The first couple of hours with Evolve are excellent fun. As a hunter you parachute into the map from a dropship, and from there it's all about the thrill of the hunt, following the monster's trail, catching glimpses of it amid the foliage ahead, and just waiting, waiting for the fireworks to begin. Eventually, be it through choice or coercion, the monster will turn to fight, spitting fire and chucking boulders. Evolve cleverly keeps you engaged by limiting the use of each ability, forcing you to constantly switch weapons and equipment to maximise their effect. Even as the initial Medic character Val, you'll need to constantly use you tranquiliser gun and sniper rifle alongside healing your companions in order to take down the monster.
Yet even at this stage it's apparent that something isn't quite right with Evolve. As the monster, the overall feel of the game is strongly reminiscent of playing as the special Infected from Left4Dead, which is to say, not great. Even as the two-ton Goliath, the controls feel floaty and distanced from the action, and that sensation is compounded when playing as the Kraken, who really does float. The Hunters suffer from the opposite problem, they're slow and clunky, weighed down by the ostentatious bulk of the CryENGINE, while their weapons have little sense of impact. Markov's lightning gun, for example, is essentially a health-draining machine, utterly uninteresting to wield. With the more traditional guns, bullets seem to be absorbed by the monster's great bulk, right up until the point it collapses. It's like shooting at a side of beef. A really angry side of beef, but a side of beef nevertheless.
Another readily apparent flaw with Evolve is that, aside from its core concept, it is generally a bit dull. This isn't for lack of trying on Turtle Rock's part. The visual design of their jungle world is absolutely crammed with detail. The misty forests teem with strange wildlife, bat-like birds that wheel in the sky, giant toads that trap you in their vast maws, and weird raptor-like dinosaurs that serve as the Monster's go-to snack. Everything serves a purpose too. I'll say this for Evolve, there's very little waste.
Sadly there's hardly any variation from one map to the next. Almost every stage is jungle themed, and only one of those, The Aviary, sticks out in my mind, and only because it is a jungle with a roof. In addition, because you're so focussed on either finding the monster or evolving the monster, the meticulously designed wildlife is reduced to the role of an obstacle, a minor irritation that is passively scratched. Nobody will be shouting "Megamouth!" as they shouted "Boomer!" or "Tank!" when playing Left4Dead.
Similarly, Evolve's expanded cast of hunters possess about as much charm and affability as the horse-racing commentator John McCririck. Each is an exaggerated caricature that exists either to spout crass jokes or silly posturing. The sense of camaraderie you felt when hearing Zoey laugh, or listening to Francis moan about how much he hates mundane things, is pretty much non-existent.
These two issues; the lack of tactile satisfaction and the absence of variation, contribute to the broader problem with Evolve, which is that it struggles to hold your attention for very long at all. Again, Turtle Rock try to increase its appeal by injecting a dose of growth hormones. Alongside the characters are a variety of game modes. These include "Defence" in which the Hunters must hold off waves of monsters led by the player monster. Next is "Nest", where the Hunters have to destroy a clutch of Monster eggs, and "Rescue", in which the Hunters must rescue colonists and escort them to a dropship before the Monster kills them. In addition, Evolve enables you to clump all of these modes together into a dynamic five-mission "Extraction" campaign, which is tied together with snippets of story, and wherein winning a match provides unique bonuses for your side.
Sadly, the character classes are so specifically geared toward the "Hunt" mode that they adjust poorly to these other modes. The trapper in particular feels redundant in any mode except Hunt. During one Rescue mission, the monster ambushed us as we approached the extraction point. Our poor trapper, only doing what he was supposed to, decided to activate his electric dome. The result was we and the survivors were trapped in a tiny space with a rampaging Level 3 Monster, several hundred feet away from our objective. Somehow we still won, but what was a sure-fire victory ended as a narrowly-averted disaster.
In the weeks prior to Evolve's release, there was an outcry regarding 2K's DLC plan, which appears to have sectioned off large chunks of Evolve's content to be sold after the fact. Cynical as this may be, I doubt that a bunch of extra maps, characters and monsters would make a vast difference to Evolve's overall quality. Its concept, while brilliant, is too limited by its overly-funnelled design to support the game on its own, while the stodgy combat and lack of personality means that Evolve just doesn't sparkle in the way Left4Dead did. It may sport a few impressive mutations, but in the end I fear that Evolve is destined for extinction.