Evolva is a third-person squad-based action shooter whose original design concept actually succeeds in adding to the overall quality of the game. Evolva's organic visuals are also rather impressive, though they put quite a demand on your system.
In the game, you command the Evolva, a team of genetically mutable "genohunters" on a mission to rid a planet on the edge of the galaxy of a world-eating parasite and its spawn. Your four genohunters are capable of mutating to incorporate genes unique to the aliens you encounter on your crusade, as they physically append new weapons and morph to reflect their added abilities. You actually control the development and balance of various genetic abilities in the mutation screen: Each time a genohunter mutates, you are presented with two genetic paths to choose from, each with benefits and shortcomings, until you accumulate more genes to achieve a net increase in power.
Evolva adds some slick visual touches to remind you of the genohunters' mutating abilities. Switching weapons actually causes the selected weapon to grow out of your genohunter's limbs. Different mutation paths superficially distinguish your characters over time; as they mutate, their color will change and various crests, spikes, and fins will grow on their bodies. Genohunters can earn up to five levels of proficiency in various weapons and special abilities, and the higher levels of the running and jumping abilities will make the character look noticeably leaner and more fit. However, such details don't mean Evolva is a virtual life game, because by and large, the superficial changes you'll see on your genohunters are just that. As such, it's unlikely that you'll make much use of the genohunter export feature, which theoretically lets you swap your mutations with your friends.
What the mutation concept means in terms of gameplay is that you must gib every dead enemy or indigenous creature and break down their dead bodies into meat (the game's term), which is an ethereal, starry stream that flows evenly into your genohunters' bodies. Going beyond the action-game convention of meat-as-health, the acquisition and accumulation of genes become a refreshingly physical indication of character building. The premise works pretty well: It gives a new twist to power-ups, as well as showcases the game engine's adaptability. Although, you might stop to wonder why a genetically advanced commando unit hasn't already found the right genes for super-speed, jumping, or projectile weapons.
The game's missions are satisfyingly straightforward and each has hordes of indigenous and alien creatures to dispatch. The missions provide a variety of clear objectives, and often you'll need to find specific new genes in the scenario to accomplish your goals. One problem with the mission structure is that each mission brings only one or two new creatures in, since the designers had to balance the progressive expansion of the gene pool. Though the 12 levels are quite large and interesting, they're also mostly linear, so it's helpful that there's an arrow on the heads-up display to indicate the general location of your next mission objective.
In addition, although some missions split up your genohunters so that they can accomplish separate objectives on their own, you'll play most of the game running point with the rest of the squad in tow. Evolva's squad artificial intelligence works surprisingly well for general navigation of the levels, and the "go here" command can be useful for convoying items that are great distances across a map. Fortunately, the squad artificial intelligence is rather effective at concentrating firepower during combat with small numbers of enemies. However, in larger battles, you'll notice that your genohunters don't strafe and skirmish as well as you'd like and don't often choose the right weapon for a situation. Group encounters are also complicated by the fact that most of your weapons can harm your other squad mates. These factors will make you wary of charging into battle, especially since health often seems scarcer than is warranted. What makes these issues less frustrating is that you only need to complete a mission with one genohunter still alive - the others are restored with all their abilities in the next mission.
The designers focused their attention on creating an organic, alien look for the game's levels. Many outdoors settings feature sweeping landscapes that include curving cliff faces, arching rock bridges, and occasional vegetation. The enemy creatures, like the clawed arachnids you'll see frequently in the early game, often seem inspired by sci-fi alien movies like Starship Troopers. But all those lushly detailed polygons and textures have their price, as it will take a top-of-the-line system to run Evolva at full detail in high resolution. Yet no matter what you're kind of system you're running, the small cameras displaying your other squad members' points of view are set to update at a leisurely pace of several times per second - that way, your main display's frame rate doesn't bog down unnecessarily.
Because the game's combat action is somewhat slower and less visceral than that of the current standard of first-person shooters, and since its squad micromanagement is sometimes frustrating, Evolva ends up being most impressive because of its rich, resource-intensive graphics. The mutation management system also works well with the gameplay, as it provides an original alternative to traditional power-ups.