The seven-year-old multiplayer shooter Evolve recently received a second wind, but developer Turtle Rock Studios believes its ill-fated follow-up to Left 4 Dead could have had a better chance of survival if it had been released today.
The asymmetrical competitive shooter – in which four players face off against a player-controlled mutating monster – was all but shut down just a few years after its release in 2015. After initially gaining critical traction, Evolve was re-released with a free-to-play model one. year after launch, before its dedicated multiplayer servers were taken offline in 2018.
But it has seen a resurgence in recent weeks. After publisher 2K resurrected Evolve’s peer-to-peer servers, the game’s player numbers skyrocketed above anything it had seen in years.
Speaking to Gaming, director Phil Robb reckons the resurgence is due to loyal fans, but also influenced by the gaming industry in general. With games shifting to team-based shooters like Overwatch 2 and the popularity of free-to-play shooters like Fortnite, he thinks Evolve may have been spared its demise in today’s climate.
“Evolve might be a little ahead of its time and might have a better chance today than it did in 2015 if it launched properly with a different business model,” says Robb.
“Unfortunately, being ahead of time isn’t always a good thing, as it won’t keep the lights on. I think if Evolve were released today as a free-to-play game, it would have a much better chance.
“Also, given the number of team-based games that have been released since Evolve, I think the public will now probably have an easier time understanding how it works than at launch.”
When Evolve hit shelves in 2015, its microtransactions were quickly derided by fans and critics alike. As Polygon reported at the time, more than $60 – around £50 / AU$85 – worth of DLC was excluded from its season pass, which already cost players $24.99 – around £20 / AU$35. not out of place among the monetization models of today’s live service games, its pricing structure has soured the fun of fans who would otherwise praise its team-based gameplay.
In Evolve, players need to coordinate class-specific skills in fast-paced vertical firefights, while surviving sporadic attacks from the sneaky enemy Monster. This beast, meanwhile, will gradually evolve into a more powerful version of itself, unlocking new abilities in a single match.
“It’s hard to pinpoint anything in particular that has stopped Evolve from sustaining a long-term audience,” says Robb. “Certainly, the way Evolve was priced and pre-sold didn’t help, nor did the DLC fiasco, but there were also design aspects that in 2015 may have been difficult for a wider audience to understand.
“Evolve’s hunters, in particular, really had to play correctly as a team for a match to be enjoyable. If everyone is not playing their part well, the game just falls apart.”
While Evolve’s player count is decreasing again, its brief rise in popularity still stands out as anomalous. In an industry dominated by live service games that continually attract players through seasonal updates, it’s unusual for a seven-year stagnant title to receive a spike in interest.
“In 2015 and 2016, it was hard to see Evolve fail to sustain a healthy community after pretty solid initial sales, so watching Evolve now have a redemption story is pretty cool,” says Robb. “We are also happy that players who have always loved the game have the chance to play it again.”