Evolve was handed a raw deal when it launched in 2016. Turtle Rock Studios’ follow-up to Left 4 Dead was an intriguing competitive shooter torn asunder by, at the time, staggering microtransactions.
In 2022, Evolve’s DLC doesn’t feel all that egregious compared to rampant cosmetics across live service games. That’s more an indictment of how the industry has changed in six years, rather than support for Evolve itself, but does make it easier to divorce the core game from its expensive and confusing pay structure.
In a world where the best horror games, like Dead by Daylight and Evil Dead: The Game, now offer asymmetrical multiplayer, it’s easy to imagine an alternate multiverse-like reality – where Evolve survived its early release and a free-to-play relaunch in 2018, titled Evolve Stage 2, and remains popular.
I’ve been getting a tiny glimpse into that What If? world. Although Evolve has been offline since 2018, it’s suddenly playable via the efforts of a Discord community that convinced 2K Games to give players an inch.
“Evolve: Stage 2 now has an online peer-to-peer server again”, a 2K rep told Discord members, in a message noticed by NME (opens in new tab). “Thanks to you, we are reviving this unique gaming experience.” In the time since, the game has amassed a 1,649 concurrent player peak on Steam (via SteamDB (opens in new tab)), putting it in the top 500 games on the platform. That number is growing by the day.
It’s an encouraging step for video game preservation. Recently, Ubisoft announced that it would end access to numerous game services, which brought home just how fragile our digital libraries really are. Today’s live service games are even more so, as they require servers to simply remain alive – and even if they thrive, can quickly change beyond recognition, as the Destiny 2 content vault demonstrates. Publishers are rarely willing to keep a game playable in perpetuity out of the goodness of their hearts.
That’s where fanbases are going to come in, and seeing a publisher budge just an inch so that the work of hundreds of devs can be remembered and played is enormously significant. That inch instantly feels like a mile.
When you ask anyone why Evolve failed, you’ll usually hear about the aforementioned DLC and microtransaction problems. Rarely do you hear many complaints about how the game actually played.
That’s because Evolve, in its own way, kind of rules. Playing the game today, it’s clear there’s still something unique about it. Four player Hunters face off against a Monster, controlled by another player, which builds in power over the course of a match. The fast aerial movement, mixed with tight first-person shooting, creates a furious feel when it comes to the Hunter side. The Monsters, on the other hand, have a ton of fun abilities. They can roam quickly around the map, chewing up the wildlife and fattening into a deathball, ready to end the existence of their would-be killers.
Other popular asymmetrical games like Dead by Daylight, while charming, are often quite janky; Evolve remains a polished experience. There’s just nothing else like it, and despite its age, it feels like a refreshing first-person experience. When it comes to the big stand-offs of a Stage 3 Monster and a team of four decked-out hunters, it’s always a cocktail of spectacle and mayhem that’s rare in multiplayer games.
If Evolve had come out this year, it likely would have had a better shot at survival, thanks to a greater audience understanding of both live service models and the asymmetrical genre. As a free-to-play title, it would slot in much better today than it did six years ago.
The menus are a mess, admittedly. Trying to make a free ‘purchase’ with the in-game currency doesn’t do anything, or does and takes an age, and resets after every match. As it was in 2016, the in-game economy is still a blight on Evolve, albeit for entirely different reasons. It’s now a lost creation, trying to phone home – only to find out there is no home to talk to. It’s not designed to function this way, as a peer-to-peer zombie, but it’s an understandable muddle given the circumstances.
2K Games opening peer-to-peer servers again is awesome, and the company should be applauded for it. However, if Evolve is really going to have a third lease on life as a cult game played by a dedicated community, the publisher should go one step further.
When Evolve shut down in 2018, it was delisted from Steam. While previous owners can access the game and its discussion pages, new players who never had Evolve can’t add it to their libraries. Currently, the only way to get around this is to buy really old PC keys from shady third-party sellers, or hope someone in the Discord is nice and gives you one.
If there’s any hope for this breath of life to last, 2K should concede one more inch and re-list the game on Steam – so new players can get in and experience the game that they missed all those years ago. Without that, the hope that this revival could push past a stagnant couple thousand players seems futile.
Evolve’s resurgence is almost unprecedented. In the world of live game preservation, this kind of ‘opening of the gates’ is going to be essential as more and more online-only games age.
The question is, if the revival effort finds any traction, how will 2K deal with it? For a game with no dedicated servers, from a developer that has moved on to Back 4 Blood and isn’t even currently working with the publisher, what would such a situation look like? I’ve no idea, but I’d certainly be keen to see it play out.
But first, Evolve needs our help. Not a big publisher-led relaunch, but a community-driven effort (albeit with 2K Games relisting it) to keep this unique title stable. It’s a fascinating game with a fascinating history and deserves to be experienced in the future. Its potential success could even provide a roadmap for how the preservation of online service games is handled going forward.
More than that though, Evolve is just a good time, and it’s been a real treat to revisit. It stands alone, plays great, and has visuals that have held up exceptionally well. If you have access to it, you should definitely give it a shot, because there won’t be anything else quite like it to play this year.