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Co-op monster hunting in Evolve

OK, round over, it’s time to switch. There are four Hunter classes: Assault, Medic, Support and Trapper. They’re equally important, but the Trapper is more important. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a Trapper. Paltry machine gun aside, her harpoon gun tethers the monster to the ground, and her pet trapjaw Daisy, which is basically an alien bloodhound, can track the monster’s scent. Best of all is the mobile arena. Deploying it encloses the monster in a shimmering hologram dome for a few minutes, and because your quarry is faster than you, it’s the only way to kill it in the early stages.

These Hunters are a different set from those I saw during the game’s reveal a few months back. Although the classes don’t change, the humans (and robots) in these roles do. There are 12 characters in all – three in each class. My Trapper is Maggie, a tough talker with an even tougher upbringing, as I discover during the opening scene in which our Hunters banter in a dropship. Maggie asks the Assault guy Hyde, a cockney man mountain, if she scares him. He replies, “Nah...Well, yeah, a bit.” Along with random exchanges down on the ground, these moments tell the story and flesh out the characters.

“We did not want these characters to be re-skins of the same character,” Robb tells me. “We’ve tried very very hard to make sure all the characters are very unique. Even within the classes. So you have three assault characters, and we’ve worked really hard to make sure each one of these guys performs their job in different ways... We want to make sure everyone finds a favourite.”

We drop from the sky and land at the generator. Now the hunt begins. We quickly find that following the Kraken’s footsteps is folly, because we’ll always be a step behind. Instead we call on Bucket, the Support. Bucket is a bulky yellow robot who can detach his head and fly it like a drone. Once he finds the monster, he marks it on everyone’s screens. Using this ability at the start of each match is a good routine to adopt.

We split into pairs. Obviously this requires a bit of coordination, so mics are crucial. One thing’s for sure, though: you never want to go it alone. As in Left 4 Dead, natural hazards impede lone wolves. One alien with massive jaws—the megamouth—locks me in a tussle animation that can only be interrupted by a teammate. Later, a giant venus flytrap imprisons me in its gob until I’m rescued. If you couldn’t tell, I’m quite clumsy.

At last we find the monster, thanks in no small part to my trapjaw who sniffs it out. Not being fully evolved. the Kraken tries to flee, but I root it to the ground with my harpoons and lay my mobile arena. Now the other three members of my team can go to town. The Assault man Hyde, our primary damage dealer, is key here, using a minigun, flamethrower and toxic grenades to weaken the monster, then deploying a personal shield when it strikes back. This is where Bucket comes in, using his cloaking field to render everyone invisible. His guided missile launcher and sentry gun mines keep up the damage.

When I get knocked down, Lazarus the Medic helps out. While anyone can revive anyone (including the pet trapjaw), the Medic brings teammates back to life almost instantly. Lazarus excels at creeping round the level with his invisibility cloak, silently using healing bursts to keep the team alive and fighting.

Finally, and only through teamwork, we take down the Kraken. It collapses with a wail.

Evolve feels good, and it works. So what, for Robb, are his hallmarks of a strong co-op game? “It needs to be more than taking a group of people and putting them in a room and saying, run this way... A good co-op game forces you to cooperate. ‘Forces’ doesn’t sound very friendly and very nice but there’s this kind of nice elegance to the way the games go when everyone’s cooperating.”

Evolve marks a continuation of Left 4 Dead’s engaging brand of ‘forced co-op’ but also introduces a competitive aspect in terms of pitting a human-controlled monster against four humancontrolled, differentlypowered, Hunters. It’s a risk. Purely competitive shooters are more popular, but as Robb points out, no one has infused one with co-op in quite this way.

“I won’t say it’s easier, but it’s a different beat to balance a game based on each person being an island in their own way. I don’t like to think of [co-op games] as not as popular, I like to think of the cooperative genre as not fully explored.”