Last week saw the release of Evolve: Hunters Quest on iOS and Android. This seems to have become de rigueur now for major releases. The last one I actually used – the Watch Dogs companion app – actually wasn’t bad. Technical issues kind of killed it for me, with excessive wait times, crashes, and gameplay wonking out on occasion all rearing their ugly heads, but the underlying experience – once you could actually do it unimpeded – was actually quite fun. Oh, and there were no in-app purchases, either; everything you unlocked you unlocked by actually playing the game.
Unfortunately, Hunters Quest is not fun, but it does a great job of masquerading as fun for the first half an hour or so. At first glance it’s a simple match three game, where you have a grid of various tokens each representing one of your hunter types, and must match three (or more) to attack enemies, build energy, and fuel your special moves. You can unlock badges, and even help your hunters’ progress in the main game. Good, right? And for a while it was.
The problem comes a little while in, when the game starts to artificially elongate various monster battles, making you use more and more of your resources to heal or even resurrect downed hunters. There are two main resource types: one earned through gameplay, one bought with real money. I tried to stick to just using my in-game currency when I absolutely needed to, but quickly had to start tapping into the real currency one (of which you are given a small stipend at first launch). And then when both of them were exhausted, and I was busy getting my rear end handed to me in stage 4 of a 7-stage battle? The fights became, not impossible, but extremely difficult. I then realised it was time for me to see other apps, before hitting the uninstall button.
The annoying thing, as has been the same annoying thing with all the notoriety surrounding Evolve these past few weeks, is this: the game itself is pretty solid and fun. Everything swirling around it is much less so. Turtle Rock have made a good game – if my weekend of testing was any indication whatsoever. I like sci-fi-themed games (as you may have noticed), and Turtle Rock have a good pedigree with Left 4 Dead, a solid game that was well-received. The silliness over the myriad versions that 2K have decided to make, and now this companion app which may as well say at the top of the screen “Please give us your money. No, your pre-order money doesn’t count” is just one misstep after another.
I was somewhat surprised that I enjoyed the closed beta test of Evolve as much as I did. I enjoyed Left 4 Dead, but it didn’t change my life or anything like that. Evolve looked like it would be an interesting distraction, but nothing more. Instead I was presented with a slick, polished game that let me play with friends, and really had some excellent tactical and strategic elements to it. Now, is the Season Pass (with four new hunters!) worth $25? Is the Monster Expansion Pack DLC that they are offering for free with pre-orders actually going to be worth the $15 they intend to charge for it post-release? I don’t know the answers to these questions yet, but the fact that the game is already asking them, and was seemingly built from the ground up as a content delivery system for DLC (by the developers’ own admission) gives me significant pause.
You need only look to EA from a couple of years ago to see where exactly jumping down this rabbit hole takes you, and – spoiler alert – it isn’t a good place. The irony is that EA are slowly digging themselves out from the “Project Ten Dollar” hole they dug themselves into, simultaneously as publishers like Ubisoft and 2K are trying to emulate their race to the bottom.
It is extremely aggravating to see good games get crapped over by publishers who wish to create an intimate relationship between themselves and your wallet.
EA, Ubisoft, 2K, Blizzard, et al, all you have to do is this: make good games. Do this and you know what? People will buy them! Learn what the indie gaming sector learned a long time ago, which is, quite literally, “if you build it, they will come”. I don’t need nonsense like free DLC offers, season passes, or dates with Scarlett Johansson in order to make your game more appealing (but hey, if ScarJo isn’t busy…).
Make a good, solid, enjoyable game, and people will buy it. Is that really too much to ask for?