Just a few short hours ago I had the chance to try my hand at Evolve, a new co-operative/ competitive shooter from the makers of Left 4 Dead. Developed by Turtle Rock, Evolve has four players take up the four roles of Assault, Medic, Support and Tracker, as they attempt to hunt down and kill an ever evolving monster, controlled by another player. This 4v1 is the heart of Evolve, and getting around three hours to mess around in the Hunt Mode of the game gave me numerous chances to learn, and understand, this exciting, intricate and extremely well balanced shooter.
Evolve is simple enough to introduce. Four hunter against one Monster, with a race against the clock to try and get the beast down before he becomes strong enough to turn the tables and hunt you instead. The map we had the chance to explore was rather massive, with its fair share of choke points and open areas that benefit both the players and the monster on show, The Goliath. Hunt Mode was simple enough: The Goliath is free to roam around the map and attempt to evolve by hunting wildlife. Taking down neutral creeps and eating the, fills an evolve bar that essentially makes you stronger. The four hunters are unleashed 30 second after the Goliath lands, being able to track footprints and watch for flocks of birds flying out of the Goliath’s way. Kill the Goliath, and the hunters win the round. If all the hunters die, or if the Goliath manages to destroy a central generator, that lone player takes all the glory.
The monster is really the star of Evolve, purely because it’s different in the realm of shooters. Sitting down and getting a quick crash course on Goliath control didn’t really prepare me well enough to be an imposing opponent, but soon enough I was leaping and grappling onto the environment with easy, allowing me to get from one side of the map to the other extremely quick. The Goliath is able to a massive distance forward, along with a Dash ability to help cover ground and hunt wildlife. A Fire Breath gave me the chance to damage a large group of wildlife (or an unfortunately grouped set of hunters) while hitting them down with powerful melee attacks. The Jump Leap was my friend while stalking Hunters from a distance, using Sneak to prevent footprints from being left behind and allowing me to camouflage myself in the surrounding fauna.
It takes a while to understand how the metagame surrounding the monster works. From the get go you’re looking to just feed up and grow, allowing you to increase the effectiveness of abilities as you go. Getting a damage increase to your Rock Toss or a bigger spread on your Fire Breath definitely gives you an edge when against Hunters, but getting caught out early in the game is an extremely bad idea. Thankfully the Goliath is extremely manoeuvrable, and surprising stealthy despite being a massive, hulking being. You’re able to hide in plants, create diversions using your footprints and flank Hunters, just using movement alone. It gives the game a great pace, and keeps Hunters guessing as yo where you’ve possibly disappeared to.
Eventually, you’re going to have to engage, and that’s when Evolve gets really chaotic for you as a monster. While trying to decide who to take down first, you’re being bombarded by grappling hooks, assault rifle fire and extremely annoying tranquilizer darts. When you find yourself in a position like this, quick thinking comes into play. You have armor, which regenerates slowly, but your health doesn’t. Do you stay in the flurry of bullets and attempt to take down one of two Hunters, or do you bounce around until you’re able to make a clean getaway? Most of the time, I made the wrong choices in these situations, but I quickly saw how easy it was for the Goliath to pick badly positioned hunters off when I was up against a much more skilled player.
The Tracker (my favourite class of the day) is definitely not the most important member of the four man team (because there isn’t one) but he is essential in letting the team know where the monster is. As the Tracker you have access to Sound Spike, which you can place all around the map to detect the monster’s movement. A total of seven spikes can be paced at any given time, and a good tracker will help keep your team informed of possible danger. When it comes to battle, The Tracker is also essential in springing traps so that other team members can have a good chance at taking down the Goliath.
A Mobile Dome can trap the monster within small areas fro a limited time, forcing him to fight you no matter what Evolve level he is at. Timing the deployment of the dome is essential of course, as missing the monster will force you to bring it down and suffer an extremely long cooldown. The other ability you have is to stop the monster in its tracks with the Grappling Gun, giving other teammates the chance to bring down ordinance of their own while the Goliath essentially goes nowhere. And, as you’d expect, The Tracker is equipped with a small SMG, allowing you to deal small amounts of damage here and there.
In most games, the Medic is a fairly subdued class. Able to do moderate damage while just focusing on keeping other players alive. The Medic in Evolve is not too different, but a few abilities make her the prime target for the monster more often than not. The Medic comes standard with a Sniper Rifle, that not only does a lot of damage but also opens up wounds on the monster that allow for extra damage from everyone else. Getting a few of these shots off before all Hunters engage gives you a massive advantage when the Mobile Dome comes down. Of course, no Medic can operate without a healing gun, and Evolve’s Medic is no different. Your secondary weapon launches a beam that keeps teammates alive, while allowing you to revive fallen team members before they get taken out the action for good.
The two other gadgets on offer come contribute heavily into control. The tranquilizer dart can help your Hunter team catch up to the Goliath, slowing him down momentarily and keeping you hot on his heels. The dart gun also has a massive range; allowing you to find the high ground, line up your shot and essentially kick off a massive engagement. The Health Burst also comes in handy when your team is caught in a tight spot. If you’re all low on health, one hit can quickly restore you and any nearby teammates to full health, getting you back into a fight that seemed lost at one point.
Much like the Medic, the Support class in Evolve is more concerned with environment control and aid rather than damage. The Support’s primary weapon does allow you to pester the monster in certain situations, especially when you want to disrupt his feeding, evolving or damaging of the main generator. But the real star in the Support’s inventory is his deployable shield. Running around and protecting teammates during an engage is key to your team’s survival. You could shield a Medic to keep them in the game, or cover your Assault that is dealing all the damage. If you don’t use you’re shield effectively, your team is going to die, extremely fast.
Even though your main weapon as a Support doesn’t do most of the damage in a fight, the Aerial Ordinance you’re able to bring down outdoors is key to doing massive damage in a short space of time. The only issue is that is comes down rather slowly, and once you’ve targeted an area you can’t change it. Ideal for situations where the monster is stationary (hint hint, your Tracker) and not so much when you’re team is hopping about. The Stealth Generator is also very useful when making an escape, or sneaking up for a surprise attack. Hitting Stealth will make you and any nearby teammates invisible for a short time, giving you the chance to escape a bad engage or surprise the Goliath entirely.
If you’re aiming to do massive damage to the monster, then look no further than the Assault class. The Assault comes equipped with two massive damage dealing weapons, which will help you negate the Goliath’s armour and health in no time. The Assault Rifle is essential for taking shots at wildlife and the monster itself from a distance, with some great accuracy and a large a magazine allowing you to keep that trigger down for maximum damage. The Lightning Gun is your close quarters variant, and also exceptionally good at taking down the Goliath’s armor extremely quickly. The Lightning Gun is also able to lock onto multiple targets at once, making it a good choice for mass wildlife culls.
What is a bit different about Evolve’s Assault Class is just how darn durable he is. Normally Assault’s are dependant on a Medic to keep doing the damage they do, but Evolve’s is a bit different. The Assault class comes equipped with his own personal shield, which will alleviate some pressure off your Support and allow him to keep someone else alive while you keep that health ticking down. On top of that, the Assault’s Mines will give you the chance to not only scout for the monster across the maps, but also deal a good amount of damage in specific areas. Using mines to protect the generator near the end of a round is essential, and they’re often a good choice in open combat too.
The real beauty in Evolve is how you fear the opposing team, no matter who you’re playing as. When you’re a Hunter, the Goliath seems like a massive mountain to climb, and a formable physical force that can wipe you out in no time. Playing as the Goliath gave me the exact same feeling of dread as well, as the pack of four Hunters seemed to always know where I was, and always presented a good fight. Evolve is so well balanced already that it makes me wonder how much left there really is to do. Speaking to 2K’s Iain Willows about what else Turtle Rock still has to do in terms of testing, he had this to say.
“It’s extremely important that it’s a balanced experience. On the one side you have a monster with different powers and the other you have Hunters with equally different powers. You have to have that balance otherwise it’s not a fun experience. It’s all about that, so we have really robust telemetry systems which help us track certain elements of the game, but also not being afraid of making changes helps.”
“There’s always little tweaks happening. Is the Lightning Gun too strong? Is the Leap Smash too strong? These are thing we’re constantly looking at and tweaking as we play.”
Can Evolve change drastically from what I played today?
“We’re always open to change based on what we think is right for the game.”
And as much as I think the Evolve experience right now is near perfect, there’s definitely more I can see making its way in. Iain spoke about fundamental changes made to the way The Goliath becomes stronger when evolving, saying that the entire system behind that changed just recently from a fixed progression to a more points based system. Perks that you find on creatures around the map used to only last a few minutes, but now they persist through the entire match. Of course, they’re a bit weaker, but now you have them forever, making them even more important.
Sadly, I only had the chance to get my hands on one of the modes Evolve will ship with, and only on one map. Iain briefly detailed more modes and maps that will make their way into the final product, as well as some unfinished plans for player progression and new additional monsters for players to control. Although there are only four Hunter Classes, certain maps and modes will have their own specific weapons and loadouts, meaning that you won’t be stuck with the same weapons for every single mode you end up playing. It comes back to balance, and I have no doubt Turtle Rock is super busy including new weapons and abilities that open up even more strategies for Hunters and Monsters to exploit.
As it stands now though, Evolve is a game that online gamers should definitely take notice of. It’s fast, frantic and a hell of a lot of fun. In fact, I would even go as far to say it’s one of the most balanced online experiences I’ve played in a while, and we’re still months away from Turtle Rock perfecting it. Suffice to say, I’m extremely excited.
Evolve will release on PC, PS4 and Xbox One later this year.