From a preservation standpoint, the modern shift to “always-online” video games has been a disaster. We’ve seen it repeatedly: A developer stops “supporting” an online game, and then the rug is pulled out from fans who might try to hack their way into playing the game among friends, leaving all access in tatters.
In the case of the four-on-one online shooter Evolve, however, the reverse has been true—and in a surprise twist, this 2K-published, Turtle Rock-developed game has been given more life this week than in the four years since its support was shut down.
Stage 2… part 2
Before I explain, I should clarify the worst news. This previously free-to-play game is now all but impossible to access if you didn’t previously own or claim it, and there’s no clear path to playing it due to the game’s delisting from online retailers in September 2018. Apparently, working download “keys” for the game’s free-to-play (F2P) version, which went live in 2016, may still be floating around.
When the game was delisted, 2K games clarified that it would continue supporting “Legacy Evolve,” an older version of the game with fewer available characters and options via a barebones peer-to-peer (P2P) matchmaking service built into the game. Between this support and custom lobby options, fans of the original on both PC and console could keep on playing a game that Ars Technica didn’t like so much when it launched in 2015.
That tenuous peace was broken earlier this year when 2K pulled the plug on the game’s P2P server infrastructure without any formal announcement of a shutdown timeline (as opposed to the months-in-advance notices we tend to see, such as a massive game-delisting notice issued by Ubisoft last month). Evolve‘s remaining dedicated fanbase didn’t appear to stage any noticeable backlash campaign, which meant that Legacy Evolve‘s month of downtime, and follow-up fix by 2K to the servers in question, came and went with little fanfare.
Weeks later, however, fans noticed something: The game’s final official version, better known as Evolve Stage 2, seemed to be working again on PC. Perhaps its switch had been flipped as far back as June 8; 2K Games never made an announcement about the Legacy Evolve server being turned back on, and the game’s official support page has been dormant for nearly four years. (Reps from 2K Games did not immediately respond to Ars Technica’s requests for comment.) Either way, Evolve Stage 2‘s built-in P2P matchmaking system on PC is once again operational—and even supports some, but not all, of the “progression” systems that had been added when the game received its F2P patch in 2016. (One of the more amusing responses to the news came from a former Evolve dev, who chimed in on a Reddit thread about the update: “Omg, I am so stoked. Downloading it now.”)
Reach a new monster-hunting accord via Discord
All in-game purchases have been shut down, and the game’s prompts about official 2K servers must be bypassed or ignored to access a barebones “arcade” matchmaking queue. Still, Ars Technica re-downloaded the 60GB game on Windows PC and confirmed that its unique “one monster versus four hunters” online combat is fully functional.
In the years since the game’s shutdown, I would argue that its concept and execution have benefited from more Western exposure to an obvious comparison: Capcom’s Monster Hunter series. When Evolve originally launched, it struggled on a public-perception level, with players trying to pick each match’s sole, overpowered monster, instead of relishing the strategic fun that the weaker hunters had access to. That description happens to match Monster Hunter‘s fun, and that series’ hugely successful Nintendo Switch version opened more American eyes to the genre’s possibilities. It’s not hard to get through a few battles in Monster Hunter Rise and then ask your favorite co-op group, “What if we could play this game, but with a human handling the oversized monster?”
Admittedly, Evolve Stage 2 has lingering issues that could have been polished by another round of content updates and bug fixes. It’s unlikely that the original devs at Turtle Rock Studios, who moved on to Back 4 Blood, and the publishing team at 2K Games might ever reconnect to update Evolve, so it’ll probably forever be left as an arguably unfinished execution of its original promise. But as a preserved piece of unique online co-op gaming history, Evolve Stage 2 remains an easily recommended curio for anyone who didn’t miss their shot in 2018 to claim a copy—and has warmed up to its potential thanks to Capcom’s success in the genre.
For information on how to get either Legacy Evolve or Evolve Stage 2 working—and workarounds for both versions to work in the event of 2K’s servers changing in the future—your best bet is to read the community’s posts, FAQs, and updates at Evolve‘s biggest existing Discord community.