Multi-player games always get closer to that goal I want from playing games. For me, games can have story, graphics, characters and worlds you can lose yourself in, but the games with the strongest memories are multi-player games because they’re tied to friends as well. You get to go on a journey together and share your experiences with them in a way that to me, means they’re preserved for longer.
Games like Dead Island, Killing Floor, and Payday 2 are all games I can sink entire days in to and enjoy every second. There is a level above those games though, reserved for a special kind of game like Dungeonland and Left 4 Dead. Games that see you playing with friends, trying to work together towards a common goal, while someone else tries to prevent that goal. Evolve falls into that last category and looks like a game that if you have friends willing to throw down the cash and play with you, has the potential to create group memories you either love or hate.
For a brief catch-up lesson, Evolve is a 4 vs 1 sci-fi based co-op shooter that takes place on the planet Shear and sees a group of hunters trying their very best to kill a monster without becoming Jackson Pollock paintings all over the walls, floors, and whatever other surface happens to be close. The hunters are broken down to 4 different roles; Assault, Trapper, Medic, and Support. Each of these roles is then broken down into several characters that you can pick from. When we went hands-on with the game there were currently two options for each role, but it was discussed that they’re looking to launch with 3 for each role, bringing the number of hunters to pick from up to 12.
If you’re simply interested in ventilating things, then the Assault will be what you gravitate towards, packing an up close and personal weapon and one for longer range engagements as well, the Assault can be a pain in the ass for any wannabe monster, I’ll cover the Assault in a little more detail further down as it was the class I played my hunter round with.
The Trapper is extremely useful for hunters and a pain in the ass if you’re the monster. Both current Trappers pack a Mobile arena, which can only be described as Thunderdome, or that really terrible blue thing from the Battleship movie. The Mobile arena throws up a decent sized energy dome that prevents the monster from running away until it runs out. The duration depends on which side of the coin you’re on, for monsters it’s far too long, and for hunters it’s just not long enough. Playing as a hunter the dome always seemed to drop just as we were about to secure the kill. Whereas on the flip side while playing as the monster it just seemed to last forever and left me panicking that I was going to die.
Next up on the hunter list, we have the Medic class. The person you’re going to be screaming at for heals at some point during the game. Equipped with such wonderful delights as a healing burst to give allies around and themselves a much-needed health boost, a rifle so that you don’t need to get too close to deal some damage to the monster and if you’re playing as Val, one of the medics available, you’ll also have a tranquillizer gun so that you can keep the monster slowed while the rest of your team chases it down. Rounding up this rather well-equipped group is the Support, bringing cloak, orbital barrages, drones, support shields for an ally and other toys to the field. The support can lay down some fire to help out, while also either assisting allies when things get tough or keeping tabs on the monster when on the chase.
Going into the game it can seem like the hunters have every tool they need to be able to take down a monster player, and that’s true they do, but the monsters also have some tricks to stay one step ahead. Currently there are two variations to choose from with hints that Turtle Rock want to add a third before release (3 monsters and 3 of each hunter, is a nice starting line-up). The Kraken is a ranged nightmare, able to jump and glide around the map quickly putting distance between them and the hunters. While if melee and smash is more your style then Goliath has you covered, being described as not only “being able to punch through the hull of a starship, but also breathes fire”.
After watching a brief presentation giving us an overview on the game and the additions of the Kraken and a new map called Distillery, it was time to get down and dirty. Machines were put in rows of five, at each end would be the monster player and then down the row would be the 4 hunters trying to take them down. Each group of hunters had the ability to communicate via voice-comms and also had an “instructor” on comms with them to assist and help point them in the right direction occasionally. In the first round I was on the side of the hunters and sitting at the Assault PC gave me a choice between Hyde and Markov.
Markov looked like he could put out a fair amount of damage, being armed with a lightning gun for close-range combat, along with an assault rifle for those longer range engagements, and while Markov was stood there, the lightning gun crackling with temptation, it was Hyde I picked up instead for 2 reasons. 1) Flamethrower. 2) Mini-Gun. Hyde’s arsenal consisted of a close-range flamethrower and if you want to just fill an area with bullets the mini-gun has you covered. As a final addition to his wonderful carnival of carnage Hyde also packs toxic grenades which I was informed are great for flushing out caves, sadly I only got to throw one of them in my game and all it did was anger the local wildlife and cause me to have to flee in case I drew too much attention to my stupidity.
We suited up and prepared for combat, being informed that the monster player we were against had picked the new Kraken. Having never played against either of them, I knew not what to expect and instead just prepared myself for the worst. Our squad headed out in a random direction as it seemed the best idea at the start of the game when we had pretty much 0 information to go on. This gave me some time to realise that not only did I have a jetpack but I could also use it for quick dashing to get around the map, I was untouchable, a speed demon, gracefully sliding over the map, jumping over ledges and cliffs, happily enjoying the scenery, I didn’t care that we were here to deal with a monster threat, I was a ballerina.
Spinning and dancing my way towards a rather steep drop over a cliff, my momentary panic was replaced with a calm knowing that one of my squad was just behind me until I look back up the cliff and see that one of the plant life has decided to actually EAT the guy that was behind me. It was at this point that reality came crashing down on me. The jetpack, does, in fact, allow you to dash, however doing so eats a large amount of fuel, which isn’t the quickest when it comes to recharging. I had to watch helplessly as Griffin was digested by this oversized flytrap. Thankfully the monster decided that this would be the perfect time to interject and allow a small amount of redemption on my part. Calling the rest of my team over to our location they were able to revive Griff and we began our first engagement with a level 1 Kraken.
Sidebar for a moment. In the lead up to playing Evolve and during all of the information I had seen about the game, I was concerned about balance, I was unsure how the game could feel fair to both sides at the same time. The monster evolves three times, during which it gets more powerful, which to me meant that either level 3 would be balanced and level 1 would be weak and fragile, meaning games could end very quickly and the monster player could being demoralised OR the alternative is that level 1 is balanced and level 3 is over the top. After having played both sides of the coin I now know the answer.
Thunderdome time. Us versus the monster. Our first encounter taught me many lessons, the monster even at level one can pack a punch and take a beating, however, if it’s foolish enough to stand still and allow you to light it up, you will shred a good amount of health and armour off of it. It also taught me that the Thunderdome shield when you’re playing as a hunter needs to last just a few seconds longer. Both Hyde’s weapons felt responsive and accurate, my only complaint would be that using the flame-thrower sometimes it was hard to gauge whether or not I was actually close enough to hit the Kraken. The moment the shield came down the Kraken bolted, and it was at this point that I decided the team would have to try and keep up with not only the monster but me as well. I’m a good team player at times, however, I’m also fiercely competitive, and there was no way I was allowing our trophy to escape. The terrain flows beautifully for both sides, allowing monsters to run and duck between scenery while allowing hunters to leap and jump and dash around to try and keep up. Created to be a naturally formed parkour course the map suddenly opened up to both of us, the Kraken and man, chasing became a game in itself, relaying information to the team of our location so they could keep up, while light sprays of the mini-gun kept the Kraken running. And then… It was gone. disappearing behind a pillar and into a cave system, the Kraken had escaped. Our team regrouped and headed into the cave to find our prey when we were met with some fearful words.
The Monster is now level 2.
This was one of those moments you could see played out in the game, as all of our characters turned and looked at each other. Thankfully it wouldn’t matter too much, as we walked into the caves and found nothing. The next few minutes of our lives being spent exploring and hunting before we were greeted by another message.
The Monster is now level 3.
It was at this point that reality came crashing down. Somehow we had spent longer than we planned to exploring those damn caves, we gave the Kraken time to recover, time to prepare for us, time for BIRDS. On every map there are small groups of birds. Startling one of these groups as a monster makes the hunters very suddenly aware of your location and thankfully our Kraken had done just that. All four of us bolted in the general direction of the last known location before reality hit me once again. Once the monster gets to level 3, they can win by completing an objective, this map required him to destroy a generator. We wouldn’t find the Kraken at his last location, he was heading for the generator. Griffon thankfully was just as aware of this as I was, and the pair of us made a B-line for the generator to protect it, the other two realising what was going on and shifted direction as well.
The fight that ensued between us and the Kraken in memory plays out in fragmented sections of panic. One of our party died, the other three managed to lure the Kraken away from the objective. Thunderdome went up several times. And the Kraken fell. There wasn’t much excitement to the final fight, it was chaotic and intense but it was focused and pure, a pure fight that ended (somewhat) cleanly because of mistakes made by the Kraken not by our prowess. The Kraken is a ranged monster, a beast at delivering damage and keeping distance, and the player behind the controls forgot that, tried to fight up close and personal with our team and paid for it. There is no tale for generations here, just a lesson. Strength and weakness. Just because you’re a big monster, does not mean that you are invincible. It was this fight that made me understand just how much time Turtle Rock had put into balance, and it bordered on a scary level of dedication to balance. Every level of the monster felt balanced, felt fair to both, and was simply given to either side on a plate, as if to say here, if you mess up, that’s not our fault.
We took off our headsets and were told there was time for one more round. It was my time to shine. My time to bring the terror to the hunters, for me it wouldn’t be the Kraken though. I would be bringing the pain, I would be big daddy Goliath. Goliath was the first monster announced and is much tankier and upfront than Kraken, focusing on getting all up in your face and then spitting fire. Once you’ve picked the monster you’re playing as you’re presented with a skill selection screen. Each monster is given 4 abilities and 3 points to start with. You can choose to put them all into one of the skills or spread them out. I put one point into charge to give me a bit more movement and a way to engage and disengage a bit better, and then two points in fire breath because it’s fire breath.
I was ready for a fight, I was ready to bring it to these hunters and show them exactly who they were up against. As a monster, your goal in the earlier stages is to kill wildlife and eat it to fill up your evolve bar so you can be stronger and more kickass so you can go all Popeye on the hunters. Unfortunately for me, it was at this point I somehow forgot how I did anything, instead of eating the wildlife, I walked up next to it and just stood there looking at it, as if some unspoken connection was happening, monster and tiny cat thing, together, unified, at peace and just enjoying life. *Thunderdome Up* What, no I’m not ready, I’m level 1 this can’t happen, not like this how did they find me. The bullets fly all around, I have to dash and hide, how long does this Thunderdome last, it’s too long, this is ridiculous. My armour disappears, my health starts melting. I’m going to die a failure, I’ve had the shortest run as a monster at all of Gamescom. *Thunderdome is down* There’s my chance, I charge away, running between the terrain, hiding when I can, using the built-in smell ability to see how close the hunters are, they’re close, but they can’t see me, I’m safe, they run in the other direction. I can rest, I can eat in peace, I walk down to the beach and feast, the meat giving me what I need. The hunters are still looking for me further inland, and this beach is filled with creatures. I gorge myself, I feast until I’m full and then I rest. Evolving to level 2 grants me several more points, choosing to max out my fire breath and putting a point in a skill called leap smash allowing me to jump around.
With a bit more health and some armour I’m in a better way, as long as I played it safe and pick my tar *Thunderdome Up* They found me while I was evolving, evolving takes some time and leaves you vulnerable. I have more skills under my belt this time, but I’m not in the clear yet, the fight is brutal, they strip my armour away, they leave me wounded but I managed to down one of their team in the process, two of their team stays behind to revive their fallen comrade while one of them stays on my tail, he’s unrelenting and rather accurate. Caves, there’s caves up ahead that I can use to hide in, damn, he’s still following me, this guy is unrelenting and his team are… Oh. His team were nowhere to be seen, he’d lost them in his tracking and they’d not kept up with him.
This was a one on one fight, this was one hunter versus me, a fire breathing Goliath. The fight is messy but quick, fighting against Hyde, he had some survivability by using his shield, but it wasn’t enough, he was down and would need his team to come and get him. I could leave, and more importantly, I could feed. Level 3 filled out my abilities and opened up the objective, the hunters were still in the cave, the objective down near the beach. I made a dash for the beach, beating on the generator made me realise that it was built like a tank, this was not something that I could take down in a couple of hits. The hunters were aware of my intentions, they’d be here soon. The generator was down to 50%. There was no way I’d get it down before they get here. 45% *Thunderdome Up* An epiphany hit me at this moment. I was level 3, my skills maxed, they thought they had trapped me, but they had trapped themselves. This fight didn’t go down like the previous ending. It was long, drawn-out, Thunderdome came down and we did not care. as my health dwindled down, so too did theirs, I was at 15% health, one of their team died. 7% and a second member was down. 4% and the third fell, it was just me versus one of them. 3% I was close, they were ducking in and out of the terrain, 2% and they jump out in the open, I manage to charge them and leap slam, they’re wounded, 1% health and they’re on about the same, pixels of green stand between them and death, I just need one more hit, I leap slam, my Goliath flying through the air with force, fury, I hit the ground and fall over. 0% I died in mid-air, the last hunter surviving, by mere seconds, the sighs and cheers coming from hunter players, shows me that it was a good game, I smile and let out a small vocal annoyance, the victory snatched from me, and with that our time was over.
Evolve has managed to capture that wonderful excitement and tension of playing against other people. To play with friends and achieve something together, or to just be competitive and beat another person. But more shockingly from start to finish, they’ve managed to make it feel balanced, the guns, the monster, the movement, everything has a level of care and commitment to making it feel right. The hunters have the ability to get around quickly with their jetpacks but weigh the costs first or it might end up getting someone killed. The monster is not to be underestimated at any level but also cannot just charge into a group and kill them all without caring. The abilities feel as balanced as the weapons. Nothing I saw during my experience with the game turned me off from playing it. I’m curious to see if there’s any kind of progression and advancement in the game to keep you playing past the initial experience. But Evolve lives in that space that if it’s balanced and done right can be a game that you keep coming back to for a game with your friends. Of course one of the big key factors here that needs mentioning though is that it’s a 4 vs 1 game. Are you going to have 4 friends that are willing to invest in the game, and to play it with you? You can, of course, choose to play with other random people if you so desire, but if previous games are anything to go by, the moment something starts going wrong they will disconnect on you and not only ruin the game but also before doing so will more than likely yell obscenities and someone in your game.