Written by Tyler Wilde and Cory Banks
A couple weeks ago at PAX East, Tyler and Cory both played Evolve , the new asymmetrical shooter from Left 4 Dead creators Turtle Rock. On one team, four soldiers cooperate to hunt down and kill a giant monster in a large open map, and on the other team... you're the giant monster. In two separate rounds, Tyler played as the Medic, and Cory as the Goliath (the first monster announced so far)—here are their experiences.
Oh, look at you guys, patting each other on the back for “great shooting” or whatever it is you murder-happy gun guys do. Sorry, I couldn't quite see what happened because I was too busy keeping your faces from being stomped into the ground.
Medic is the most important soldier class in Evolve, but do I ever hear “what a refreshing healing beam, Tyler!” or “Nice job running away!” or anything other than cries for help? No. I'm not in it for high-fives—OK, I am a little—but playing as Medic sure feels thankless. And being the savior is stressful, especially when your team is yelling for help and you're 100 yards away because they rushed into battle like kids evacuating class the day before summer break.
Evolve's fail state works like Left 4 Dead's, except there's no respawning in closets. Downed soldiers wait as long as it takes to be revived by any other teammate, but if all four go down, the monster wins. As Medic for this PAX East match, it's my job to make sure no one goes down in the first place, or to revive them while damage-dealers distract the monster. I'm fitted with a Team Fortress 2-style homing ray that heals teammates or buffs their health when they're already filled up, a local area-of-effect healing burst with a cooldown timer, and a sniper rifle which opens up weak points on the monster.
The match starts and we're immediately following a trail of luminescent footprints, but lose them over a ridge. We follow locational text notifications that the monster has displaced flocks of birds (it's too bad the environmental cues aren't obvious enough alone), and then I spot it. It's right in front of me, no more than 100 feet down a treeless path, all big and smooth and ugly. It's just standing there. I unload my magazine into its head while my teammates keep running ahead. What. Are. They. Doing.
Oh. It's just one of the regular native animals. It's a big one, but not the monster. Our guide from Turtle Rock tells me to stop shooting it, because I'm making it angry. I shoot it a couple more times, hoping everyone thinks I'm just goofing off. Yeah. Take that.
We're pestered by other little creatures here and there, but they never do much damage. The trickiest thing on the hunt is simply staying together. We all have jetpacks, but they have limited energy and have to recharge, so when everyone sails over a ridge while I'm goofing off among the treetops I get left behind. It doesn't help that I met my teammates five seconds ago, so when someone shouts “found footsteps!” I don't know who to follow. I expect we'll hear “who said that?!” often in public matches.
We follow a lot of footsteps for the first half of the match. Our monster—that is, the guy playing him—is timid, always running away to find grub and evolve. We do have a one tense skirmish, though. We're ambushed in the forest, and the monster immediately knocks me into a swamp. I was trying to jetpack out of the way when he hit me, and I thought I was out of the way, but however hit detection works it didn't work in my favor. I'm generally disappointed by the way the monster's animations whack the air in front of soldiers and send them flying—I don't sense a lot of weight or impact from it, just terrible confusion as I go tumbling.
Anyway, I'm in a swamp. Weapons can't be used in water, so my healing ray is unusable until I swim to shore. Meanwhile, everyone's yelling for me. It's briefly frightening, but the monster scampers away again to evolve to his next stage and we regroup.
Once the monster reaches his final stage of evolution, he has to either kill the soldiers or complete an objective to win. In this case, he has to destroy a generator. I'm beginning to think generators don't actually exist in the real world and are the inventions of game designers. Anyway, when we get the final evolution notice, our guide instructs us to set up camp in the generator's warehouse-sized enclosure. We do, and we wait.
I'm perched on a catwalk while my team circles the floor. “He's outside the door,” whispers a teammate. “Don't go out there. Just wait. He'll come.” Someone goes out there. Someone gets smacked into the forest. Oh good .
We all rush outside to help him. I get out the door last and I'm confused. I'm trying to follow my scattered teammates, but I don't know where the monster is or who's fighting him. I try to jetpack up the side of the generator building—the Trapper's up there—but I fail the first attempt. Instead of waiting for my jetpack to recharge, I run after Support.
Above: The latest Evolve trailer shows a match from each perspective.
Now we've split up. Support and I are fine, but the Trapper and Assault guys have been left alone without a Medic. “He's coming back!” says someone in the other pair. They're back in the generator room already, and we aren't there. Support and I start running, using our jetpacks to boost forward.
Back in the generator room, the Trapper has snared the monster with a harpoon. I sprint into the room—getting there felt like forever—and shoot it in the head with my rifle before switching to my med gun. I try to heal, but the pair is badly hurt. Assault goes down. The monster is trying to escape. I try to revive Assault but get backhanded. The Trapper drops his mobile arena, creating a shimmering dome over the generator building and surrounding forest so the monster can't escape. I get up and start healing the Trapper while Support revives Assault. I get smacked in the face again. I'm down. The trapper has the beast harpooned again. Support drops an orbital strike.
The monster, somewhat anti-climactically, crumples into a heap. He's dead! That final moment was what I was looking for: the moment of panic you get in a Left 4 Dead Tank battle, where teammates are incapacitated and you have to choose between doing damage or trying to revive them, grasping for a little more time to score that final blow. It was a great moment, and I wanted more of them throughout the match. I foresee that there will be in matches against experienced monsters, and I really like the idea that there might be famed monster players to seek out. Going up against a monster with 20 wins and zero losses would be exhilarating.
Here, we delivered our monster his first loss in his first game. I felt a little bad. He was trying, the poor giant hell creature, and having four little humans running around all over the place has to be stressful. I'll leave that perspective for Cory, who played as the monster in a different round.
As we stood up, the story of the game came out in smiles and nods and “nice jobs.” No one thanked me, the Medic, but we won, so I don't mind. Actually I sort of do mind.
On the next page, Cory plays as the Monster…
One of my fellow players tries to strike up a conversation as we wait in line on the PAX East expo floor. I'm polite, but I don't engage. I don't want to make friends with my prey.
It's funny that Tyler compares his experience to fighting a Tank in L4D. It feels very different on the Monster side, at least at the beginning. I start the game by assigning three skill points across four different abilities. I can toss boulders, breathe fire, charge forward, or do a leaping smash attack. Each will cost a point to unlock, and I can improve them later when I evolve my beastie. I throw two points into the charge and one into the leap, anticipating that in the early moments of the game, I'm going to need to flee at a moment's notice.
My specific monster is called the Goliath, and he looks and feels a lot like a feral version of The Incredible Hulk. Aside from some powerful melee strikes, the Goliath's best feature in the early moments of a match is its jumping—I can leap in the direction of my targeting reticule, which means I can clear large distances with some careful aiming. Or I can throw myself straight up in the air on accident and look foolish. I do both in equal measure, but eventually get the hang of flinging myself at the various wildlife around me, clicking a thumbstick to “smell” the targets around me. A quick attack and the deer-like creatures are down, ready for me to feast upon by holding down a trigger.
This is what I expect from the early game: I'm hunting, I'm feasting, I'm powering up and getting ready to evolve. When I'm ready, I climb to the top of a ledge and hold down both triggers. And I'm halfway through the process of assigning my new skill points into rock tossing and charge when I spot my first hunter.
It's a lucky situation: the opposing team's Assault squaddie has broken away from his friends. I had expected that I'd be playing a cat-and-mouse game with the hunters until I've evolved to my final stage, but this is too good to pass up.
I leap off the platform and smash down on the hunter, catching him completely off guard. I strafe around him and bash him with my gargantuan arms, using the charge ability to keep up with him and keep the pressure on. Had he stayed with him team, it's doubtful that I could have done much damage to him; he'd be shielded by his Support guy, or healed by his Healer. But he's all alone, and by the time his friends hit my location I've pummelled him to death.
“He's out of the game for two minutes,” the demo runner tells me in my headset.
“Let's have some fun,” I growl.
Sparring with the other three hunters is still not easy. Even short a squaddie, the teams skills interact well enough that the fight still feels tense. I swat away harpoons, get stuck in the electro-dome trap, and take increased damage from the Healer's pinpointed sniper shots. But I'm messing with them, too: charging toward them as they scatter, tossing boulders at them in midair, and smashing them into the ground. Eventually, I'm down to half health—wounds and blood cover the Goliath's body, a nice touch—and I decide it's time to make my escape, using Charge to break away from the battle and leaping across whole areas of the map.
I kill a few more of the deer and heal up a bit during the feeding, continuing to use my smell ability to watch for the hunters who are hot on my trail. As I search for a safe place to evolve, I wonder how atypical this match rhythm is. I expected to hide a lot more, but so far I feel like I'm controlling the pace. That may be because we're all so new at the game—and the convention floor certainly isn't the best spot to learn a game—but it makes me wonder if the hunters are powerful enough to take me down.
Fully evolved, I make my way to the generator, the map's end goal and where I expect the hunters to make a final stand. I find them just outside, and launch a flying smash right into the four of them. This time, I use my fire breath to scatter the group, and focus my damage on one of them at a time, trying to keep them separated. When I let them stay together, their powers start to wear me down, but keeping them unorganized lets me dictate how the battle goes.
One by one, they drop. Assault falls down a canyon and I follow, smashing into him and feasting on his corpse. Because he's died three times, he's out of the game.
Finally, I have the Healer cornered. In my frenzy, I don't notice that I'm not doing any damage. She's shielded by the Support teammate, cloaked and out of my eyeline. I cannot abide this, and I roast him like a game hen on a spit. When the Healer flies off, I toss a boulder into the air and—somehow—hit her square in the face. And when I devour her, the match ends.
The combat is fast and frantic, but there are lots of decision points along the way. My victory was largely based on the luck of finding one hunter away from the group, and the match momentum could have swung in their favor at any time. I like that I have to be careful about when I engage, and I appreciate that, from the Goliath's perspective, I'm allowed to feel powerful, but only to a point. A more experienced group would have my head hanging from their lodge wall, though, and it won't take players long to explore everything Evolve's Hunt mode has to offer. What will the other modes add? It's a big question, and will have a significant impact on whether Evolve will have the legs that Left 4 Dead does.
I shake the hunters' hands as I exit the demo floor. Forget what your mother says: it's a lot of fun to play with your food.