It’s the distant future, and a giant peach pit has crash-landed onto the surface of a faraway planet. From the pit a tentacled creature spawns, infecting the planet with bad-attitude arachnids. Your job, as leader of a team of four “genohunters,” is to save the planet’s ecosystem.

13_1Evolva gets its name from your team’s ability to absorb the gibs of the exploded dead, and use the genetic material to mutate. Kill any creature, whether hostile or benign, and, a bit like in Sacrifice’s soul absorption ability, when your team members walk near the chunks they will consume them. If the dead creature possesses some attribute (such as speed, flame breath, or the ability to belch critters) that your team does not yet possess, you can opt to mutate your team members so that they will possess it. This provides a fresh and unusual means of character development.

The levels are designed in such a way that one must mutate in order to progress. Certain barriers, for example, will only fall to an explosive spore attack, so at least one of your team members will need to evolve that weapon. Pointed stick traps are passable only by team members that have evolved stealth. The correlation between puzzles and new genes in nearby meat is a strong one.

When a new genetic attribute becomes available, a visual signal will indicate such. The mutation screen is well designed and easy to read, though the same cannot be said for how the mutations are concocted. If a new skill becomes available, you can be sure that the first chunk of evolvable meat will provide you with two choices: you can either add the new skill to your genohunter, or pump up your genohunter’s existing skills while ignoring the new one. Subsequent mutations will consist of tiny alterations in existing skills, some positive and some negative, which allow you to slowly fine-tune your genohunters to your liking.

The practical difference between mutating in Evolva and picking weapons off dead guys in other first person shooters seems slim at times. The game will truly appeal to the tinkering types more than to the straight shooter. Fortunately, each skill and weapon is mutatable up to the fifth level, and despite this strange bit of evolutionary dead-ending, this feature helps distance Evolva from the traditional action game.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a straight line in Evolva’s world. The great majority of polygons are devoted to creating the smooth, rounded surfaces of the terrain and the detailed curves of your genohunters and their enemies. On the bright side, obstacles do not befuddle enemies too often. They manage to leap across gaps, navigate plant life and rock outcroppings, and avoid most friendly fire.

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Fortunately, the adequate AI of your fellow genohunters is punctuated only rarely by bouts of idiocy. The genohunters not directly under your control occasionally get stuck, requiring a bit of babysitting. Computer controlled genohunters have trouble with slippery surfaces, and no ability to time their way through explosive traps. For the most part, however, they navigate and fight with skill, rarely falling to their deaths in lava or selecting a weapon that causes area damage to their comrades. You can summon one from a great distance away, and expect it to make the journey to your side safely.

3_1While the terrain engine eschews the linear, the game’s puzzles do not. Nine-tenths of your time is spent moving ahead and wiping the board clean of your enemies, and the other one-tenth is spent circling the level in search of that blasted tunnel you need to go down. The game provides a sort of radar screen, with a pointer that indicates the direction you must head in order to arrive at your next objective. While this pointer is often very helpful, it occasionally points in a direction you cannot go due to an obstacle you must overcome—and the solution to your problem lies elsewhere. The puzzles are less often an intellectual challenge as much as a logistical one.

With a more sophisticated AI and more opportunities for tactical teamwork, Evolva would be a big hit. Its environments, weapons, and animations are all solid, but it needs more of a hook to draw you in.

System Requirements: Pentium II 400 MHz, 128 MB RAM, Win95

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