a few matches, even if it’s just with a bunch of bots. You might be frustrated, but you won’t be disappointed.