Multiplayer shooters quickly lose their appeal for me. It can sure be enjoyable to pop in and blast a few folks for a while, but I don’t usually invest lots of time to progress past the first few matches. Evolve is a competitive multiplayer shooter, too, but it’s a different beast. As you may remember from Justin Clouse’s time with the game earlier this year, you can play as a one of four hunters teaming up to take down a big monster. The catch, of course, is that a human player also controls the monster who is trying to kill all the hunters or evade their attacks. When it came time to get my hands on Evolve at the pre-E3 event last week, I immediately volunteered to play the big bad guy, and I’m glad I did.
In the first match we played, I controlled Goliath – a hulking, fire-breathing behemoth. At the start, you can invest three skill points into four possible upgrades. Some are passive, like Goliath’s damage-reducing armor, while others unlock abilities such as a charge attack, a fire breath, or tossing a huge boulder around. I went with a bit of a specialized build: two points in fire and one in charge. The fire breath is a great ability for my play style because I’m shit at aiming. Having a strong area-attack available from the get-go was going to give me a huge advantage. Not only in attacking the hunters, but in killing wildlife. You see, in order to evolve (get it?), you must consume corpses of fauna you encounter in the world. I’ll get to that in a second.
I dropped into the environment: a sprawling cliffside map with tons of verticality and waterfalls. A representative from Turtle Rock Studios was guiding me and suggested I make a run for it as soon as I could because the hunters would be spawning in the same location in just a few moments. Goliath is freakishly agile for how big he is. The monster can also climb up pretty much any surface just by holding down the left trigger. The physics are still a little sticky there – I found a few jagged edges that wouldn’t allow Goliath to get up, but in general the movement works well. And heck, I can jump too. Woohoo! Right into a bunch of birds …
Crap. That alerted the hunters to my presence. The early game in Evolve is a cat-and-mouse affair. The player controlling the monster wants to evade the hunters as much as possible, while the trackers would do well to find the monster and deal whatever damage they can before he evolves.
OK, so you get the chance to evolve by eating the animals in the world (or the human players, but they don’t go down so easily). A meter will fill up with blue, alerting you to how much more you need to eat. Once it was full, I tried to find a quiet place to start the evolution process. You get three more skill points to buy more abilities or upgrade, but once you do that there is about 10 to 15 seconds when your monster is vulnerable in the world as it bubbles and gurgles in a bloody mass of tissue. You don’t want the hunters finding you as soon as you evolve – that bloody mass doesn’t react well to bullets.
Luckily, I was able to grow – literally getting a bigger model and beefing up Goliath’s attacks and armor in addition to the ability upgrades. Let those scrappers come to me. Well, they did. The bastards tried to corner me with an ability called Arena, which raised a blue forcefield dome that Goliath couldn’t move through. They trapped me in it, but I quickly rounded on the group, sprayed fire, charged, and made melee attacks like a crazy monster. I took out a few, but the medic rezzed them. Then I killed ’em again. Eventually, they ran off to regroup. I ate the corpses they left behind.
I am a monster.
A little about the hunters. Turtle Rock announced four new characters at the event: Hyde is an assault guy with a flame thrower. Maggie is a female trapper with a trapjaw for a pet – Daisy can track the monster and is a general nuisance. Bucket is a robot, and he supports the team with sentry guns and a fly head UAV that’s very useful for tagging the monster and putting his location on everyone’s minimap. Finally, there’s Lazarus, who as the medic is a big jerk. He has the Lazarus device, which can revive downed hunters immediately to get them into the fight.
In general, I didn’t care for playing as the hunters. To be successful, you have to work together and communicate almost incessantly. “He’s over there! I’m down! I need healing!” I just don’t like talking to people that much. Not only that, but the hunters’ mobility is severely restricted. In the map we played, Goliath can jump and climb almost anywhere, as I said, but the hunters were constantly getting stuck in dead ends and had to find the right ramp to get where they needed to go. Granted, better map knowledge would alleviate most of that, but my first impression was that playing as a hunter sucks, at least for my play style.
But that’s what’s cool about Evolve. It supports all kinds of players, from the people who like coop and raiding in groups to the monstrous loners like me. The core element of the 4v1 gameplay is solid. I kinda love how the three stages of the monster evolving clearly denote the three stages of the game from opening, midgame to endgame. The power shifts immensely from the hunters having an early advantage while the monster grows strong over the course of the match, creating a pleasing balance.
A Turtle Rock representative said the team has been playing the game internally for more than three years and I believe it. Even though it crashed a few times, it’s an incredibly polished gameplay that bridges so many different genres from co-op shooters such as Left for Dead to MOBAs and MMOs. Anecdotally, many of the other groups at the event really seemed to have dramatic moments. I heard cheers and groans from all over the room, just over the course of a half hour. If you can get staid editors to elicit any kind of emotion at these kinds of events, you know you are doing something right.
Look for Evolve to come out October 21 for the PC, the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.