Shacknews Spotlight: Evolve Big Alpha

The Evolve Big Alpha is coming to an end, and Shacknews Editors Steven Wong, Daniel Perez, and Steve Watts recount their weekend long experiences hunting big game and being slapped down. 

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The Evolve Big Alpha is coming to a close soon, and we're taking this time to weigh in on how playing as both the hunter and hunted impressed upon us this past weekend.

Steven Wong: So, what were your experiences playing Evolve? My impressions have changed a little since I played it at E3, now that I actually have to unlock things. There are some good and bad things about it. There are some pretty long load times on the PC. I guess it's because there are so many different PC specs out there, but I didn't get a sense that any one match had a shorter or longer wait for all the players to sync up. Turtle Rock should do something more entertaining with the wait screen if this is what players are going to expect in the final game.

As for the actual gameplay, my favorite class is Support, since he can call in the orbital strike. My least favorite is the Trapper, because its skills just don't click with me for some reasons. I also really disliked playing the Monster. I've noticed that the fun of each match relies heavily on how skilled the Monster player is, and that's a lot of pressure. If the hunters catch up to you while you're still in stage 1 evolution, then you're kind of screwed. I'd go so far as to say, if you have any interest in playing as the monster, you should start doing so as early and as often as possible. Otherwise, higher level hunters might tear you apart.

Daniel Perez: I experienced the same issue with loading times on both the Xbox One and PC versions of Evolve's Big Alpha. Not only was there a long loading screen for the character selection screen, but there was also a long load time prior to the starting the level. I know this is an alpha, so I'm sure this could be addressed when the game is released, but man - those loading times were brutal.

As I mentioned on our podcast, I always favor support classes, so I got a kick out of playing as the Medic. Obviously, my main concern was keeping the team healthy and living long enough to kill the Monster. But the medic also provides some serious support with both the tranquilizer and the sniper rifle. The tranquilizer not only slows down the Monster, but also briefly highlights it so if it escapes, it'd be easier to follow. And the sniper rifle does a small amount of damage, but it creates a weak spot for your team to attack that performs critical damage if it's hit.

You're right about the need to have a Monster player that knows what they're doing. I played as the Monster a few times, and at first, the hunters completely dominated me as I didn't quite get what I needed to be doing. But then as I understood what the Monster could do, as well as what my favorite attacks were, I was able to take down the hunters in a number of matches.

Steve Watts: Yeah, those long load times definitely aren't relegated to the PC version. I'm hoping this is something they address in the full game, because sometimes matches can be short, and at that point you're in the lobby longer than you're playing the game.

Having a monster that knows what he's doing is key, but I found that even then the balance seems skewed on the Hunters side. The Monster needs to run away and feed right from the start, but he's not that much faster than the Hunters, and they have jetpacks so even climbing walls doesn't make him more mobile. I played a few rounds with the same group, and they clearly all knew that they had to keep chasing the Monster, and the Hunters won every single time. I was on both sides of it, and as the Monster it really felt like I had no chance to get away. You kind of have to count on the Hunters getting turned around or distracted at some point, or it really feels like you're screwed.

Wong: The big advantage the monster has is that it doesn't rely on fuel for climbing walls. So, maybe if you make good use of the cliffs, you'll force the hunters to waste all their fuel before they reach you. Also, once you unlock the Kraken, which can fly, things get intense. But I get the feeling that unlocking the Kraken can be a long grind.

I think maybe the key is to run around in circles or something so that you leave overlapping tracks. It's probably also beneficial to run near other big monsters, because - playing as a hunter - I would often confuse giant sloths for the monster and fire without realizing what I was shooting at. Also, those sloths don't seem to be very slovenly, so maybe they were misnamed. Sometimes I feel like the monster should get a ten second head start or something. Then again, I played a few matches where the monster was very good at getting away. I kept screaming, "How the heck do we lose a 50 foot monster?"

I'm just happy that I didn't die from being eaten by a plant this time. Came close, though.

Daniel: One other way I noticed monsters could get away is if they make their way to water. Any time I notice hunters are close to me, I look for some body of water, then my tracks won't be so easy to find. Although I tend to mess it up by accidentally spooking a flock of birds, although considering what else is lurking about, they really shouldn't be so easily spooked.

I was eaten by plants 2 or 3 times during my playthroughs. There's nothing more embarrassing than having to ask your team to come back to get you out of a giant plant that's slowly digesting you. There's also nothing more infuriating than having that team ignore your cries for help to leave you to die a slow, excruciating death.

Back to the hunters: I also enjoyed playing as Support with the combination of the chaingun-like weapon and the orbital strike. If I see either a Medic slowed it down with a tranquilizer or if the hunter strapped it down with some traps, there's nothing more satisfying than seeing an orbital strike make a direct hit on a monster.

Watts: Trapper was always my class. It was really satisfying finding the monster and then making sure it stayed put. The harpoon mechanic took a little longer to get a hang of, but it's another way you can say, "nope, you're not going anywhere."

It strikes me that almost all of the classes are support in some way, which goes to show just how tuned this game is to everyone playing their roles. You have the Trapper, which fulfills a support role, the Medic, which fulfills a support role, and one class that's simply called "Support." Assault is really the only one that fits neatly into the classical shooter genre. I'd be really curious to see some kind of stats on which ones people pick as their preferred classes. I could see Assault being right near the top, or at the very bottom, depending on how people feel about a game that's practically made of support roles.

Wong: Hey, it sounds like we have 3/4ths of a hunting party going here. The Assault's lightning gun can hit multiple weak points created by the Medic, so that's very team-workish. Also, the Assault can go into invincible mode for a few seconds to hopefully distract the Monster while everyone else piles on the damage. I didn't take to the Trapper very well because the harpoon gun takes a long time to recharge, it doesn't have good range, and the Monster breaks out of them pretty fast starting at stage 2.

Despite everything, playing as the Monster is really tough at early levels. I can imagine that only some really determined players would go for it. With how the progression system lets you level up one character at a time, it seems like the most worthwhile strategy is to pick a class and stick with it as much as you can. I kind of feel bad for the Monster, if it has to face-off against experienced hunters. Then again, that Kraken can really tear into a hunting party. Also, if the Monster is TOO good at hiding, your team spends a lot of time running around in circles.

Daniel: I think we've all come to the conclusion that it takes a special individual to actively want to play as the monster. The entire Evolve experience, judging by the Big Alpha, places a lot of emphasis on the monster player being good at what they do. If you have a newbie monster player, you may not have the challenging experience we all know can be possible in Evolve.

On the other hand, having newbie hunters could also hinder the experience considering just how vital each member of your hunting party is to one another. All four hunters compliment each other in such a way that having one not acting accordingly may result in the entire team having a bad time.

If you have both parties who know exactly what they should be doing, that's when the experience in Evolve's Big Alpha really shines as I personally feel there was nothing more exhilarating than when a ferocious fight takes place between a veteran hunter group and a veteran level 3 hunter player.

Watts: Yeah. Concerns about the monster's vulnerability aside, I have every confidence that it's well-balanced if everyone knows what they're doing. I'd bet really high-level play might even be interesting to watch, which is probably why they've hyped it as a spectator sport at events. I'm not totally sold on that, but it's hard to deny the potential is there.

Though, like Daniel said, it is a game that severely breaks down if one person doesn't know what they're doing or isn't up to snuff with the rest of the team. Finding five people on the same skill level is tough enough, much less when they all need to be equally skilled at their assigned roles which may not even be their first choice. Once it goes into the wild, hopefully the wide net of the player base will make all this sort itself out. I think now that I've played the Alpha, that's what I'm most curious to see play out.


Evolve releases for the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on February 10, 2015.

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