Evolve: The Big Alpha – First Impressions, Part 2

On the second day, I debated with myself whether I wanted to give Evolve another chance, and ended up saying, “What the hell, why not, it’s free at the moment, with a time limit for this experience.”

This time I purposefully set myself to a completely Random role preference, hoping that this would help the currently not-quite-perfected matchmaking match me with players a little more at my current level of play, and giving myself the opportunity to play all the roles to understand them more.

The Medic, whom I managed to randomly roll first, was quite understandable. The character of Val has a sniper rifle – landing hits on the Monster with this yields zones of critical damage that your teammates can use to increase their own damage done. She has a medic gun that essentially acts like the TF2 medic’s healing gun and an AoE healing burst skill, both of which I spent a lot of time with that game, keeping all the Hunters alive. Finally, she has a tranquilizer gun that slows the Monster and also keeps it targeted for the Hunters. I was a little less adept at landing this on a regular basis (my twitch aim has never been the greatest and ping does play a part too.)

Our Monster for that game managed to hit Stage 2, but his defeat, I felt, was a moot point. He never managed to pick me out as a threat, and I did a -lot- of healing of anyone else damaged, so no Hunter ever died. He eventually died from attrition over time.

I also got Markov the Assault again and watched the intro video a little more closely, finally figuring out the lightning gun and finding it much easier to get up close and personal with the grounded Goliath – who also needs to be in close melee range to fight – than with the Kraken.

I spent a little time as the Trapper Maggie, and mostly spent my time following my pet Daisy follow tracks, while failing to successfully trap the Monster – missing by a couple feet because I kept misjudging distance and hadn’t yet worked out how to catch up with the Monster – which was busy running away most of the time.

Meanwhile, the rest of my team had dispersed in who knows what direction, so that wasn’t a very satisfactory game at all.

The Monster was too busy being pursued to stop and eat and level up, the Hunters were spread out and unsuccessful at cornering the Monster. After ten minutes of this, I rolled my eyes and quit, being perfectly happy to sit through a minute-long “quitter” penalty than put up with another 10-20 minute stalemate while the Monster eventually stole enough meals on the run to get to Stage 2 or 3.

Then I had a quick run as Support, where I mostly never had the opportunity to use much beyond the basic damage gun, and an experimental cloak or two, because that game was most notable for a not-terribly-experienced level 7 Monster and a super-experienced level 23 Hunter.

The scenery's pretty great if you have the machine for it.
The scenery’s pretty great if you have the machine for it. Too busy to remember to take screenshots in game though. I was the level 4. The level 23 kicked major ass. I don’t even know what the level 10 and 13 were doing, they eventually caught up later.

The Hunter immediately zoomed in on its tracks the moment the game started, while I merely faithfully followed in the Hunter’s footsteps. He seemed to have a radar equivalent to Daisy’s given how skilled he was, despite him being a Medic. The Monster got caught in Stage 1, constantly filled full of Tranquilizer Darts leaving him easily trackable, ran in easily predictable straight line directions while I was finally figuring out the art of the double-tap-space jetpack forward leap to catch up with the Monster more effectively, and ended up full of bullets, standing still near the end because it had entirely given up.

I never much had any opportunity to use a shield for allies, since the Monster never really attacked anyone successfully, nor did it ever occur to me to figure out how to use some harpoon line mines because the Monster was standing still anyway and I was mostly reflecting on how asymmetrical this matchup was, and how it might be theoretically possible to “grief” games by voluntarily not putting up any kind of fight, while emptying entire clips into it.

Finally, after a lot of Hunter experience and seeing how not very effective Monsters played, I was tempted once again to select Monster as a first priority and try my hand at it once more.

This time, my new strategy was just to test out evasion and sneaking -everywhere-, since running in a straight line away from Hunters wasn’t that effective.

Sneaking gave me a little more time to feed, but I still wasn’t very good at it since feeding attracted carrion birds, which signals to Hunters immediately where you are. By the time I hit Stage 2 and was ready to evolve, the Hunters would usually find me, and I kept having a hell of a time losing them once they caught sight of me and had me on their radar.

I did however have one very memorable moment while being filled with bullets and trying to do some damage to them while getting away, and managed to scale a cliff near to the map limits. It so happened there was a big pillar I could hide my bulk behind, and I could keep track of the Hunters by sniffing my surroundings with right-click.

They must have somehow lost sight of me, possibly from their attention being taken by neutral monster attacks during the time I broke off. I hunkered down and stayed -absolutely- silent. They stood around in a group of four, looking around, seemingly extremely puzzled because the Trapper’s dome was up and I couldn’t have gone far.

They moved around to the sides to look around, while I kept sneaking and strafed left and right to keep the pillar between them and me, and completely failed to come around to where I was.

The dome came down. I stayed super quiet still.

Eventually, they moved off.

I got a BIG thrill from that.

Outsmarting my opponents through clever strategy is one of the things I do enjoy in my FPSes. That’s why I can stand to play Team Fortress occasionally as an engineer doing horrible things to people with my turret placements. Or aiming to, anyway.

Unfortunately, they managed to catch up with me rather quickly again once I got on the move and tried to hunt and feed, and I died from attrition damage as expected. But that was a game where I felt that they weren’t a super-experienced group of Hunters and that I was actually fulfilling a role as a fair enough challenge for their level, while getting some valuable personal experience as a Monster myself.

I dare say that given time and effort, most players would be able to climb out of the newbie stage and get to a passably average level of play.

An interesting question then arises: Is there sufficient motivation to?

I’m still on the fence about that myself.

On one hand, I do like the whole alien vs humans premise. I do expect that if I spent time playing the game every day, I’ll be able to move with the launch crowd playerbase, from the point where nearly everyone starts as newbies and eventually gains more skill over time.

On the other hand, I do have a main game I’m playing called Guild Wars 2. I’m not sure if I have enough time left over to devote to Evolve.

I’m not sure if I want to pay $60 for the privilege of playing with the launch crowd, and I highly doubt I’ll have a good time paying a discounted price later if everyone else left playing it 6-12 months after launch has become super skilled.

There are also some questions about the game’s longevity. Evolve is essentially about the monster vs hunter experience. Twist and turn it how you like, eventually it tends to boil down to “If the Hunters can catch the Monster at Stage 1, the Monster is likely to lose. If the Monster can get to Stage 3, the Hunters are in serious trouble and will probably get torn to pieces.”

How many variations on that count can you play before you get bored of the premise?

That answer probably differs from person to person – what they’re getting out of the game experience, if they’re playing with a regular group of friends, how competitive a level they’re playing at, etc.

There are some hints that Evolve will include more game modes and maybe even a single-player experience of some kind, so that might affect perceptions of longevity down the road.

Some people have also expressed concern that it’s possible to “grief” matches by either not putting up much of a fight (which can be rather hard to tell apart from a true newbie) or by artificially extending the length of a match by intentionally leaving Hunters alive while murdering them one by one and letting them respawn from their dropship singly to get picked off again.

Still, I presume there will always be the standard FPS options of dealing with trolling players, by either vote kicking them off the server or quitting yourself and finding another match, so I don’t personally find this a major issue.

I’m mostly just trying to decide how long I’m liable to find Evolve interesting – given my personal preferences of not really liking uneven playing fields and one-sided matches, but really liking strategic fights and alien vs human combat – and if it’s worth $60 to me personally to play at launch.

So far, the magic 8-ball says: Reply hazy. Please try again.

I suppose I’ll keep an eye on it, give it another try in beta if given the opportunity to and see how it develops.

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