PAX East: Learning to Evolve into a Real Monster
Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 were in constant rotation on my Xbox 360 when they came out. My closest friends and I must've played those campaigns dozens of times, over and over and over again. Nothing was ever too played out, and we still return to the fold every once in a while when we've a hankering for some ol' fashioned zombie slayin'. When Turtle Rock Studios announced it was working on a new cooperative game, that was literally all the information I needed to know. This team could have announced a sandwich-making sim, and I would've been excited. Fortunately for all of us, Turtle Rock instead announced Evolve.
PAX East was the first time I was able to get some hands-on time with Evolve, and when it came time to put players into queue pens, I immediately shot my hand up to be the monster, Goliath. As great has playing a shooter is when you've got a gun, not many have given us the chance to be the big bad, hunting all the little goody two-shoes. If you're unfamiliar with Evolve, that's basically the premise. Four players take the roles of various hunters, while one player steps into the ever-changing body of one of a handful of monsters. Though there are going to be a number of modes in the final game, PAX East's demo showed of Hunt, where the objective was to kill or be killed.
I'll be honest, I was going to try to write this preview all from the perspective of Goliath. But I figured you all would have stopped reading about two sentences in when all the text was variations of "Graargh," "Rrrrroaargh," "Sngort" and whatever other onomatopoeias I could come up with. Instead, I'm going to regale you with the tale of how I demolished the opposition with a little help from evolution.
At the start, Goliath is a mildly formidable foe. When a match begins, Goliath gets a few skill points to load up one of four abilities, each of which has three levels. Want to max out the leap attack right off the bat? Cool. How about mixing in a bit of fire-breathing and a tad of faster eating? That's smart, too. The faster you can eat, the faster you can evolve. On the planet where our match took place, the wildlife, both docile and aggressive, was plentiful. I gobbled up a herd of some kind of animal, and was quickly able to strengthen and grow into the monster my mother always told me I would become. By the time I reached stage two of my adolescence, the hunters had arrived and the chase was on. But who was hunting who?
Hunters have some varied skills and abilities, but the ones that pestered me the most were the mobile arena and the harpoon gun. With the mobile arena, the hunters can set up a confined space from which a monster cannot escape for a short duration. The harpoons help slow and hold you down so everyone else can blast away. It's like trying to run through incredibly thick molasses, only the molasses is also shooting you. Thankfully, I was still just strong enough to hold the hunters at bay, and make a quick escape through the jungles to find more sustenance. Puberty had been fun, but it was time to go be an adult now. I celebrated by eating the corpses of dead animals. It was a rite of passage.
The hunters managed to find me again before I had time to enter my second growth spurt, so I had to swat them away like the little buggers they were. My leap attack also served as a decent mode of transportation, so I made like the Hulk and jumped to safety. Once I climbed up a few cliffs, I dropped to my knees and began the transformation into my final form. Then I was really a bad-ass. With fully-upgraded fire-breathing, charge and a leap attack, the hunters didn't really stand a chance. Perhaps that's why they tried to lure me into a confined space inside a generator room. Little did they know, it wasn't me who was trapped in there with them.
Despite the other players' best efforts, being stuck in a single room wasn't advantageous for the hunters. My leap attack wasn't exactly as bounding as it had been outdoors, but you can only outrun me spitting hot fire for so long. Eventually, you're going to get burned. The strategy behind the hunters' plan wasn't bad in theory, and probably would have overwhelmed me had I not been a raging beast from the east. It also would have helped if these four other players had known each other, been able to form real strategies from previous encounters, or even listened to one another rather than trying to experiment with the mechanics and controls. All I had to do was focus on being the best version of me I could.
Evolve's four-on-one mechanic would have you instantly think there's no way the monster could ever survive when the team is working together. For the purposes of the demo, it was almost unfair to the hunters to be pitted against someone who didn't have to rely on anyone else's help. However, even when playing as Goliath, I could see strategies forming for when I was a hunter. The terrain advantages and disadvantages, the chokepoints, the ways four could work together in a confined area, all of these things were visible to me because my sole objective was to kill. Hunters have specific roles to fill, and when one person deviates, the whole plan throws a monkey in the wrench. When two people deviate? It's dinner time for me.
Evolve will be available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this fall.