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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Evolve Stage 2 servers are working again and nobody knows why

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Something strange is going on with Evolve Stage 2, 2K Games’ long-dead free-to-play 4v1 FPS. Four years after the servers were taken offline, which effectively killed the game, they appear to have returned—sort of, anyway.

Left 4 Dead and Back 4 Blood developer Turtle Rock Studios originally released Evolve in early 2015, and unfortunately it did not go well. We enjoyed our time with it, but it failed to catch fire with players, and a little over a year later it went free to play as Evolve Stage 2. We enjoyed that iteration too, but it didn’t fare any better, and 2K pulled the plug in June 2018. Peer-to-peer functionality remained for Legacy Evolve—2K’s name for the original game after it released the free-to-play version—but Evolve Stage 2, which relied on dedicated servers, was completely shut down. The only thing left for players following the end of server support was battling bots in training mode.

And so it remained until June of this year, when a relay server that handles Legacy Evolve’s matchmaking went down, leaving the small but dedicated community on the Evolve Reunited 2.0 Discord unable to play together. They complained, 2K fixed the problem, and peer-to-peer functionality in Evolve was returned. But unexpectedly—and without explanation—Evolve Stage 2 started working again, too.

“The servers are in fact back on for Stage 2,” Discord administrator Pinocchioh told me. “I have played it myself with multiple of my server members. This has not been possible since 2018.

“It’s not fully back in terms of [in-game] store or ranked matchmaking, but we are able to search and host games once again.”

Being thorough professionals ourselves, both executive editor Tyler Wilde and I fired up Evolve Stage 2 on Steam in separate sessions, and sure enough, it is working. It’s a little bit clunky—we had to bypass messages warning that the My2K service and ranked matchmaking aren’t available—but after that, we were both able to take part in matchmade games with other players against an AI-controlled monster. The Evolve Stage 2 Arcade mode seems to be working too.

The return of Evolve Stage 2 came with no announcement at all from 2K Games, and the game itself remains unlisted on Steam: It’s still there if you have a direct link, but it’s hidden from searches so nobody’s going to accidentally stumble across it and start playing. But the real mystery is that 2K says it hasn’t actually changed anything at all: A rep confirmed that the original Evolve relay server, which enables players to find each other for peer-to-peer play, went down and was fixed, but said the dedicated servers that Stage 2 relies on—and that were switched off in 2018—were not touched, remain offline, and are definitely not coming back.

So what’s actually happening here? Nobody seems to know. Some in the Evolve Discord theorize, maybe not entirely seriously, that a bored 2K engineer went rogue and flipped a switch in a server room somewhere without telling anyone. We wondered, after confirming that Evolve Stage 2 really works, if maybe the servers have actually been there all along, but nobody noticed until the Discord started talking about it. 

It may also be possible that Evolve Stage 2 is somehow piggybacking on Legacy Evolve’s relay server. Evolve Stage 2 on Steam includes a beta branch called “legacyevolve – The Original Evolve Product.” It’s completely separate and visibly different, but the local profile settings I’d made in Evolve Stage 2 carried over into Legacy Evolve after I installed it and started a match. I have no idea if Stage 2 could also pull and make use of Evolve Legacy’s relay server data, but it doesn’t seem entirely out of the question. 

Whatever’s going on, the Evolve Discord community is looking to make the most of it. “In light of recent events, now is the best time for us to try and capitalize on our hope of getting Evolve re-listed back onto the Steam store,” the group said in an announcement posted earlier this week. “They listened to you about Legacy Evolve’s peer to peer function being down, and they even brought Stage 2 back online. Whether on purpose, or by some freak accident, they have to have noticed all of this by now.”

It seems like a very long shot, but while the raw numbers are still very small, Evolve Stage 2 is seeing an unprecedented uptick of players: After literally years of being stuck in the double-digits (presumably long-suffering fans trying to scratch their itch by playing around with bots in the training mode), the peak concurrent player count surged to 1,192 earlier this week.

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