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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Interplay

Ups: Beautiful graphics, intelligent missions, excellent AI, lots of action.

Downs: Not much of a story, lousy multiplayer support.

System Reqs: P233, 64MB RAM, 4MB Voodoo 1; Recommended: PIII 500, 64 MB RAM, TNT II Ultra

Given that the Human Genome Project is nearing completion and that we’re already cloning sheep and video games, I suppose it was only a matter of time until someone created a game about the joys of genetic splicing. Welcome to Evolva, a graphically superb 3rd person shooter in which you control a squad of four genohunters whose mission is to scour a planet of the alien parasites that are sucking it dry. As the game progresses, your genohunters improve their own skills and gain new abilities by assimilating the DNA of alien and indigenous life forms, and it’s up to you to choose the mutant path they take. Much like your mutants, the game itself is an intriguing hybrid; it’s part FPS, part strategy, part puzzle, part RPG—and all these parts add up to one very good game. 

The first thing you’ll notice about Evolva is the graphics—they’re astonishing, from the reflective skins on your genohunters to the atmospheric environments. Of course, you’ll need a hella machine to revel in all of Evolva’s graphic glory. The game was clearly made with high end machines in mind—it’s even optimized for the GeForce card, and it’s the first game I’ve seen that actually recommends a PIII 500 and a TNT II Ultra. And that’s no fooling. With my PIII 450, 128 MB of RAM, and an TNT II Ultra, I still had to tone down some of the graphics to get an acceptable frame rate.  

You begin the game with four types of genohunter, each named according to its most distinctive ability—agile, speed, heavy, and intel. Though you can control only one of these at a time, you can switch between them at any time and even give limited attack and movement commands to the other genohunters. Controls are very simple to use—you can switch back and forth between your characters and weapons easily, and the game uses the familiar old WASD Quake setup for movement. It’s a snap to group and ungroup your genohunters, and the game’s camera is usually excellent--the only time camera angles get a little problematic is when you get caught in a corner, and switching to first person view can alleviate even that.

Generally, the game’s twelve missions are very good; they take a bit of thought to figure out, and are played out in spacious and colorful environments—this is definitely not a corridor shooter. The environments can be quite deadly, too—many of the planet’s indigenous plants either shoot at or blow up on you, and slippery surfaces can cause harsh damage from falls, so tread lightly. Most missions will tax your brain just enough to be enjoyable--you’ll have to figure out how to use your weapons and genohunters most effectively, what skills to build, and when to leave units behind to guard critical areas. Though some of the missions’ objectives can be vague and confusing, you can generally figure them out after a while, often with the help of the game’s extremely useful mini-map with its lifesaver objective pointer.  Though there are only 12 missions, they’re pretty tough, and it’ll take you a while to play through them. In fact, there’s a lot of save-and-reload involved in Evolva, so it helps that you can save anywhere. You’ll do that a lot, especially since there’s never enough health around. 

But the most interesting and original thing about Evolva is the ability to mutate your genohunters. Once you’ve killed and ingested an alien or indigenous life form, you can incorporate its abilities into your own gene pool. So if you kill a crablike alien, you will be able give your genohunters claws. If you kill one that shoots exploding pods, you can give your hunters mortar-like appendages. Such mutations result in pretty cool changes to your genohunter’s appearance—arms turn into weapons, spikes sprout from backs, firebreathing organs grow from necks and mouths. Most of the parasite’s guardians provide weapons, and most of the indigenous life forms provide less martial abilities—things like jumping, speed, and armor. The game’s weapons are pretty sharp, from simple-but-deadly close combat claws to the awesome disrupter gun to sticky, fiery, snot. No kidding, snot.

Though you can mutate your genohunters at any time, you’ll usually want to do so after you absorb a life form with a new ability. At that time you can switch to the mutator screen, which offers two possible ways to mutate, each of which usually involves a little bit of trade off. You may, for instance, choose to buff up your fire-breathing skills—but this may result in a corresponding decrease in your jumping or claw attack abilities. Generally, though, the choice you’re given is to either make your genohunter very specialized—you could, for instance make your heavy a close combat monster by sacrificing its speed and projectile abilities—or you can make your genohunters well-balanced fighting machines. Both paths have their strengths and weaknesses, but the freedom to configure your units in various ways really adds to the game’s replayability. Since you can play with entirely different genohunters each time, no game is ever quite the same.  

Evolva’s artificial intelligence really shines. Though you can only control one genohunter at a time, the others embarrass themselves surprisingly seldom. If you leave one to guard a doorway, it usually will, and genohunters do a good job of choosing the right weapon for the right threat. You can usually turn them loose to attack and trust they’ll not kill themselves or you, and they generally watch their health and the odds. The only chronic AI problem I noticed was with friendly fire. Your fire will affect your teammates, and sometimes overzealous genohunters will dart into your line of fire before you have time to react.

For all of the friendly AI’s virtues, enemy AI is another matter altogether. Parasite guardians are not the most intelligent of creatures. Though projectile-armed enemies will usually attempt to stand off, most of them will just run right at you. Thus for all the thought it takes to solve some of the game’s missions, much of the actual combat comes down to backing up while firing and using the good old circle strafe. 

Evolva is mostly excellent, but it does have some problems. The biggest letdown is that there’s no compelling story here. The genohunters don’t have much personality, and the missions are challenging but tied together by only the slightest of narratives. It’s a deadly combination—people you don’t really care about doing stuff for no particular reason. And there’s a deep irony in the game as well. Even though you’re supposedly saving a planet from being stripped of life by alien parasites, that’s actually what you do. The most successful player is the one who kills all the aliens and indigenous life forms and incorporates their genes into his or her own gene pool. It’s kind of like being a Borg, and that’s a little weird. Another weakness is multiplayer. As of this writing, you can only play over HEAT.  That’s just  unacceptable.

But overall this is a beautiful, intelligent, and fun game. Though it may be frustrating at times, and even though the story is woefully underdeveloped, Evolva’s strengths—an original premise, excellent AI, thought-provoking missions, and stunning graphics—more than carry the day.  If you’re looking for a different kind of action game, this one’s for you. 

--Rick Fehrenbacher