Cory, 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.