Turtle Rock Studios’ cooperative shooter, Evolve, has had something of a tragic history. It was developed by a team who had formerly worked on the original Left 4 Dead (which was later published by Valve after Turtle Rock had become Valve South), and promised to take L4D’s Tank fights to cosmic levels by pitting a team of four battle-hardened mercenaries against a colossal alien monster, all of which were controlled by players and possessed their own unique abilities, in addition to being able to manipulate the wild environment to their advantage. Evolve was originally to be published by THQ, but was later picked up by 2K Games.
At that point, Evolve’s fortune began to take a downward turn. Though the game had initially received praise from critics for its innovative gameplay, poor marketing practices that capitalized on Evolve’s then-unfinished state (like a $136 markup for DLC that contained otherwise-locked playable content, on top of a hefty initial $60 purchase for the base game) drew the ire of many gamers. Soon, Evolve became reviled as a prime example of what not to do when marketing an early access game, a reputation from which neither Evolve nor Turtle Rock have been able to fully recover.
Indeed, a quick look at the game’s Steam charts reveals a sharp drop in users over the past year, with spikes here and there that coincide with various content releases introduced in the game.
Both Turtle Rock and 2K seem to be making a concerted effort to salvage Evolve’s fraught past, though, with an update they released yesterday titled Evolve: Stage 2. The biggest change to the game with Stage 2: Evolve is now free-to-play.
In a letter to the community posted on Turtle Rock’s official blog, Turtle Rock co-founders Chris Ashton and Phil Robb stated that they’re aiming to bring back the “magical experience” of playing Evolve for the first time back to its fans and to newcomers alike, with the first step being a free-to-play experience:
Here’s how it’s going to work: We’re going to make Evolve free on PC as a Beta starting on July 7. This is going to allow us to hit our new server infrastructure really hard and we need your help testing. Stuff could break, and that’s our hope, because that will give us time to improve things as we go. We’ll parse out major Beta revisions, updates and features over a period of weeks and months — a plan we’re going to continually communicate here. This allows us to test new features and major changes to make our game more accessible and ever closer to the joy we saw when we first showed our baby to the world. Just as importantly, this Beta plan gives us the flexibility and time we need to keep fixing bugs and making Evolve more stable.
A developer commentary video posted by Turtle Rock explains their reasoning behind introducing Stage 2:
Anyone who has bought the game in the past, meanwhile, will be given Founders status. Founders will retain all of the content they currently own once they transition to Stage 2. These Founders may be rewarded in the future with “gifts, rewards, and special access” (which, hopefully, will not cause more tumult among Evolve’s fanbase).
In addition, several other aspects of the game will be undergoing a “vigorous overhaul.”
We’re reworking the hunter classes to make the team less reliant on having experienced trappers and medics.
We’re making improvements to the maps and UI.
We’re improving load times, overall performance, and getting you into the game faster.
We’re focusing on improving stability and fixing bugs.
We’re completely reworking our progression system and tutorials.
We’re adding more customization options.
“Vigorous” might be too soft a word to describe the changes Turtle Rock has made to Evolve. Stage 2’s patch notes span 18 pages worth of text, and are too numerous to discuss in a single article. You can read the patch notes here.
And there’s no need to fret: all content can be purchased by using an in-game currency, which is earned by simply playing the game. More content is promised to come with weekly updates.
Turtle Rock Studios’ bold maneuver has demonstrated their ability to adapt to the game industry environment, as befitting a game named Evolve. But is it enough to dredge Evolve up from the primordial soup of nasty Steam reviews and sour reputations? We’re not entirely sure, but at a free price tag, Evolve might be worth picking up to see what could have been – and what potentially will be – a fun experience in the world of online gaming.