Turtle Rock Studios hit the ground running in 2008 with the release of Left 4 Dead, the multiplayer co-operative zombie shooter that clawed its way into the hearts of gamers around the world. L4D in and of itself was not a revolutionary game—co-op gaming has been around for decades, after all, and zombies remain a gaming cannon fodder mainstay. What Turtle Rock did to elevate their game above all those before it was dedicate the primary focus of the game to co-operative play and then refine that experience to an extent never before seen. The developer both continues with and deviates from their L4D roots with Evolve—a game that lives up to its name not only by virtue of its refined gameplay, but also in how it’s innovating the dynamic of the multiplayer shooter.
I, along with fellow blogger Theresa DeLucci and Tor author Tobias Buckell, braved the Comic Con Xbox lines to stake out one of the five coveted Xbox Ones set up for Evolve. Turtle Rock describes their game as an asymmetrical multiplayer shooter, which basically means that teams are 4 versus 1—the 4 being a specialized team of soldiers aiming to clear a planet’s surface, the 1 being a formidable limb-tearing monster. At SDCC, the monster class was represented by the formidable Kraken, while the four player character classes include a medic, support, assault, and trapper.
In the match type being previewed at SDCC, the 4 soldiers arrive in a dropship to sweep a planet’s surface and ensure that it’s free of environmental hazards to protect pre-established sites. The monster already lives on the planet, and its goal is to stage up and become more powerful by devouring wildlife before hunting down the intruders. At its core, the premise of the match is that the team of soldiers must hunt down and kill the monster before the monster kills them and destroys their on-site generator. When soldiers die, a 2 minute timer begins, indicating the amount of time remaining before that player (or any others who die during that countdown) are returned to action via a dropship. If the monster manages to kill the entire team before any can return, the match is over and the monster reigns supreme.
The medic is, in many ways, the cog of the soldier unit, providing healing to fallen teammates and even having the ability to revive dead teammates (depending on the medic type you choose—more on this later), if they haven’t had a chunk bitten out of them by planetary flora or fauna. Without an active medic, a team is especially vulnerable to being taken down while waiting for the dropship to return. The medic’s contributions are not strictly defensive, either. On offense, the medic can use a powerful tranq rifle to help slow down and track the monster, or paint especially vulnerable areas on the monster’s body for teammates to target.
The assault character class is exactly what it sounds like—an all-out offensive barrage with assault guns, mines, flamethrowers and more at their disposal. The assault class is Evolve’s definition of a tank character—their role is simple, direct, but important: inflict as much damage as possible in as little time as possible. Meanwhile, the trapper uses a harpoon gun that helps lock the monster in place and has the ability to lay down a mobile arena that traps the monster within a specific radius, preventing it from escaping. The trapper’s pet, Daisy, locks onto the scent of the monster and leads the team directly to it. Daisy is also an extremely valuable team member. She’s able not only to track the monster, but also contributes by staying alive after the rest of the team is dead—in the match we played, all 4 soldiers went down at one point, but Daisy was able to evade the monster long enough to allow a fresh dropship to arrive. Finally, the support class is a two-way threat, able to unleash a world of hurt with its laser cannons and area-of-effect damage, but also able to shield or cloak teammates at a moment’s notice.
The monster, on the other hand, has any number of devastating attacks at its disposal. The monster on display at SDCC was the Kraken, who possessed (aside from many tentacles) an arsenal of electric attacks and a vortex attack that pushed back defenders. As the Kraken leveled up by hunting and eating the planet’s wildlife, it grew in size and stature and gained stronger powers along the way. The Kraken was also impressively rendered, looking every part the horrific beast it should be.
An understated but extremely immersive aspect of Evolve lies within the planet’s environment itself. This is not your father’s standard deathmatch map. In Evolve, the environment comes to life, becoming as much of an obstacle to you in some cases as the monster itself. Giant dune beetles hammer down your health before you even catch a glimpse of the monster. And if you manage to evade the monkeys and the insects, there’s always that nasty man-eating plant waiting for you to step on it, right around the corner.
When the match began, several things about the gameplay snapped into focus. For the soldiers, the importance of sticking together and playing as a team was paramount. The absence of a single team member from in-game battles was quickly apparent, and each team member had to play within their respective strengths and abilities to ensure the survival of the rest. From a strategic perspective, it was most advantageous to the players to track and engage the monster as quickly as possible once the match began, as that’s the point at which the monster is most vulnerable. From the monster’s perspective, pushing the game long enough so that it could level up a couple of times was of import, so the early game usually consisted of feasting on wildlife and running away from the soldiers. However, once the Kraken hits stage 3, the tables turn and it’ll head straight for the generator. While playing as the monster, it seemed generally beneficial to target the medic first, as then the rest of the team would be unable to respawn if they were killed until the full two minute wait for the dropship was under way.
While we of Team Tor ultimately ended up getting our collective asses kicked in a public fashion by a rather formidable 12 year old playing as the Kraken, several prominent elements of success were evident in Evolve. The game is unbelievably polished and could probably ship right now—not something to scoff at given the rushed development schedules of many other games these days. The tension remains high throughout—early on for the monster, and later for the soldiers. The tweaks to each individual character class type (for example, one medic has the ability to resuscitate the dead, while another has a healing gun that can heal from a distance) provide a little variety, but the bottom line is that the game, at this stage, is simply fun as hell to play. On launch, there will be several more class variations and other monster types to play (one of which we’ve already met in the Goliath). This is a game I can’t wait to get my hands on at launch, and if you’re a fan of Left 4 Dead, co-op, or just of fun, you should keep your eye on Evolve.
Evolve launches on October 21, 2014, for PS4, PC, and Xbox One.