And if anyone is going to put a new spin on the co-op FPS (first person shooter), it’s hardly surprising that it would come from Turtle Rock, the folks behind the original Left 4 Dead.
But Evolve isn’t just Left 4 Dead with aliens. Although it has some similar mechanics, it brings all-new innovations to the co-op FPS genre.
Five players play in a 4 versus 1 (“hunters” vs. “monster”) match.
The hunters comprise 4 different classes, and within each class are different predefined loadouts, which are represented as different characters. For example, Hyde and Markov (the two Assault class characters) have different armaments. Hyde has a minigun, toxic grenades, and a flamethrower, whereas Markov is equipped with a lightning gun, arc mines, and a personal shield. (You can read more about the classes and characters at the Evolve home page.)
Currently each class has 2 different characters associated with it, although this number is likely to grow over time. The classes (and character names) revealed so far are:
- Assault (Hyde or Markov): You’re the big guns and biggest damage dealer. Shoot. A lot.
- Trapper (Maggie or Griffin): You’re job is containment. Track and contain the prey with force fields and devices and cut off its escape.
- Medic (Lazarus or Val): Try to keep everyone alive so they can do their jobs.
- Support (Bucket or Hank): A ‘Swiss army knife’ of abilities designed to support the team in various ways. For example, Bucket (a robot) has deployable sentry guns, a long-range guided missile, and the ability to cloak the team. (This is the role I played in the brief hands-on we were given after the demo.)
And then of course there’s the MONSTER. Thus far 2 monsters—each about 30 feet tall—have been revealed (and more are surely on the way in the coming months):
- Goliath: A fire-breathing, rock-throwing kissin’ cousin to the Rancor in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
- Kraken: Just revealed for E3 2014 is the Kraken—a tentacled, lightning-spewing nightmare that would make Cthulhu proud.
As the monster, your first priority is to survive and evolve, which you accomplish by eating the local fauna. Eat enough to grow in size and power until you reach your ultimate evolution, at which point you’re practically unstoppable—unless the hunters are highly skilled and work well together.
As the hunters, you need to track the creature, work together to contain it, and—hopefully—put it down before it can reach its most powerful stage.
Hands-on and ready to kick the Bucket
For my hands-on session I was assigned the Support class (Bucket the robot). “Good,” I think to myself, “I’m generally best in a support role.”
Then they handed me a game controller.
“I’m doomed. We’re all doomed,” I muttered to myself. As a PC gamer, game controllers are not my first choice of weapons—especially FPS gaming.
The hunters—Maggie (Trapper) and her “dog” Daisy (a huge reptilian iguana-looking thing), Hyde (Assault), Lazarus (Medic), and Bucket (Support—me) drop into an alien jungle to hunt down the fifth player, who was playing as the Kraken.
Following our faithful hound (and aided via headset by one of the Evolve presenters via headset), our motley crew of media folks exited the drop ship and dashed into the jungles. Daisy tracks the Kraken for us, and as Bucket I can spot tracks and use a long range binocular-like device to zero in on it.
Our stalwart hound seems to be doing fine, however, and I can scarcely afford the time to figure out the controller buttons anyway. We mostly just follow Daisy through the jungle. After about 5 minutes, we close in for our first confrontation.
It becomes almost immediately, painfully obvious that inexperience favors the monster. As the hunters, it’s much more difficult to drop into a game, learn the controls and learn to operate as a team than it is for a single player to learn and play a ‘boss monster’. (It didn’t help that I was hampered by a game controller, but even with the best mouse and keyboard the best I could have done was (maybe) survive 5 seconds longer before watching the Kraken tear out my circuits.)
It’s probably fair to say that playing the monster is the easier job—at least in the beginning. However, I can also easily imagine a crack team of 4 players (on headsets) bringing down the monster fast if they’re highly coordinated. 4 heads are better than one—and if everyone does their job well, the monster could have a rough time of it. Knowing the map and using it to your advantage—and any variables (power ups, tactical choke points, etc.) it might contain will also be valuable.
Suffice to say it will be a difficult balancing act and probably a difficult match-making act for online pickup games.
We fumbled our way after Daisy, scarcely mastering the use of our jet packs and miscellaneous abilities before our first run-in with the Kraken. Early skirmishes had us scrambling to keep each other alive—like Left 4 Dead, once you’re downed you can still be revived and brought back into the action.
But it’s still a race against the clock. The Kraken survived to go eat more and get more powerful while we were left licking our wounds. I managed to use Bucket’s ‘cloak’ ability quite a few times to help us evade attacks or escape. I placed sentry turrets for some added firepower, but mostly it was a mad scramble to revive everyone.
Following our way through the dense grasses and rocky ravines, we continued pursuit, but by the time we catch up—recovered and a little better prepared for another confrontation—the Kraken is about 30 feet tall and he’s reached his ultimate evolutionary state. “Ulp,” sums up our reaction pretty well.
It’s not an instant game over, but our jobs just got a whole lot harder.
We had barely begun to understand our classes much less work as a cohesive unit. Though our effort to bring down the Kraken was a valiant one, we all die (horribly) in a vain effort to kill it or defend the station generator he attacked.
Well, except me. I was just a robot. So there’s that.
Evolve is slated for release for PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on October 21st, 2015—and you can probably expect plenty of more maps, monsters, (possibly) characters, game modes, and surprises to be revealed leading up to that date. (Some kind of new reveal for Gamescom 2014 is almost a certainty.)
It's easy to see why Evolve is one of the most decorated games at E3 2014, and it's definitely on my personal list of 'must haves' for 2014.