Seven-year-old multiplayer shooter Evolve recently received a second wind, but developer Turtle Rock Studios believes its ill-fated sequel to Left 4 Dead might have had a better chance of survival if it were released today.
The asymmetric competitive shooter – in which four players encounter a player-controlled mutated monster – closed just a few years after its launch in 2015. After initially gaining traction, Evolve relaunched with a free-to-play model a year after launch, before it was cut Connecting its dedicated offline multiplayer servers in 2018.
But it has seen a rebound in recent weeks. After publisher 2K revived peer-to-peer Evolve servers, the game’s player numbers soared above anything they’d seen over the past few years.
Speaking to TechRadar Gaming, director Phil Robb believes the resurgence is due to loyal fans, but also influenced by the gaming industry in general. With games shifting towards team-based shooters like Overwatch 2, and the popularity of free shooters like Fortnite, it’s believed that Evolve may have weathered its demise in today’s climate.
“Evolve might have been a little ahead of its time and might have a better chance today than it did in 2015 if it launched right with a different business model,” says Rob.
“Unfortunately, being ahead of their time isn’t always a good thing, because that wouldn’t keep the lights on. I think if Evolve was launched today as a free game, you’d stand a much better chance.
“Also, given the number of team-based games that have launched since Evolve, I think fans now will probably have an easier time understanding how it works than they might have again at launch.”
When Evolve hit shelves in 2015, fans and critics quickly ridiculed its microtransactions. As Polygon reported at the time, more than $60 – about £50 / AU$85 – worth of DLC was taken out of the season pass, already knocking players back $24.99 – about £20 / AU$35. While it’s not out of place among today’s live service game monetization models, its pricing structure has soured the enjoyment of fans who praised its team-based gameplay.
In Evolve, players must coordinate class-specific abilities through fast-paced vertical battles, while surviving sporadic attacks from a monster disguised enemy. Meanwhile, this monster will gradually evolve into a more powerful version of itself, unlocking new abilities via a single match.
“It’s hard to point to anything in particular that would prevent Evolve from maintaining a long-term audience,” Rob says. “Sure, neither the way Evolve was pre-priced and sold helped, nor the DLC failure, but there were also design aspects that might have been difficult for larger audiences to understand in 2015.
“Evolve hunters, in particular, really had to play right as a team in order for the match to be fun. If everyone didn’t play their part well, the game would fall apart.”
While the number of Evolve players is declining again, the brief increase in popularity still stands out as an anomaly. In an industry dominated by live-service games that constantly re-engage players with seasonal updates, it’s unusual for a stagnant seven-year-old title to receive a surge of interest.
“In 2015 and 2016, it was hard to see Evolve fail to maintain a healthy community after very strong initial sales, so watching Evolve now get a bit of a payback story is pretty cool,” says Rob. “We are also pleased that players who have always loved the game get the chance to play again.”