Evolve came out last week to somewhat mixed reviews -- some have loved it, others have bagged on it, and still others are undecided. A big part of the problem has been 2K Games' decision to have a bunch of Day One DLC -- Downloadable Content -- mostly consisting of skins that they're asking you to buy separately. If this were a Free to Play (F2P) game, we could accept that, but with a $60 price tag it's adding insult to injury. We're not here to talk about the DLC fiasco, though; what we want to quickly discuss is how broken the game is in terms of performance. If the game worked properly, we'd be happy to provide some benchmarks in our usual charts, but the results right now are just all over the place.
Evolve - A Work in Progress
Update: Evolve has been patched and things seem to be settling down. We'll just chalk this one up to the "launch now, patch later" mentality that is so common with games these days. We'll return with full performance results for Evolve in the near future (as soon as I can find time....) In the meantime, you can see the original problem that existed and read about it below.
Evolve leverages CryEngine from Crytek (of Crysis fame) for its graphics and visual effects. Now, CryEngine has never been the most performant engine out there, but it can look quite stunning and we think that's what developers Turtle Rock were after. We've seen at least a few other games use CryEngine, including Crysis 3 and Lichdom: Battlemage, and so far the results have been pretty much what you'd expect: it scales well with faster GPUs, and SLI and CrossFire are also beneficial. With Evolve, there's apparently been enough mucking around in the internals of the engine that what we're used to seeing has somehow all gone out the window. Maximum frame rates can be very high, minimum frame rates seem to have some sort of frame rate targeting in effect, and the average FPS doesn't properly reflect the sheer amount of jitter that's currently present.
Let's start with some quick numbers, using a single GTX 970 from Zotac as a reference point. At 1920x1080 with Very High settings and SMAA TX1 anti-aliasing, the average FPS is 76.2 and the average of the third percentile (the bottom 3%) is 44.2 FPS. Moving to 1600x900 and High settings with FXAA, the average is 91.1 FPS and the third percentile is 45.1 FPS. Finally, at 1366x768 and Low with no anti-aliasing, the average is 101.3 FPS and the third percentile is 42.3 FPS. What you'll notice is that the average FPS has improved as quality and resolution has dropped, but the bottom 3% of frame rates remains relatively consistent at 42-45 FPS. That's not good at all, just looking at the numbers, and what you're not seeing is precisely why the minimum frame rates aren't improving but the average is. So let's look at some charts.
See the problem? Evolve seems to be enforcing a minimum frame rate of 40 (give or take) as best as it can, while maximum frame rates can end up at silly levels. In practice, at least for the time we've spent with the game, there's a noticeable fast/slow frame rate cadence happening. The game remains playable for the most part, but if you're sensitive to uneven frame pacing, it is painfully obvious with the current state of the game, at least on NVIDIA GPUs. We haven't had a chance to test AMD GPUs yet, but considering this is an NVIDIA The Way It's Meant To Be Played title, it would be truly damning if AMD provided a better experience. That's probably not the case, as AMD has had their fair share of issues in other recent releases, but we'll see.
The problems don't stop here, however. There are other problem in effect, e.g. on an NVIDIA Optimus 980M laptop, the game basically targets 32 FPS, give or take. We can't say whether the problem exists across all Optimus enabled laptops, but whatever is going on in the drivers and engine, that's definitely not a desirable result. At least it's a relatively smooth ~30 FPS with less jitter, though there are still a few odd spikes to 200+ FPS. Clearly something isn't working as intended, though we do hope the intention isn't to put a true frame rate cap into effect. The Crew showed how well that worked, which is to say that anyone with a display that can refresh at more than 60Hz is basically out of luck. When 288Hz LCDs start showing up in the coming years, does anyone think people will be happy with games that "guarantee" 30 or 45 FPS but can't get above 90 FPS?
So there you have it: our non-performance preview of Evolve, because performance at present is broken. Turtle Rock Studios and 2K Games need to fix this ASAP. And while they're at it, they should probably give anyone that bought this buggy initial release all of the current DLC for free. Except it's not free, because you already spent $60 freaking dollars on the game! Day One DLC is in poor taste at best, but when the core game isn't working properly it's particularly egregious. After the successes of the Left 4 Dead games, we had some high hopes for Evolve. Perhaps in six months it might actually deliver, but with 2K Games writing the checks instead of Valve, we may never get the full experience. Or at least, you won't get the full experience unless you go out and spend $120+ on the game.
Let's help 2K Games and Turtle Rock out a bit: there are better games with more content that cost less than $60. Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 come to mind.... Those games shipped in a state that was more playable than Evolve, and they've improved since then. If the company is mismanaged and hemorrhages money, it's not the customers' fault. But hey, at least all future maps will be free -- assuming anyone is around to play them. Also, stop doing stupid stuff with frame rates; optimize your code and draw frames as fast as possible, and allow users to adjust the quality settings as needed. The code that tries to keep frame rates above a certain threshold has the added effect of incurring a performance hit as well, so architecting the game to avoid problems is the proper way to do things.
So what should Evolve performance look like? How about similar to what we saw with Lichdom: Battlemage, or Crysis 3, or any number of other games? Here's an example of a normal frame rate chart, using a GTX 970 at 1080p High settings in Lichdom:
There's something fitting about the name of the game -- truth in advertising if you will. Evolve certainly needs to do just that if it's going to survive. Fix this 2K Games and Turtle Rock; fix this or watch people walk away and never come back. You've already shipped a half-baked product and you're trying to pass it off as fine cuisine, but reviewers and gamers know when something isn't done. The crust is still gooey in places, the sauce is runny, and the flavors are not up to par; no amount of talk will change that. Go back into the kitchen and make us a proper meal, please.