Unbalanced mechanics get in the way of the asymmetric multiplayer fun
If the monster is killed, the match of Hunt mode is over. If a hunter’s life is depleted, they go into a downed state where all they can do is fire a pistol. If they remain in this state for too long, they will die and must wait to re-enter the game from the dropship. While in the downed state, any player can revive a friend, but Medics have the most helpful tools for this. The monster must kill all four hunters for the game to end, so a lone hunter or even two remaining hunters are better off running for their lives, hiding, and waiting to be rejoined by their crew, rather than taking the monster on mono e mono.
Balance issues appear throughout the game. Each hunter has a specific role to fulfill during combat and when players are outside of their depth, things fall apart quickly. Even the miniscule things, like using a flamethrower at the right time instead of a minigun can be devastating to your efforts. These nuanced moments include using the cloak at the right time, knowing when to turn-tail and run, knowing to wait for Bucket to use his UAV instead of running ahead, knowing that when Cabot uses his damage amplifier everyone has to attack, knowing to cloak as Lazarus so you can save teammates - all of these details can completely change the flow of your match. It’s not even just a case of a player understanding their abilities, but teammates understanding these abilities and reacting appropriately. Evolve tries to help you out with video tutorials, but if you aren’t interested in the Support class, you might not be aware of the ways they can help or how they best compliment the skills of your Assault character. There are also cues to listen for, but sometimes they are drowned out the chaos of battle. You can see Turtle Rock trying to help players, but if you got a squad who doesn’t pick up on these cues, you’re in for a massacre.
Then there’s the Wraith. The most overpowered aspect of Evolve. The Wraith is death incarnate, it is instant doom. It is hard to simply track the Wraith, let alone kill the thing. It moves too fast, blends in with its surroundings too well, and kills too quickly. Even when you do manage to tie it down, the monster is still hard to hit. When the Wraith inevitably hits its max level, it can quickly tear your team apart. I think we beat one Wraith the entire time I played Evolve, and numerous people told me they had never beaten one. It’s not like video games have never had weapons or classes which were overpowered before - everyone remembers the pistol from Halo. But again, the 4 vs. 1 multiplayer makes it so that only one person enjoys the buffs, while four other players are almost guaranteed a loss before the match even starts. I don’t know if Evolve is more unbalanced than other online multiplayer games, but its issues are so much more obvious because of the intimate nature of the game, where every player is crucial to the outcome of a match.
The other monsters of Evolve are a little more evenly matched with the hunters. The first monster available is the Goliath. This creature walks upright, but can travel quickly by using his powerful jumps and excellent climbing abilities. The Goliath is one of the weakest monsters in the early game, but as he Evolves he becomes a worthy foe. His size makes him easy to spot, but his movements are easiest to control, and between his fire breath, rock throws, charge attacks, and leaping attacks, he’s good at tossing players about the map.
There is also the Kraken, the flying squid-like creature with electric attacks and powerful vortexes that send players flying backwards. The Kraken is a less-traditional monster and requires more planning. He’s one of the few who can lay traps for unsuspecting hunters. These monsters are both more balanced than the Wraith and represent two different aspects of the monster class: one is a bulky brawler and the other is strategic and ranged.
The maps where matches take place are usually a mix of an industrial hub and the wild environments of Shear. These maps have the unenviable task of making sure the monster has enough room to always remain elusive of its human pursuers, while always in danger of being discovered. Here, Turtle Rock strikes a good balance. As the monster you always feel like the humans are one step behind you and as hunters you always feel your foe is one step ahead of you. Watching match replays demonstrates this as you can always see the player controlling the monster trying to stay ahead of the hunters. The maps are also filled with wildlife which serves two purposes: Feeding the monster and waylaying hunters. With giant creatures grazing, laying in the water, or even just strolling about the many trails of the map, you never know when a teammate will be taken down by nature - another reason to make sure players are sticking together. These random encounters can also turn against the monster, but pose less of a threat.
After the match is over, you are brought to a screen where you can see your contributions to the team and level up to earn more characters. You earn characters by completing three individual challenges based on the special abilities of your class. So if you play as Val, you’ll have to heal people a certain amount with your medgun and snipe the monster a certain amount with your tranquilizer gun. This is another factor which plays into the poor balance of Evolve. If there is an ability that you're not good with or that isn’t great to use, you must still use it in order to level up, or risk never unlocking more characters. Certain skills are highly situational, making it difficult to level them up. Here you also get experience points to unlock levels and gain better bonuses which can be equipped in your loadout screen. But matches where you’re getting blown out - or dominating your competition - stifle your experience, so you can only gain any worthwhile XP when you are well matched against your opponent.
The moment-to-moment gameplay in Evolve is pretty well constructed. The shooting feels tight for the hunters. The monsters are fun to maneuver around the environment. When all of Evolve’s variables work out - the skill levels of participants, the AI environment, the characters picked, the boosts employed, the player objectives, the stage the monster confronts the players, the mindset of the hunters - the game has wonderful moments of excitement. It’s a thrill to see players - strangers or friends - work together as a team. Even better is when you are part of a skilled team that understands the game through and through. Being part of the seamless chemistry working against a monster is a blast. The flipside, being a monster that breaks apart the hunters and destroys them is also a ton of fun. There are hiccups in the traversal - sometimes players get stuck on the terrain while using jetpacks - but for the most part, the mechanics of Evolve’s traversal and combat are well designed. It’s just rare you get to see all of it on display and working together as it’s supposed to.