Evolve preview: scratching the surface of Turtle Rock's 4v1 monster game

By Andrew Yoon, Feb 11, 2014 5:00am PST

At the end of one match, Evolve had me shaking. At the end of five, I was utterly convinced: developer Turtle Rock has managed to create another game that will have the same legacy as Left 4 Dead.

On the surface, Evolve appears to be the natural continuation of the excellent co-op mechanics established in their zombie shooter. However, the introduction of smartly-designed and highly-differentiated classes makes it an even more cooperative affair than before. Of course, there's also the addition of a single player-controlled opponent--a giant monster--that changes the dynamic completely, creating a tense asymmetric multiplayer experience that is unlike anything else.


Hunters

As in Left 4 Dead, human players are grouped into a squad of four. However, the goal of the game isn't simply to survive--you have to hunt down and kill the monster. Of course, that's easier said than done.

What makes Evolve so much fun as a co-op experience is how different each class' role is. And while they may seem to fit into rather standard shooter molds, there are some tweaks that keep things interesting. You can play as Assault, Medic, Support, and Trapper--with each squad having to include a unique team member (you can't have two Assault soldiers, for example).

Each squad member offers unique skills that all compliment each other. Like Voltron, working together will be essential to victory. For example, an assault soldier will be able to blast away at the beast, but without the shield boost from the support class, he'll be shredded to pieces nearly instantly. Without the monster being slowed down by the medic's tranquilizer darts, it'll become a lot more difficult to snare the beast with the trapper. Every role compliments the others, and they must work in concert for any chance to win their game.

My favorite playable class was the medic. While support roles can typically feel repetitive, the medic in Evolve is surprisingly engaging. Yes, she heals the group, but she plays an important role in the offense as well. Shooting a dart the monster will tranquilize it, slowing it down--and more crucially, making it visible to all players. By being able to tag the monster, the medic actually becomes something like the game's scout, putting the medic in as much the frontlines as the rest of the squad.

Perhaps the most important character to play is the trapper. Hunters may be equipped with jetpacks, but they're still nowhere as mobile as the beasts they must capture. In order to dole out any damage to the beast, you'll need to trap it by deploying a circular dome trap, one that creates an arena which the beast cannot escape while the shield is active.

It's in these domes where the human players will be able to dole out the most damage. With limited maneuverability, the monster will be forced into confrontation with the hunters. Assuming the team is working together, the human players will be able to combine their abilities for massive damage. For example, the medic may have pegged the monster with a few darts. The assault soldier can pinpoint those marked points to render significantly more damage. Meanwhile, as the assault class lays down a barrage of fire, the support class may be shielding him, making him invulnerable to the beast's mighty attacks. If it weren't for the trapper, none of this would happen.

Because of how differentiated these classes are, teamwork happens very naturally, almost automatically. I was taken aback at how quickly new strategies were being figured out. For example, the monster has a time limit to complete his objective (like killing all human players, or destroying a generator at a key point in the map). However, one trapper was able to keep him in a dome--far, far away from the generator and the rest of the team. It would become impossible for the monster to complete either objective.

Monsters have a tremendous amount of HP, and as the title suggests, they can evolve. The odds are stacked against the humans, so being able to cooperate and take down one of the beasts is a truly satisfying experience.

Monster

While playing as a hunter will be immediately familiar to Left 4 Dead aficionados, playing as the monster is an entire different beast (pun intended). No longer are you restricted to a first-person view. As a beast, you play in third-person, so you can better see your melee attacks and make massive map-clearing leaps.

You may be able to pick up boulders and throw them, breathe fire out of your mouth, and tear humans in half. But when a match begins, a monster is actually at a disadvantage compared to the formidably-equipped humans. They have unlimited ammo and special powers, while the monster has a finite amount of health that can never be restored. As a monster, it's crucial to play smart.

You'll feel threatened immediately after a match starts. Like a classic game of Hide and Seek, monster players are only given ten seconds to scamper away from the starting point. Yes, both human and monster players start from the same place. And when you run away as a monster, you leave a ton of evidence for humans to track you with: your footprints will be visible, and should you run past a flock of bird-like aliens, the disturbance will appear as a notification on the HUD of the human players.

While you may tower over a single human player, it still pays to play stealthily--at least in the match's opening moments. By entering stealth mode, you can avoid leaving tracks and disturbing wildlife. You might also subtly blend in with the jungle environment. I was amazed when I was able to successfully evade detection by hiding in the bushes and crouching. I saw an entire squad of four run past me--and it was tempting to try and wipe them all out by catching them off-guard.

I decided against that tactic, mostly because I hadn't evolved yet. Given that it is the title of the game, evolution plays a crucial role to the flow of battle. By consuming the wildlife that's scattered throughout the map, monsters will be able to level up and gain an additional ability. Feasting will also restore some of your shields--the only part of your health that can be recovered in some way. However, eating leaves you vulnerable: not only is it time-consuming, but it can attract the attention of the hunters.

The feasting mechanic is responsible for creating the ebb and flow of each match. Players on both sides will want to avoid being caught off-guard. As a human, being unable to find the monster is terrifying--especially if you hear him shedding his skin and transforming into a higher-level beast. Because of how much health the monster has, it's effective to retreat whenever possible. Dole out some damage, get some scares, and then run. It's better to feast and restore some shielding while the humans stay on edge, preparing for the monster's inevitable attack.

Monsters can evolve in other ways as well. By eating specially colored beasts, they'll be able to unlock special time-limited bonuses which can grant extra damage, extra health, or other special effects that can change the tide of battle. But wildlife isn't just food--they can be enemies and tools. Some can be quite formidable, taking serious time to battle. However, they can also be used as tools against the humans. Luring them to a swamp where a particularly ferocious wild animal is could help you take out a few human players, leaving the weakened squad to your clutches.

Final Thoughts

In spite of more than 1200 words in this preview, this is still scratching the surface on all the depth that Evolve packs. Even while playing on just one map with just one playable monster, it was amazing to witness how varied each match was. Sometimes the monster would win with brute force, other times, the cunning of the humans were able to eek by a narrow victory. Evolve manages to capture the sheer fun of hunting and being hunted--and I can't wait to see what other surprises are in store.


Disclaimer: 2K Games provided Shacknews transportation from Los Angeles to San Francisco to attend an all-day preview event.

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