GAME NAME: Evolve
DEVELOPER(S): Turtle Rock
PLATFORM(S): PC, PS4, Xbox One
RELEASE DATE(S): Spring 2014
Very little had been revealed about Evolve prior to my hands-on with the game in Sydney's Australia Museum last week, so I sat down to play it with zero expectations.
I knew the game was developed by the Turtle Rock, who'd worked on Counter Strike: Source and had created Left 4 Dead, but other than that my knowledge was limited to the fact that Evolve was a multiplayer shooter. After a brief tour of the museum's current Tyrannosaurus-Rex exhibition -- which was to prime me to consider the role of evolution between hunter and prey -- I got my hands on Evolve. I'm not, nor have I ever been, one for multiplayer games, but I can honestly say that Evolve has me very excited indeed. This is a game that has the potential to consume your life.
The premise is simple. Four human hunters must work together to take down a massive monster. The kicker is that instead of an AI, the monster is controlled by a fifth human player. I know from initial impressions it sounds as though Evolve would be horrendously unbalanced, but it's just not the case. In the four hours I played, every win and every loss felt deserved. Whether I was the monster or a hunter, I never felt cheated. Balance is something the team at Turtle Rock have worked incredibly hard on as Community Manager Josh Olin told me. "It's that Turtle Rock 'X factor'. We've been working on the game now for three years and it took that long to get the balance right. It is balanced at any stage."
What helps to separate the game from Left 4 Dead and add to that level of balance are its four distinct human hunter classes. Players are able to choose from the Medic, the Support, the Assault and the Trapper. Each class has four skills and weapons which play a very specific role in either supporting the other hunters or taking the monster down. The Medic carries a Med-Gun (not unlike in Team Fortress 2) which can be used to heal other hunters when aimed at them. She also has a burst heal skill, a sniper rifle which breaks open the monster's armour to allow the other hunters to do more damage and a tranquiliser gun that slows the monster down while making it visible through the level's geometry.
The Support class carries a laser cutter which deals some hefty damage to the monster, but the clue to success with the Support class is in the name. His secondary weapon operates like the Medic's Med-Gun, but rather than heal another hunter this weapon -- the Shield Gun -- extends a force field over whichever hunter is being targeted. Also in the Support's bag of tricks in a cloaking device and, best of all, an Orbital Strike which rains down hellfire on the monster from the heavens. Even having just described two of the classes, the value of cooperation becomes clear, as Olin says, "If Support's doing a perfect job he's shielding the Medic while the Medic is healing the other people. But in the chaos anything can happen."
If any of the hunters embodies the chaos that Olin is describing, it's the Assault clas. He carries two big weapons, the medium-to-long range assault rifle and the devastating short range lightning gun, a personal shield to escape from close calls (which will happen frequently) and a stash of land mines. The Assault is the most standard of all the classes, but he's also one of the most important. If you're the kind of player who just likes to get in and kill things you'll love Assault. There aren't many tactics required and your success will always be based on the efficiency of your support characters. Though it's undeniably cool to go head to head with a towering beast and bring it down with your trusty lightning gun.
Finally, rounding out the hunters is the Trapper. The Trapper arguably has the most important role to perform. Playing as the Trapper means it's up to you to locate the monster so your team can take it out. To assist in locating the beast, the Trapper comes equipped with a stack of sound spikes. These are devices which when planted in the ground will place a waypoint on the HUD if the monster passes by them. Setting them up in the right areas and with the right spacing means the monster almost has nowhere to hide. Once the monster has been located the Trapper's mobile arena comes in to play. Deploying the device lowers a dome shaped force field over a small area of the level trapping the monster and hunters within. This is a catch-22. The monster can no longer escape the hunters, but the hunters are now forced to fight the monster with no way to flee until the mobile arena dissipates. Evolve is always balanced on a knife edge and that's a huge part of what makes it so compelling.
Rounding out the Trapper's arsenal is a harpoon gun (handy for holding the monster in place for a short time) and an assault rifle that deals moderate damage. Having spent time playing as each hunter class I personally prefer the Support, but there really is a role for any gamer. What's best is that the classes really play to the strengths of that particular play style, so it's unlikely that the Medic will try and take the monster down solo or that the Assault will hang back and sneak in for a cheap kill. Evolve doesn't work that way and after players have spent a couple of minutes with it they'll understand their role and relish in fulfilling it.
Each hunter also carries a handy jetpack on their back which lets them boost up to higher ground and perform a dodge maneuver in any direction by double tapping the jetpack button. Dodging becomes second nature in avoiding the monster's attacks as well as chasing it down. Jetpacks only have a limited use before requiring a cool down, so sparing use is recommended. The monster never fatigues and in order to keep him in your sights, clever use of the jetpack is required.
On the other side of the Evolve coin is the monster... and what a beast he is. In my preview session I was only shown the Goliath, but Turtle Rock promises he is just one of many monsters that will appear in the final game. Goliath truly lives up to his name and is even more an embodiment of Evolve's chaos than the Assault class. Given a 10 second head start on the hunters the monster needs to flee and feed in order to level up. The level is filled with fauna, some friendly, some not so friendly and by killing and consuming it the monster is able to restore his armour as well as gain evolution points. The larger the animal, the more points gained. Once the gauge is full the monster is able to enter his cocoon and level up. There are four special moves for Goliath, fire breating, leap attack, charge and rock throw with only two selectable at the beginning of the round at level 1. With each evolution Goliath gains a new ability and if level 3 is reached all four skills will be unlocked. A full functional level 3 Goliath is either a thing of beauty or abject terror, depending which team you're on.
Upon reaching level 3, Goliath is given an objective and the game dramatically shifts. Until this point the hunters have been frantically hunting the monster trying to prevent these evolutions. Now, it's too late. Tasked with destroying a nearby generator and thereby removing the shields protecting some tasty human morsels, all the hunters can do is make a last stand. The hunters have become the hunted. While Goliath never feels too weak, he's certainly vulnerable in the beginning. At level 3 he's almost invincible. I say almost, because in Evolve it's always anybody's game.
If you love playing solo and co-op is not for you, then you'll love playing as the monster. Nothing is as satisfying as taking down four other human players all by yourself and knowing that you accomplished it by simply outplaying them.
Evolve -- much like Left 4 Dead before it -- shakes up the established order when it comes to multiplayer shooters. The line between cooperative and competitive is blurred and something new emerges from the primordial ooze. It's very clearly a multiplayer game on one hand, yet on the other it's a diabolical single player experience. In my play time I was only exposed to one game mode, four hunters and one monster, but Turtle Rock are promising the full game will ship with multiple modes, hunters and monsters.
It must be noted that while the core Evolve experience is sublime, whether it can translate to a full release and attract a large enough community to sustain itself remains to be seen. I was told it will include a single player story mode on release, but after seeing how well it works in multiplayer I'm skeptical as to whether the game would be fun solo. On the other hand, it seems that Evolve will only truly shine if you have a team of four working together. Playing with three mates and some random is likely going to be a very frustrating experience. If you can get a team together though you're going to have an incredible time. Every round is different and features so many "moments" that your PS4 and Xbox One GameDVRs are going to be heavily overworked. Evolve is the kind of game that gives you a new story to tell every time you play and I can't wait to share them.
Evolve will be available for PC, PS4 and Xbox One in Spring 2014.