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EB Expo 2014: Evolve Hands-On Preview
Evolve is being pushed by 2K as the next big thing in asymmetrical multiplayer shooters from Turtle Rock Studios (the creators of the original Left 4 Dead) and after diving headfirst into a couple of matches at year’s EB Expo, I feel like it has a good shot of meeting those lofty claims.
Evolve throws an intense scenario that sees a team of four intergalactic bounty hunters track down and face off against one awesome alien monster – controlled by the game’s fifth player. During my time with the game I took on the role of the monster, choosing to opt for the savage Goliath rather than the newly announced (and Lovecraftian-looking) Kraken.
Matches of Evolve started off rather humbly with my Goliath on the run and tasked with both evading the quartet of hunter players and gathering evolution points in order to evolve and become stronger. Different forms of alien wildlife were scattered across the map and while some surrendered their genetic material to my cause after a single blow, others put up more of a fight. Some creatures can even be provoked and then lead into the hunters path in order to distract and delay their efforts.
The game also looks incredibly pretty. The designs of both the monster and human characters looks really exotic and engaging and each of the game’s map has a strong sense of place to it.
The experience of controlling the monster reminded me a lot of the extensive time I spent with Left 4 Dead’s Versus Mode. The monster has a fun feel to it and strikes a great balance between being quick and powerful. You could access the monsters enhanced sense of smell with the press of a button to keep track of the locations of both nearby wildlife and enemy hunters. To my surprise, the monster in Evolve is actually quite durable in combat – though sloppy play will still quickly get you killed – and was more than capable of taking a hit.
There are lots of smart design decisions here in terms of how the game balances complexity with its fast pacing. The ‘hunters and the hunted’ mechanics keep all players – monster or human – in constant motion and things that could slow down the game – like the monsters skill point system – are smartly incorporated into the evolution animation itself.
As well as giving the monster plenty of fun abilities to play with (such as charges, leaps and flame-breath attacks), Evolve also gives the hunters plenty of cool gadgets. In particular, I really liked the design and gameplay impacts of the harpoon gun (which limited the monsters agility until removed) and the mobile arena (which trapped the monster and the hunters in a small section of the map for a period of time).
Like Left 4 Dead, Evolve does a great job of creating gameplay scenarios that lend themselves well to dynamic narratives. One game might tell the story of how the monster turned the tables on his pursuers and picked each of the human players off one-by-one while another might tell the story of how the hunters backed the monster into a corner and finished him off. This is something that I imagine will play out really well once the full game’s cast of alternating monsters and maps come into play – though it hints at one of the big concerns I have towards the game.
More and more developers are leaning towards online-only experiences that leverage gameplay-as-a-service and while there are merits and benefits to this, it’s not an approach without its drawbacks. In particular, my biggest worry surrounding games like Titanfall, Evolve and Destiny is that while they offer developers the chance to engage players directly and develop a great game experience over time, it may lead to more stripped-down, leaner but unsatisfactory AAA offerings as a result. It’s not yet clear where Evolve with fall on this spectrum but after my time with it, I am very excited to find out.