SANTA MONICA, Calif. – We all played hide-and-seek as kids. Now imagine a game of hide-and-seek with massive machine guns, high-tech gadgets and a 20-foot tall monster, and you’ll understand why Evolve could be something completely fresh – and fun – amid the sea of camo-and-Kevlar first-person shooter games.
Evolve is an upcoming game from the creators of the immensely popular zombie slayathon Left 4 Dead. But where Left 4 Dead has four players working together to battle hordes of reanimated corpses, Evolve pits its quartet of futuristic hunters against the most dangerous prey of all: a human being.
More specifically, a human being controlling a giant, powerful, ravenous monster.
The gist of Evolve, coming this fall to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, is four hunters land on an alien planet in search of a giant beast, which they must track and kill. The monster’s goals are equally simple: it must either kill the hunters or evade them long enough to destroy a secondary objective to win.
It couldn’t be more straightforward, and to be honest, Evolve didn’t look especially interesting when it was first announced last year. But going hands-on with the game for a series of heart-pounding and hilarious four-versus-one matches has completely sold me. It’s a game that rewards teamwork and tactics, reflexes and risk, and, every once in a while, abject cowardice.
At a recent pre-E3 preview of the game in Santa Monica, developer Turtle Rock Studios took the wraps off four new hunters that will be added to the game’s growing roster of playable characters. There’s Hyde, an assault character armed with a minigun, flamethrower and a personal energy shield. He’s your classic tank, there to get the monster’s attention and deal out tons of short-range damage.
There’s Maggie, a trapper wielding a machine pistol, harpoons that can pin the monster in place and a pet trapjaw named Daisy, sort of a really ugly alien dog that can track the beast with ease.
There’s Lazarus, a medic with a sniper rifle and cloaking device who’s not all that great at restoring health but has the handy ability to resurrect dead characters.
And there’s the robot Bucket, a support class character that holds his own with a missile launcher, automated sentry turrets and the ability to detach his head and fly it around as a UAV scout drone.
“Out of all the characters, oddly the robot seems to have the most personality,” joked Turtle Rock co-founder Phil Robb.
For the first match of our hands-on session I played as the beefy Hyde, taking point alongside Daisy as she effortlessly followed the monster’s tracks into a dark canyon dotted with lush vegetation and all manner of creatures, some of which were nearly as dangerous as the Goliath. After a tense hunt, we finally managed to corner the beast and take it down, but not without suffering major damage.
During my turn in the trapper role I played as Griffin, one of the characters introduced earlier this year, using my harpoon gun to slow the monster down and my mobile arena to trap the beast in a small area so we could gang up on it. Unfortunately, we got cocky and split up, which was our downfall – the monster player wisely killed our isolated medic, then proceeded to pick the rest of us off, knowing we had no way to heal up and get back into the fray before a new medic arrived on the dropship.
Then I stepped into the monster’s skin, thinking it would be immensely empowering to be on the other side of the claws, fire breath and hurled boulders for a while. But even though the Goliath is stronger than any single hunter, it’s actually quite terrifying to know that there’s a team of four people following your tracks and looking for an opportunity to corner you and kill you.
I started out carefully, trying to put some distance between myself and the hunters, scaling cliffs, backtracking to throw them off and killing and consuming local alien wildlife to fill up my evolve meter, ultimately allowing me to transform into a larger incarnation of the creature with more powerful attacks.
After a few hit-and-run skirmishes with the hunters I managed to escape and evolve to the third and final stage, at which point I could achieve victory by destroying a generator at the other end of the sprawling map. And I nearly did, but during the showdown at the power plant, the wily hunters kept reviving each other and pounding me with orbital bombardments until I was finally defeated.
In the last match I played as the robot Bucket, and immediately dispatched my flying drone to look for the monster. Tagging it from afar gave us a great early advantage, but everyone else on the team ended up getting killed (likely because I was lagging behind piloting the drone instead of helping out in battle), and I had to cloak and hide in fear for the couple minutes it took for my team to respawn in the dropship.
Ultimately, the match came down to a pitched, frantic battle at the power plant. We were getting murdered by the fully-evolved Goliath almost as fast as our medic could resurrect us, and when the monster finally managed to mortally wound the medic and keep the rest of us from reaching him in time to revive him, it looked like it was game over.
But as the badly wounded Goliath finished off the assault and trapper characters and chased me, the sole survivor, around a giant power transformer, I whipped out sentry turrets in a panic, activated my cloak and scuttled out of the monster’s stomping path, just as my turrets whittled down the behemoth’s last sliver of health. As it crashed to the ground, our team whooped and bellowed like we’d just won the Stanley Cup. And I felt like the overtime goal scorer.
The sign of a really great game is one that has you immediately swapping battle stories with your teammates after playing, and Evolve is going to be one of those games. It is astonishingly well-balanced and cleverly designed, and with Turtle Rock promising more hunters, more monsters and more than a dozen maps in total, its relatively simple premise could sustain a lot of replayability.
With all due respect to the zombies, and apologies for the horribly obvious pun, this is the team-based shooter… evolved.