Sitting down to play Evolve brings to mind countless classic sci-fi films. With just a couple of tweaks, it could ever-so-easily feature dinosaurs under Jurassic Park branding, be a straight up Predator game or even have a decent crack of the whip at the Alien franchise.
Evolve’s early marketing campaign from 2K has focussed heavily on Turtle Rock’s work in creating Left 4 Dead, with the studio having reformed after a brief spell within Valve, and that style of gameplay is clear to see. But it’s actually the Versus mode, rather than the main co-operative gameplay that this has most in common with.
It’s 4v4 in L4D, but the dynamic has shifted with Evolve – set for release on PS4, XBO and PC later this year – to an asymmetrical 4v1, with four humans going up against a single, more powerful alien beast.
Humanity reaches out into space, looking to exploit the natural resources of alien worlds. But with new habitable worlds come alien flora and fauna, the humans in the game sent to the planet Shear to try and tame it. The foursome are a team of hunters, each with the same high mobility through jetpacks, but different specialities, equipped to take on the local wildlife.
This is an outfit designed to be self-sustaining and support each other while hunting with four classes covering all the bases, and some inevitable parallels to other class-based multiplayer games. The Assault class is all about getting stuck right into the thick of the action with a close-ranged lightning gun, the Support for choosing to use the shield projector and protect buddies or breaking out the heavy long-range weaponry and the Medic for healing people up with a different beam weapon and sniping from afar or creating weak spots.
It’s the Trapper who is the most unique new class for this game, given that the others are so common elsewhere. His job is to hunt the prey before restricting its movements for the others to do their job. He has the ability to find footprints and detect the noise of their prey, before bringing down a shield barrier Arena to contain it in an area and using a harpoon gun to further restrict its movement or a trusty submachinegun for pure damage.
Each has particular weaponry and further abilities, but rather than having unlocks and upgrades, the classes have different characters. Though we only saw one set of these, with Griffin the Trapper, Markov the Assault, Val the Medic and Hank the Support all featuring contrasting and stylised looks, a hopefully finely balanced set of diverse characters should further extend the possibilities and keep the game interesting.
Whatever the set up, they’ll have to work together to succeed, because despite being well equipped for the indigenous wildlife, they’ll struggle to fight the monsters that are just as alien to this world as they are.
Just as the humans have different classes and characters, there will be a selection of monsters, with the potential for variation much greater. The one I played with and against, the Goliath, seemed to be something of an all-round menace.
Large in size and able to take a lot of damage, it’s also highly mobile, playing from a third person view, able to leap around quickly and clamber around the world. But when it wants to, it can easily hide within the lush foliage of the dark jungle-like level, sneak without giving the trapper any footprints or sounds to follow and become the hunter, rather than the hunted.
In combat, it can be quite formidable, taking huge amounts of persistent damage while dealing blows that will send the hunters flying, though it took me a while to adjust to the controls. It needs to eat the local wildlife in order to level up and go through the evolutions that the game’s title suggests, hiding in a cocoon for a few moments, before bursting out, much bigger in size, more heavily armoured, able to deal more damage and with an additional ability. It makes the job of the human team all the more perilous.
Dropping into the level with a twenty second head start from the pursuing humans, you pick the first two abilities that you want, with the evolution to the second and third level unlocking the other two abilities.
The Goliath has a variety of attacks, like a long ranged leap, hurling chunks ripped from the ground or the ability to breathe fire, but what playing as the monster did was light up my mind with the other possible monsters. A chameleon or Predator-like monster might benefit from stealthier abilities but come with less health, and this would stand in contrast to a monster designed around ranged attacks.
Whatever the alien, the key will be to know when to fight and when to run. You might have much more health than your opponents, but after a single evolution you might find yourself outmatched and have to retreat. Quickly evolving again restores a bit of health and makes you even more powerful and formidable a foe.
This all takes place within a similarly clever world, rendered beautifully in CryEngine 3. While other biomes and environments are still under wraps, the dark jungle-like map is perhaps the perfect place to demonstrate this mixture of gameplay that is so reminiscent of those classic films.
The monster drops in, getting a brief head start over the human side to run off and try and quickly get to the first evolution. The mind games quickly come into play, with an environment that can very much alter the way a fight plays out.
Both the humans and monsters are foreign to the indigenous life forms, tramping into an alien ecosystem. Within that, there are the passive animals that are easy to kill, there are indicator birds to be wary of as they’ll give away the monster’s position, but then there are some larger animals which will retaliate against the monster or actively attack the humans – though killing them will reward you with a booster – and even carnivorous plants that will happily try to gobble up a human.
This large map holds plenty of variety, with a man-made industrial area, lots of height changes and areas to hide. With those potentially aggressive animals, there’s a lot of potential for picking your battles and getting an advantage on both sides.
It’s this battle of wits that makes it so engaging. Working together as a team to try and work out where the alien player is heading and how best to stop them, particularly close fights where the monster barely manages to pull off the victory or the brutal and crushing experience of playing against one of the developers as the monster and suffering a swift and surprising ambush that really utilised the environment, demonstrating the gulf in experience.
What’s fascinating is the fresh mixture of ideas at play. The class-based co-operative play blends so seamlessly with the competitive battle against the monster, within an environment that poses its own dangers and adds plenty of variables to how each fight can play out.
Like several other studios and games this year, Turtle Rock is taking inspirations from several places, borrowing ideas and elements from elsewhere and blending them all together into something fresh, exciting and new.
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