It seems like you can’t hear the word “Evolve” without in the same breath hearing “Left 4 Dead”. Granted, there is a logical bridge between the two: they’re both games by Turtle Rock Studios and they’re both 4-player cooperative multiplayer games. Evolve’s advertising has much trumpeted the game’s pedigree. Comparisons are odious but they seem to have been forced upon us in the case of these two games. But how much of Left 4 Dead’s DNA actually leaked into Evolve? And were we led to believe that Evolve was meant to be Left 4 Dead’s spiritual successor?

The answers are “not much” and “yes”. Evolve is an over-hyped, undercooked rehash of a much better game. The writing is on the wall: Turtle Rock staked their Left 4 Dead credibility behind a new IP and have come up tragically short. If you feel sharp pangs of disappointment as you play Evolve, glimpsing the shadows of Left 4 Dead’s legacy, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The difference is like the difference between the movies Aliens and Avatar. Both have the same director, James Cameron, and both are vastly different films. Aliens is a landmark of action sci-fi and Avatar is a bloated, trite waste of three hours. But yet there are glimmers of Aliens in Avatar (robot suits, Sigourney Weaver, anyone?) and as we sat in the theater staring at the screen I know I was not alone in thinking “Jeez, I wish I was watching Aliens instead of this garbage”.

aliens

James Cameron on the set of Aliens.

That is precisely my feeling about Evolve. It isn’t the follow up we were hoping for, it’s the big budget, charmless action smorgasbord that echoes an older and better experience. Notice how visually polished Evolve is? How they really shove a lot of flashy cut scenes in your face? You’re witnessing the Avatar effect. All show and no go.

Evolve’s tragic flaw was, ironically, failing to evolve from Left 4 Dead. What we ultimately got is a game retracing its steps and missing all the right ones; those steps that made a game (Left 4 Dead 2) released in 2009, still worth $30 pre-owned.

Evolve is a riff on one of Left 4 Dead’s mechanics, particularly the one where your team of four survivors fight the Tank. This incredible (undead) hulk takes coordination and teamwork to bring down. A tank with a capable player behind it could nine times out of ten spell the opposing team’s demise.

How could just a fraction of one experience ever hope to stand on it’s own as a game? I’ll be very surprised if Evolve will garner the same cult following as Left 4 Dead, no matter how much DLC (and there’s a lot) Turtle Rock releases. It seems as though the developers dissected their last (and better) game rather than go to the trouble of making a new one. The result is like a Ferrari with a go-kart engine under the hood. The outside may be pretty to look at but it’s horsepower that really counts.

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This is what a monster looks like.

Comparing the two games side by side could not produce a more glaring or obvious difference. One is a tense survival simulation and the other a simple and hollow experience. I was addicted to Left 4 Dead. For almost a year I played it every single night to the wee hours of the morning. I still have friends I made through the game whom to this day I have never met in person. There has to be something spellbinding about the experience to create results like that and Evolve has none of Left 4 Dead’s magic.

Left 4 Dead is a brilliant seesaw of fear and confidence. The tug of war between teams can be as heated as a Giants – Patriots Superbowl. In a good round of Left 4 Dead, the fire of rivalry as well camaraderie burns steady and strong throughout. The game produced it’s own vocabulary: “no-mikers”, “mollies”, “safe-room”, “finale”. Those that played it became veterans and the ones who worked well together a tight knit fraternity. So finely tuned was the game that despite playing the same maps over and over it truly felt like a new experience each time.

Evolve by contrast is shallow, uninventive and perhaps worst of all, boring. They say there’s a bunch of ways to play but let’s not kid ourselves, there’s only one mode and that’s hunt. The others where you rescue survivors, track down monster eggs or defend points are merely minor obstacles thrown into the main mode’s mix. Every match more or less plays out the same way with the scales falling heavily on either side. You either dominate as the hunters or are dominated by the monster. Left 4 Dead was a game of chess and Evolve boils down to a 50-50 shot.

The level design of each game also could not be more different. Left 4 Dead’s creepy urban-decay vibe with its bottlenecks and tight corners is rock solid design. Evolve’s alien planet, Shear, is boring. A mix of a few environment types with some sci-fi looking stuff thrown in and that’s it. The maps are basically one giant arena, which leads to perhaps the one crucial difference between these two games: pacing.

evolve-dam-map-desert

Boooooorrrriiiinnnnnggggg

Left 4 Dead’s genius was in the pacing. The AI director would randomize the spawn points of enemies, item drops and when and where the Tank could attack. All of it building to the climatic finale. This all fed into a matrix of tactical possibility. With so many combinations it was impossible to predict the outcome and constantly fun to match your wits against the system.

Evolve doesn’t have pacing. You chase the monster around and if it gets too big it turns around and squashes you. There are no peaks and valleys, no discernible rhythm. Left 4 Dead was a roller coaster that took you and throttled you through loops, drops and hairpin turns where more often than not luck and teamwork were all that could save you.

Teamwork is another missing strand of Evolve’s DNA. Most people don’t play with a headset, which in Left 4 Dead was equally crippling. But, the difference is you could kick people off your team who weren’t talking. Most Left 4 Dead lobbies wouldn’t launch until both sides had teammates who knew the game and had microphones. “So and so, you talkin’?” was the typical greeting you got upon joining a game. In Evolve, unless you’ve got 3 other close friends with the game, good luck finding a talkative team.

The moments in Evolve when you do truly gel as a team are criminally few and far between. Most of the time you’re with no-mikers who spam the waypoint button to lead you in the wrong direction. There are tactical-ish things you can do but they’re cold comfort when you almost never get the chance to do them. Communication and collaboration were essential in Left 4 Dead but in Evolve it seems as if the devs wanted to net more casual players and did not make the game contingent on having either skill or the ability to talk.

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A headset. Buy one and put it on your head. What is so hard about that?

Am I the only one who feels really lonely as the monster? It seems like he should have some friends or something. What? The other monsters can’t help? Switching between survivors and infected in Left 4 Dead was like having two brilliant games in one. Each had their own school of strategy and their own unique characteristics. The monsters of Evolve on the other hand have only a few differences that ultimately don’t matter; you’re whole objective is to power-up to the point where you’re unstoppable so what real difference does it make if you’re a goliath, a kraken or a wraith?

And about the wraith. Quite simply, it’s broken and impossible to hunt. You find a disproportionate number of players using it because it’s nigh impossible to kill. Total invisibility, teleportation, devastating stage-3 attacks, the wraith is about as balanced as a china cabinet on the Titanic. Even after it’s nerfed the elaborate game of tag that is Evolve seems hardly worth revisiting.

I feel let down by Evolve. I feel as if we were promised Left 4 Dead and got a cheap imitation with a heavy layer of HD paint on top. Evolve is loud, flashy, and tactically inept. The visuals are Call of Duty and the gameplay is checkers. Evolve’s a monster, alright, a big, bloated AAA behemoth that once the shock and awe wears off reveals itself for the anemic and paltry imitation that it is.

About The Author

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Staff Writer

Alex is from New York, is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and once played a Call of Duty Deathmatch against himself.