Say You Want An Evolution
Evolve has, thus far, been a mysterious beast - much like the Goliath creature that has been at the heart of the promotional campaign so far. So when we went hands-on with the game, we weren't 100% sure what to expect. What we found was one of the most intense combat experiences we've seen in a long time.
Evolve is half first-person co-op shooter, half third-person melee brawler, depending which side of the 4-vs-1 combat you're playing on. In the red corner, a crack team of specialists working together to hunt a monstrous beast on an alien world. In the blue corner... well, it's that very same beast, out to prove who actually is the ultimate predator as it "evolves" from one monstrous form to the next.
It's an interesting premise, and in lesser hands could be a much less fun experience. But Evolve comes to us from Turtle Rock, creators of the Left 4 Dead franchise and no strangers to the co-op shooter. There's certainly some Left 4 Dead found in the DNA of Evolve - the emphasis on working together, the need to help each other when "incapped" in the heat of battle - which helps offer some familiarity to the gameplay. But there's also a lot that's new - an evolution of the co-op shooter, if you will.
There's No "I" In Team
Playing on the side of the human hunters, your role on the team is very specific, and your weapons and skills reflect this. Assault is the big gun of the team, armed with a very cool lightning gun, automatic rifle and a very powerful mine. The Trapper is an expert hunter and uses his harpoon gun to snare the beast. The Medic is responsible for healing the rest of the team during the course of the hunt, while Support can extend a shield to protect his teammates and call down airstrikes. These very distinct classes and their respective equipment mean that you have to stick to your role or the whole mission will fail.
Yes, this is one of the truest co-operative experiences we've ever played with teamwork at the very heart of your tactics. Stick together, work together, and together you'll (hopefully) snare the beast. At times this can be quite frustrating - playing as Assault, it can sometimes feel like you've got too much responsibility to take down the monster when you've got it cornered, while as Medic or Support, you can feel a little helpless when cornered by the beast - but mastering your skills and really working as a team with almost clockwork precision is really rewarding.
But it's not just about the fight - the thrill of the hunt itself is also what makes Evolve stand out. The maps are not only large but filled with dangerous terrain, and even more dangerous flora and fauna, all of which you'll need to navigate around as you try to track and snare a monster that is doing its darnedest to stay one (very large) step ahead of you. Fortunately, you all have jetpacks that let you bound around the planet like nobody's business and ascend high mountains and man-made structures with no problem - and which prove handy to zip out of the way during combat. Visually, the maps are stunning, too, with the lush vegetation, treacherous rocks and everything else on the map rendered with painstaking amounts of detail.
The Nature Of The Beast
That's one side of the battle covered then. But what about playing as the monster? We're told there will be different monsters in the game, but the Goliath was the only one we were able to get our hands on. However, he was more than enough to prove just how fun it is playing as what would normally the beastly boss you need to defeat.
The monster is what gives Evolve its name - eat enough of the local wildlife and you'll get the strength needed to Evolve into the next level of the beast, making you bigger, stronger, and adding another ability to your moveset. The abilities are suitably savage for a creature like the Goliath, and include the likes of fire-breathing, pouncing and rock-throwing, essentially offering up its own version of long-, mid- and short-range weapons. The trick to playing as Goliath is to stay far enough ahead of the hunters that you can eat and evolve without being attacked - you're at your weakest when you emerge from your Evolution cocoon, so timing really is everything. Another key trick is leaping and climbing your way around the map, leaving fewer tracks for them to follow.
While keeping away from the hunters is a necessary skill, the real fun comes with the fighting. It makes for a nice change of pace to play as the other side of the battle, and while the skills used are quite familiar, the results aren't really the same. There's something very fulfilling about swatting the hunters away with your talons, breathing fire on them and hurling rocks from a distance. Pouncing, charging and slashing away are all as fun as you'd imagine, but don't get too carried away - you'll still need to fight with the same kind of tactics as you would as a human, knowing when to attack and when to get away. Take out the Medic or Support first and the others have much less defence against you. And even though you're a massive monster, you can really sustain some damage if trapped, so knowing when to escape to hunt, eat and heal is just as valuable.
We only saw one part of the map and only one monster, so we can't help but think that we've barely scratched the surface of what Evolve will offer. But after a few hours playing the game from both sides of the battle, it's hard to say which offered the more enjoyable experience. The savagery of Goliath and the tactical teamwork were both equally intense and rewarding in their own ways, and the fact you even have that choice makes this a game worth hunting down when it's released later this year.