Happy Birthday, Evolve! The co-op monster hunter is one year old today. I bet you’d completely forgotten about it, hadn’t you? And that’s no surprise: Evolve’s had a turbulent 12 months when it comes to players and community.
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When it launched in February 2015, Evolve started life like any big-budget shooter: with players by the bus-load. At its peak, the game was rocking over 27,000 players simultaneously. Unfortunately, despite pretty positive reviews across the board (Metracritic scores it 77, and more importantly we gave it an 8), Evolve’s player count plummeted in March, maxing out at just under 7,000 players. And this was just the start of a steady decline.
As the months passed player numbers continued to dwindle. July saw a peak of just 808 concurrent players, with the average count being 420. A free weekend in September saw the figures leap, with a high of 9,084 concurrent users, but that spike was just a fleeting moment in time.
And now here we are, as the first candle gets blown out on the cake. The last 30 days have seen an average of 385 players playing Evolve, with a peak count of 944. So while we’re far away from the tides of players who came rushing to see what co-op monster hunting was all about last year, there’s still a bit of community left in Evolve. It’s small in comparison to other year-old titles (for example, Battlefield Hardline currently peaks at around 3,000 players), but it seems like the tiny community is exceptionally loyal.
So if you’re coming in from the cold, just what kind of experience does Evolve provide one year on?
Getting into games isn’t the hour of waiting I’d anticipated. Between clicking ‘find game’ and being sorted into a match, the longest time elapsed was one-and-a-half minutes. Unfortunately, games are rarely full. Typically there will be one player taking on the role of the monster, and about two others handling hunting duties. The rest of the slots are filled by AI bots.
The big problem caused by this is that AI bots are no replacement at all for human players. While they can happily run around and perform actions within their programming, they’re not smart enough to react to quick changes in the monster’s behaviour, which is naturally unpredictable since it’s a human behind the controls. They’re also impossible to coordinate with. You can’t create fun strategies with lines of code.
That’s a shame, because the dedicated following Evolve has could do with buddies. It’s obvious players now know exactly what they’re doing. Efficient and effective with weapons and gadgets, they don’t do all that bewildered running backwards-and-forwards that was so common when we first visited the planet of Shear. But they don’t have enough intelligent teammates to create a squad capable of taking down a player-controlled beast.
So if you’re into playing the monster, Evolve’s current state means it’s very easy pickings to level up. But are there any benefits for hunters these days? Well, there’s a very interesting loophole that’s presented itself, precisely because games are never full. How do you fancy playing some Evolve DLC without spending a penny?
As noted earlier, most games of Evolve are made up of human players and AI bots because the player count isn’t high enough. Because Evolve is dependant on all the hunters’ skills being utilised effectively, you can swap places with the AI to control other hunter classes. This is very useful if you’re playing an assault but need to quickly play as a trapper to thrown down a bubble arena.
The fun part though is that the AI often chooses characters from the DLC pool. The game has been designed that DLC would never split the community, so you can fight alongside players with paid-for characters. When those characters are AI bots, you can simply hop into the pilot seat. And just by tapping a key, you’re suddenly playing a brand new class you didn’t pay for.
It’s a fun exploit, and the random selection that the AI makes with each match means you’ll never know what options you’ll get until you’ve got boots on the ground. Part of the joy is cycling through games to try and have a go with all the characters.
The loophole doesn’t stretch as far as the monster though, as you can only select to play that role at the start of the match, and obviously there’s no way to choose DLC you’ve not paid for from the character select screen.
One year on, I feel a bit sorry for Evolve. Twelve months ago I awarded the game a very good score, and to this day I think it’s a solid, well-thought-out shooter that offers a unique angle. But not everything that’s great strikes a chord with players.
This may be Evolve’s first and only birthday it survives. If you’re in two minds about heading back to Shear for a bit of a celebration party, I think you should. It’s best to go in with the expectations that you’ll likely have a underwhelming time as far as strong competition and tactics go, but there’s still fun to be had in its systems, toys, and that loophole. It likely won’t hold your attention for more than a couple of additional hours, but you may be able to see why a few hundred people are sticking around, month-in-month-out, to keep the planet’s monster problem at bay.