Review: Evolution: Battle for Utopia

By Sean Clancy 09 Apr 2014 0
Are those healing grenades? Those look like healing grenades. Healing grenades *is* a damn promising start. How exactly does the "healing grenade" work? A gaming mystery.

When we talk about currency, we're really talking about time. People spend time doing things. If you spend time engaged in “work,” you're allowed to exchange a few semi-abstract timeness units in for slips of paper, or coins, which you can in turn spend to take up someone else's time—say, having your oil changed, or getting a turducken cooked properly. Not everyone agrees this is the best arrangement, but many do, and at worst you could say this system has always pretty much worked for those latter people. Evolution: Battle for Utopia must be on the bleeding edge of capitalism then (as its name would suggest), seeing as it has at least four or five different kinds of scrip.

There's a green battery-looking thing, a red rock thing, and an odd DVD-looking thing which makes a 1990's dial-up tone whenever you pick it up—super great, that. Battle for Utopia wants to treat these currencies more like resources, in keeping with its near-RTS (also near-shooter) aspirations, muddling the line somewhat between a “resource”—something with value in and of itself, like oil or food or a satisfying game mechanic—and a currency which, again, is really just your time. In fact its main resource as a digital entertainment product is in blurring the notion between something earned, within the game's economy, and something spent, outside of it.

It's like this: you're a real generic space marine. You and your team have been sent by the Earth government to investigate a utopian colony planet gone off the grid. (It's called Utopia.) Soon enough you get a base going, with the requisite research building, turret-defenses, manufacturing plant, and training ground for allied forces—“allied forces,” from the start, being your robot dog pal who'll help you shoot Bad Guys. Combat is, naturally, your main avenue when it comes to collecting the scant “resources” necessary to pay for all this stuff, and for all the stuff this stuff makes, as well as for all the other odd bits of stuff (ammunition, health packs, grenades) you need to pay in order to even do combat stuff. It's an Ouroboros of stuffs and thingys.

To companies who want to keep things secret: don't call *anything* "Kronos." Not your missile project, not your cloning project, not your waterproof timepiece project. Nothing. To companies who want to keep things secret: don't call *anything* "Kronos." Not your missile project, not your cloning project, not your waterproof timepiece project. Nothing.

So I'm being harsh. In truth the combat in Battle for Utopia is (shockingly) competent. There's an auto-firing mechanic, admittedly, with your meatloaf-faced avatar constantly popping off shots at the spiders and disaffected rebels which populate the planet—whether you'd like him to or not. Normally this comes off as a cynical—or downright sinister—vice of free-to-plays, a way to force the player headlong through the IAP grinder and make sure the speed of play outpaces the in-game generation of currency that's necessary to continue. And that's the case here, too.

But Battle for Utopia doesn't leave you completely bereft of game to play. Battles are static in the sense that you don't move around at all--it's strictly stand-your-ground. However, you can swipe down to activate a projectile-dampening shield, which you'll need to do in order to survive when ranged enemies dial in on your position. Foes can also chuck grenades you'll want to magically pluck out of the air by tapping on them. Additionally, certain enemies can leave themselves open to bonus damage at times, as indicated by a silly idling animation and a giant orange cross-hair appearing over their body.

It's simple, arcade-like, but not blatantly slapdash. There's an enjoyable rhythm to hopping in and out of cover, reading enemies' moves as they telegraph them (hard), and letting loose when one exposes itself to attack. Foes—at least the human ones—have personal shields as well, which further relaxes the tempo of some fights. However, with a scoped weapon (and the charging of said weapon's “aimed shot” meter) you can enter a sniper's eye sort of mini-game and fire a single shot which ignores all defenses, either killing or heavily damaging an enemy and knocking it out of cover. Not sleek exactly, but not completely pointless and passive, either. (Though, the rote inclusion of some sort of PvP multiplayer does stretch the limits of what you can do with this set-up. I mean, there's not enough to do where the introduction of a meatspace brain, with all its skills, would really shake the proceedings up.)

Apparently, some of the writing here was outsourced to the 1780s. Apparently, some of the writing here was outsourced to the 1780s.

There's a sloppily ambitious hodge-podge of mini-games and distractions all over Battle for Utopia, actually, though the game never really buckles down and commits when it comes to a particular element. While exploring potential sites for terraforming (which is apparently what you're meant to be doing, other than killing wildlife and Soldier of Fortune subscription holders), you can come across hack points which grant a small clutch of resources. The neat bit is that hacking can take the form of a quick number memorization game, or a connect the dots puzzle where you need to draw pipes between like-colored discs without blocking off your other connections. Factoids about the planet and its population are unlocked via a jigsaw mini-game where you need to complete a fractured picture of, say, a guy with a gun, or, you know, some other guy with a gun. Suffice it to say the challenge of these puzzles far outweighs the dubious reward of studying up on Evolution: Battle for Utopia lore.

Still, you might almost call the game clever if it weren't for the fact that nearly all of the above pieces—the base management, combat, mini-games—are each, individually, shackled to yet another shameless IAP scheme. The time it takes to produce buildings and items back at base shoots up rather suddenly, from a handful of seconds to fifteen-plus minutes—but, don't worry, you can pay to make that go away. Battle for Utopia auto-spends your health packs for you, of course, and of course you need to buy (or make—hah) ammo for the best weapons, and of course those weapons are the only weapons eligible for the special “adrenaline burst” attacks you all but need to survive when an enemy charges—but, don't worry, you can pay to smooth out any wrinkles. Oh, and you have to spend the AOL disc resource every time you attempt a hack, of course (though there doesn't appear to be an in-app purchase to make that damn dial-up disappear.)

To be fair, any electrician worth his voltmeter won't work without a killer "Buzz Ballads" mix CD. To be fair, any electrician worth his voltmeter won't work without a killer "Buzz Ballads" mix CD.

Evolution: Battle for Utopia could have been a piece of ripe, enjoyable schlock on its own, but damn if it doesn't just love to constantly remind you how much currency you could be spending on it and, when not doing that, to remind you how much time you're wasting by not spending currency on it. Money in exchange for your minutes and hours back, or minutes and hours in exchange for fleeting moments of play followed, in turn, by more countdown clocks and cunningly crafted disbursements of too-few resources and too-plentiful paywalls. In other words: this is a game which doesn't value your time all that highly.

Evolution: Battle for Utopia was played on a 3rd-gen iPad for this review.

Review: Evolution: Battle for Utopia

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