Evolve In-Depth Hands-on Preview – Monster Hunter
Written Tuesday, February 11, 2014 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Since first seeing Predator at the ripe old age of six, a team of vulnerable humans being systematically murdered by a single monster has always seemed like an interesting concept for a video game. Now that very idea first implanted into my miniature brainpan 25 years ago is being realised by the team behind Left 4 Dead as a new asymmetrical 4v1 co-op/competitive multiplayer game called Evolve. And our introduction to Turtle Rock's new game involves hunting a monster in an atmospheric and dark forest ruin environment as a crack team of hunters. Or is it the hunters who are being hunted?
Whatever the case, both sides are well-equipped for a fight. Evolve pits four hunters against a single monster, dropping all five into the confines of a single map on the inhospitable and wild planet Shear. Like Left 4 Dead's slick concept of shooting hundreds of zombies in their rotting faces, Evolve's masterstroke is its apparent simplicity, which belies something that's deceptively varied and complex. You'll never play the same match twice, and playing as the monster is every bit as appealing as assuming the role of one of the four hunters, each equipped with a jetpack for zipping around Evolve's rather expansive maps.
“Let's take the excitement of the boss battle and draw it out,” Turtle Rock Co-Founder and Evolve's Art Director Phil Robb says of the game's concept. “[It's] for the griefer; the guy who likes to fuck with people.” And as the monster, there's plenty of opportunity to fuck with the hunters at every turn. Even as Evolve's “King Kong style monster” the Goliath, a strong and aggressive biped beast that can leap at hunters, throw rocks and breathe fire, the scope for messing with a four-player team is potentially limitless, especially if you're able to think outside the box.
“We played the game [one] morning during our setup and our monster player left tracks as he walked to the edge of the cliff, entered stalk mode where you leave no footprints, make no sound and startle no flocks of birds, then just hid in a bush right where the hunters drop into the map,” 2K Games Executive Producer Denby Grace tells us. “He sat there while the hunters ran off searching for tracks and went off the precipice to lower levels, then pounced out of the bush and started tearing the stragglers apart sending them straight to the dropship. That meant we were already down from the very start and we just knew it was going to be a bad game. He completely duped us!”
This is just one example of how the monster can control the outcome of a match, decimating the opposition despite the odds seemingly being stacked against it. Still, the hunters have a plethora of useful tools at their disposal, though working together and communicating properly is the most powerful tool in their arsenal. Also guns. All the guns. Especially the assault class Lightning Gun, adept at dealing close range damage. That's the main talent of Evolve's assault class character, Markov, but he's no one-trick pony. Markov has a standard assault rifle to draw a bead on the monster from distance dealing lesser damage too, and he can deploy several arc mines around the map to slow the monster down. It's his personal shield that's of the most value however, rendering Markov temporarily invulnerable, ensuring Markov can go toe-to-toe with Goliath.
Where Markov is responsible for inflicting as much damage as humanly possible against Goliath, Griffin the trapper, Hank the support class and Val the medic each have their own vital roles to play, making for an extremely balanced team dynamic that demands each player pull their weight. A weak link can spell certain death for a hunter team, especially against a fully evolved monster. Hank's role as support initially seems somewhat superfluous, but proves to be just as important as he throws up momentary shields that can save teammates from devastating attacks, and calls in orbital strikes that unleash a barrage of missiles upon the monster, taking huge chunks from its health bar. Hank also has a cloaking device that buffs nearby allies rendering them invisible too, potentially turning the tables on the monster, as well as enabling him to get in close with his laser cutter.
Griffin the trapper is an early favourite of ours, dressed like Borderlands 2's Sir Hammerlock with a damn fine moustache to match, he rocks a harpoon gun to restrict how far the monster can go, and can throw down an arena bubble that ensures the beast is contained within a small area of the map. There's nothing more satisfying than using Griffin's sound spikes to track the monster's movements and then bring a mobile arena crashing down around it, harpoon it in place and then blast the shit out of it with your Gauss submachine gun, all while the rest of your team circle the beast and pummel it with gunfire. Griffin is arguably the most enjoyable of the bunch.
As medic classes go, Val is one of the more fun examples we've come across too. She's not simply all about healing, though her healing ray is able to reach across a good distance to patch up ailing compadres and her healing burst is able to buff any member of the team within its radius. She also wields a rather tasty anti-material rifle that penetrates the monster's armoured hide, marking the exposed weak spot for the rest of the team to exploit, whereas her tranquiliser gun is perfect for marking and slowing down a monster that's attempting to hightail it out of a tight spot. Hunters also work much like Left 4 Dead's band of zombie survivors, able to go into last stand position with a sidearm when they're downed, waiting for a revival from a teammate. The medic has the advantage of being able to revive from distance with her med-ray.
With so many different abilities at the hunters' disposal, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the monster is somewhat outclassed and outgunned, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Given a 30-second headstart, our hands-on stint as the Goliath (played from a third-person viewpoint) is reckless fun from the off, despite starting out as a relatively weak 10-foot creature with only two of his four abilities, available to choose from the full list. Fire breathing and rock throwing are recommended, as this initial loadout includes range, power and area-of-effect damage, but the key to monster supremacy is all in the title. You need to evolve. Goliath does this by killing and feasting upon wildlife, with larger, harder to kill beasties providing the most progress towards each stage in your evolution.
Before our first encounter with the hunters, we're able to stuff our face with all manner of meaty fauna, before slinking off into a quiet corner to form a cocoon for our transformation to level 2. A vulnerable few seconds pass and we're freed from the chrysalis, 20-feet taller, 10 times more fearsome, with a new charging ability to boot. Deciding that a head-on assault is the most favourable (and let's be honest, fun) strategy to adopt, we bound towards the team of hunters, bristling with spikes, ready to cut the humans down to size. Except it doesn't quite pan out as well as you'd hope, with a team of organised hunters able to pin a monster down and tear him to shreds in minutes. Sometimes making a tactical retreat to lick your wounds is the only way to go.
Goliath has armour to break through before you're able to inflict permanent damage to his underlying four cells of health, and the only way for the beast to regenerate its tough outer shell is to feast on the forest's weird and wonderful wildlife. Tangling with a particularly angry and toothsome 'elite' creature can yield helpful perks for monsters and humans alike, but at a far greater risk than gobbling up the small and vulnerable morsels. Mounting an all-out assault proves effective to a point, and having dealt some heavy damage to the team, we decide to back off and evolve to stage 3, growing a few more spikes and acquiring a new leap attack in the process. Of course, you could silently stalk through the forest if you preferred, leaving no tracks and startling no birds, biding your time before you attack.
As the match progresses, and the prospect of wiping out the hunters grows increasingly desperate and unlikely, we opt for the alternate way to win: destroy the generator powering refuge cells for survivors and devour them. Ploughing into the generator, the hunters soon catch wind of our location, setting the stage for a final, pivotal showdown between man and beast. Here, it's all or nothing, meaning a fight right down to wire. We're able to successfully take out two of the four hunters - who have to wait for a couple of minutes in the dropship before being redeployed - eradicating one from the game completely, thanks to the 'three strikes and you're out' rule. Three deaths, and you're permanently dead for the match.
With a sliver of health left between the surviving medic and trapper classes, it feels like Goliath has this one in the bag, but one two many badly aimed rocks takes its toll, and our monster finally falls under the duress of harpoon cables and gunfire. A valiant effort, but proof that a balls-out approach will only get you so far in Evolve.
It bodes well for a game when we leave a preview event wanting to play it again immediately. Evolve is exactly that kind of game. Even at what Turtle Rock tells us is a pre-alpha stage, Evolve is already something that's tightly balanced and utterly intuitive, its concept easy to understand with little explanation. With a single monster and four hunters, Evolve is already an easy sell, but once you factor in variants and twists on each class that have yet to be revealed, as well as more monsters set to join Goliath, Turtle Rock's next-gen debut is most definitely one to watch.
Evolve is scheduled for release in autumn 2014.