The waves of evolution have carried us from amoeba to ape and beyond, the scything, derisive eye of natural selection casting aside the weak, allowing only the strongest and best adapted species to go forth on their journey, never certain, onwards through time. It’s broadly accepted that mankind has transcended this process; that we have (apparently), as a species, climbed out from the vicious arena of fang and bloodshed, becoming masters of the universe with all a slave beneath the crushing power of our intellect.
Modesty, it emerges, would have proved the best policy here.
After a very early hands on with a pre-alpha build of a new, upcoming title from Turtle Rock Studios, the devs behind the gut-wrenching, edge-of-seat-clenching co-op zombie survival shooter, Left 4 Dead, it’s becoming clear that perhaps humanity should lay aside its complacency over standing at the zenith of the food chain. There’s a new beast in town and it’s hungry. This is Evolve.
As first impressions go Evolve chewed up the senses and spat them out in a heap of shuddering, gore-soaked adrenaline. An innovative 4 vs 1 multiplayer framework sets a team of four hunters against a player controlled monster, and what ensues is a marathon session of cat and mouse set against a backdrop that blends lush jungle and swampland with hulking concrete edifices and monolithic steel constructs, lashing the skyline with a towering, corporate menace, but more importantly, a string of nifty vantage points that the budding hunter will happily exploit.
The hunters comprise the rather standard Assault, Support and Medic classes, their presence augmented by the more unusual Trapper class. These variously equipped and undoubtedly brave lunatics land via airdrop to tackle the monster, in the level we played called the Goliath. What’s incredibly impressive on Turtle Rock’s part is how finely tuned the balance is at this early stage. The necessity of each class makes itself hugely evident from the beginning, and each class has a wholly distinct role. In the build we got to toy with, playing the game mode ‘Hunt’ on the map Forest Ruins, the pivotal role of the Trapper became immediately apparent, the only class with the ability to limit the movement of the monster, which if left unhindered can gain incredible distance on the hunters in a short series of bafflingly enormous leaps. Containment is the only option.
For this purpose the Trapper, Griffin, is equipped with sound spikes to be placed around the map that will trigger itself on nearby monster activity. Having used these to locate the Goliath, the able Trapper will turn to the Mobile Arena, a rechargeable device that deploys a dome like structure, emerging a matter of seconds after activation as a rippling blue energy field. Care must be taken when using the Mobile Arena however as it comes with a hefty cooldown attached. Once it has been erected, assuming the monster is in the arena, the chase is up and the battle is on. Here, the Trapper must turn to his SMG to deal light damage and his Harpoon Gun to restrict the Goliath’s movement within the Mobile Arena. These head-on mano e mano confrontations are frantic and exhausting in an entirely more chaotic fashion than the initial chase.
The Assault, Markov, must combine his Lightning Gun, Assault Rifle and Arc Mines to inflict enormous damage on the Goliath’s armour and health whilst soaking up damage with his Personal Shield and being supported with additional damage from Hank the Support’s targeted Orbital Barrage air-strike attacks and shielded with his Shield Gun. No matter how proficient your squad, damage is an inevitability, and damage in bulk.
Val the Medic mitigates damage sustained, reviving and revitalising with her Salveron Medgun. Also equipped with a Tranquiliser Rifle, the Medic’s role overlaps with that of the Trapper as it is she who will be slowing the Goliath to allow the Trapper to deploy the Mobile Arena. The Medic’s arsenal is further expanded with the Anti-Material rifle which pierces the Goliath’s armour in areas, increasing the monster’s vulnerability to fire from other sources. When playing with friends it’ll clearly be a case of a chain only being as strong as its weakest link and I foresee some serious dressings down going on across voice chat. In all likelihood it’ll probably be the fate of the Medic to bear the brunt of such tirades, as is too often the case with class-based multiplayer games.
It may sound a bit of a headache but the interactions of the four classes in concert against the beast actually become intuitive with astound rapidity, each team member cycling through their role, and all bar the Assault stepping in to offer occasional supplementary bursts of damage where time allows. As it’s implemented, Evolve manages to attain the curious sensation of being a cooperative shooter on the face of it whilst channelling the spirit of camaraderie and comradeship seen in instance and raiding action on MMOs, and this sensation is something that has too long been absent from this genre.
The Goliath is a different breed entirely, with wildly differing mechanics to the awesome foursome aforementioned. On arrival in the bush, the monster is at a major disadvantage, vulnerable to damage from the Hunters with weak armour and health. He must blend with the undergrowth, find solace in the shadows, his path harried by the bloodthirsty hunters, tooled up head-to-toe with foul weapons and technologies designed purely to halt the monster’s evolution. By feeding on the wildlife whilst skulking around the map in the initial evolutionary phases, trying to avoid attracting attention by frightening flocks of birds, the monster may feed his progression, eventually advancing to its next stage, metamorphosing into an ever more abominable terror.
As the Goliath evolves, the divide between Hunter and Hunted becomes skewered with ambiguity and the balance of power shifts. No longer is the advantage weighted so definitely in one direction and as time passes, the sense of frenzy takes over. The monster’s skillset increases as it evolves and by its final evolution the Goliath has access to its entire range of rock throw, a devastating ranged attack when used accurately, a charge attack which wreaks havoc on all in the path of the monster, a leaping punch and a dragon like eruption of flame which torches all unfortunate enough to be engulfed its fiery cone. All these combined make for an awesome foe, and one that will take a well-coordinated effort from the Hunters to best.
The mayhem transpires in a lush environment, designed with an eye for verticality, peppered with cliffs, mountains and canyons which make for a thrilling hunt and an enthralling game experience, covered in great bounds as the monster or in short darting bursts as the hunters, equipped with their indispensible yet limited jetpacks. In hot pursuit, the keen hunter must be wary of his jetpack’s fuel levels, lest they find themselves hurtling down into the depths of the canyon that cuts through the map. I shan’t say too much, but be wary of what awaits at the bottom…
Undoubtedly one to watch, if all goes well with its production, Evolve should easily find a place on every gamer’s shelf. The version played was quite unstable, but that can be excused with such an early build. Turtle Rock Studios have lots of time to iron out the creases in what already looks and feels like a brilliant title. Details are yet to emerge concerning a single player experience, but merely on the strength of the one multiplayer level we were able to get to grips with it’s clear that there will be boundless hours of chaos to be revelled in here. The rich graphics are infused with a humorous caricature-esque feel, giving each class a distinct personality. It’ll be great to see how these personalities are woven into the fabric of the broader game. Having had all too brief a taste, it’ll be a long wait until Autumn when we’ll all get a chance to dive deep into the belly of this beast.
Developer: Turtle Rock Studios
Genre: 4 vs 1 Shooter
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Release: Autumn ‘14