In a lot of mainstream multiplayer video games, we dress up as a soldier and take on opposing teams of other, similar soldiers. What if there were a game about a team of soldiers taking on one GIANT opponent? Maybe a massive beast that breathes fire? That'd be cool.
That'd also be an actual thing: Turtle Rock Studios' Evolve, which I recently played and which left me impressed. A couple of weeks ago I attended a press event in San Francisco hosted by 2K, Evolve's publisher. There, a bunch of members of the press were stationed at several five-computer tables, where we spent most of the day playing the game against (or alongside) one another.
The setup for each five-player game is basically this:
Evolve is best described as a cooperative multiplayer boss battle where one player controls the boss. Four players hop into the shoes of the hunters, a group of presumably well-paid mercenaries who parachute into troubled areas and take care of big beasties that show up and cause trouble. The fifth player controls the monster itself—a huge, extremely powerful beast that can shred just about anything in its path and only grows more powerful as the match progresses.
The hunters win by killing the monster, and the monster wins by either killing the hunters or "evolving" a couple of times and taking out a level-specific objective. (In the case of the level we played, that meant destroying a generator and eating some helpless scientists.)
I'll share some bullet-pointed impressions and facts here, but 2K sent over enough b-roll footage of the game that it'll be way easier for me to just show you. So, I cut together this video (apologies for any Google ads on the clip; not our doing):
Looks cool, right? Of course, the usual preview caveats apply: I only played one level of the game, it's still a ways from release, etc. (It's coming to Xbox One, PS4 and PC in fall of 2014.)
- The classes all play very differently, and you'll have to dispatch with a full complement of the four classes: Medic, Assault, Support and Trapper. (You can't, say, dispatch with four medics.) There is simply no way to effectively fight the monster unless you stick to your class's designated skill: The medic must shoot a healing ray at injured party members, support must fire shields at the assault guy as he attacks, the trapper must smartly restrict the movement of the beast in order to let the rest of the team do damage. Teamwork is crucial, and communication is key. Without either of those things, the monster will destroy you, particularly since the monster player doesn't have to worry about either teamwork or communication.
- In the video I said I was pretty sure that the footage is from the PC version, but now I'm 100% sure - I confirmed it with 2K.
- I also confirmed that Evolve won't offer split-screen multiplayer. It'll be one player per console/PC.
- The jetpacks are a lot of fun—between Evolve and Titanfall, it seems like enhanced verticality and jet-jumps are becoming more of a trend in multiplayer games. I'd be into that.
- The game will be on next-gen consoles (Xbox One and PS4) and PC only. Ashton said that's largely because most of the sacrifices they'd need to make to get it running on last-gen consoles would have directly impacted gameplay and balance. You can't just take out some of the wildlife or flocks of birds, since they're all a crucial part of the level. (The monster needs to eat the wildlife to evolve, and birds give the hunters a sense of where the monster is hiding.)
- You can play any of the roles you'd like offline, with bots fleshing out the other roles. You can also practice your monster game against AI hunters.
- I asked how the game was performing on next-gen consoles, but Ashton told me it was way too early to say. The PC version we played, naturally, was running at 1080p and 60 frames per second. It looked great.
- Of all the classes I played, I think I enjoyed Support the most. He's the most versatile class, able to fire shields around other players, cloak and become invisible (the better to flee the giant beast), and call in a super-powerful airstrike, which can be devastating if the hunters happen upon a cocooned, vulnerable monster. Medic and Trapper were both fun as well, and the Trapper seems like the role that you'd want to give to your most seasoned player. Assault was the least interesting, but was still fun, provided you've got a good Medic and Support shielding you and healing you as you mix it up with a monster the size of a building.
- Hunters can be incapacitated if they run out of health, and will need to be revived much like in Left 4 Dead. (They even hold up a pistol in the downed state and can get off some shots at enemies.) You get three "incaps" as a hunter before you're dead for good.
- Playing as the monster is the most fun of all, of course. In my turn as the monster, I took some major gambles, evolving almost in plain sight and reaching level 3. The initial hide-and-seek of levels one and two is often pretty exciting, but man does it open up when you reach level three. At that point, my coach from 2K told me, "Okay, you don't really have to run away anymore. You can take these guys." I turned around and just laid waste to the hunters, winning the match while a bunch of people stood around our table cheering. It was the best. (I never win in multiplayer games.)
- In our demo, each of the four classes was represented by a named character. There was Hank the Support, Markov the Assault, Val the Medic and Griffon the Trapper. Of course the lady is the Medic, I initially thought. Later, though, design director Chris Ashton assured me that there are many different named characters that can fulfill each role, with women in other roles than just Medic. Sounds like this game will have a larger cast than the demo we played.
- Each named character will fit into one of the four classes, but there'll be some variety in how they all work. They'll all have the same primary weapon/tool, but each one will load out with different backup weapons and abilities. As you play, you'll also unlock upgrades and new gear, though the developers weren't really going into specifics.
- It'll be crucial for Evolve to come with a wide variety of monsters. The matches we played were like jacked-up Tank battles from Left 4 Dead—which makes sense, given that Turtle Rock made the first Left 4 Dead. The Goliath, the monster we controlled, was very much like a Tank from L4D—he even had a boulder-throw ability and a "pounce" like L4D's Hunter. That was fine (and fun!) but it also felt a liiiiittle been-there-done-that. The developers were tight-lipped on other monster types, but I'd love to see some greater variety. Maybe a cloaking, stealth-based monster, or a flying monster, or some sort of Xenomorphian, agile hunter? Just saying!
- The level we played was large and varied, and left room for a lot of strategy, particularly with the larger, more dangerous AI monsters roaming around. A smart monster player could lead the hunters into a trap, getting them bushwhacked by the giant alligator that lives under the factory, or leading them into a horde of poison crawlers. Knowing the level can give either side a substantial advantage.
- As we played, everyone got better at playing as the monster, to the point where we started to understand the choke points in the map, the good hunting grounds, the best ways to sneak up on the hunters, etc. It'd take me at least a half-dozen more go-rounds to really get my head around the whole map, though. At one point, we played as hunters and our "monster coach" from 2K took us on and absolutely destroyed us by mostly using the monster's stealth mode so that we couldn't track him easily. Some other people from 2k also told me a story of how 2K's best monster player took on Turtle Rock's best team of hunters. He apparently went in cocky, sure that he could take them down, but they broke out strategies he'd never even heard of and wrecked him. It sounds like there'll be room for some very high-level play in Evolve.
I was impressed with Evolve, and certainly want to play/know more. If next-gen multiplayer games want to entice new players with this sort of asymmetrical design and smart cooperative gameplay, sign me up. Just as Left 4 Dead did last-gen, games like Evolve will likely get me to hop online much more often than I do now.
Here's a new trailer for the game:
And here are some more screenshots that 2K sent over: