Hands On With Evolve, The Monster-Bullying Simulator

By Alec Meer on February 11th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

Evolve is a 4v1 asymmetrical multiplayer co-op action game from Turtle Rock Studios, the main team behind the original Left 4 Dead. Picked up by 2K for an eyewatering sum at the THQ IP firesale, it’s due for release later this year. A couple of weeks ago, I went to play it.

I’m shaking, which while a state I usually associate with over/under caffeination or discovering that there’s been a distressingly cynical free to play remake of one of my most beloved games, is in this case a good thing. I’m shaking from built up and released tension, and from an infusion of adrenaline into my frail, pale form. I’m shaking because I became a monster, and because I won, and because I beat the real monsters.

Evolve is a high-budget, highly-focused exploration of themes we’ve seen in mods and multiplayer modes for decades (The Hidden, for example) – one player’s beefed up and/or given special abilities, and everyone else on the server gangs up on him/her. Basically, a bullying simulator.. Where Evolve most differs is that standard shooty-bang shenanigans are the least of its elements: this is about four, mostly bearded, players working closely together to find and trap their hulking alien prey, using a host of gadgets and fairly elaborate teamwork in order to locate it, get the drop on it and keep it in one place. Only then does the shooty-bang play a useful role.

Imagine a phantom Left 4 Dead sequel set some years after the events of the last one, where the survivors have somehow managed to turn the zombie tide and now, tooled up, battle-hardened and blessed with an impressive selection of big hats and even bigger facial hair, they hunt down the last and most deadly Infected. That’s Evolve: a proactive, gadgety Left 4 Dead, where survival is an onus placed upon the monster, not the humans. Also there are jetpacks. Basically, this is a game about an endangered species being bullied by ZZ Top in jetpacks. I hereby propose that we stop calling the monster ‘the monster’. ZZ Top: they are the real monsters here.

A single player controls the poor, beleaguered but frankly still quite murderous monster for each 10 minuteish round (which felt much longer, as tension and stakes were high, and there’s natural peaking and troughing as the game switches from hunting and hiding to all-out combat), and while the beast could handily have two human hunters for bearded breakfast, facing four of the blighters at once is essentially fatal. Initially, anyway.

So, if that’s you in the 12-foot scaley onesie, you run. You run and you power-jump and you clobber wildlife whenever the coast looks clear, so you can eat its freshly-cleaved flesh, find a quiet corner to hide in, pop yourself into an icky cocoon, and evolve. See, it’s not just a buzzword after all! Evolving means more strength, a harder hide, and choosing from a selection of new powers. Survive for long enough, eat enough animal carcasses, and you can take the fight to those hairy little bastards, swat them like the insects they are. Even then, you’ll still wind up as a gruesome wall ornament if you wade in wildly rather than focus on eliminating e.g. the medic keeping everyone else alive or the trapper who keeps pinning you inside a vast energy cage. You must be a beast with a brain. That’s why I was all a-tremble when I managed to win a monster round. I’d been working so very hard.

It works well, or at least does in the single map, single monster type scenario I played, because it feels balanced – it feels as though a game can go either way. 1 equals 4 here, rather neatly. That said, frenzied flailing means certain doom for the monster , while the hunters will go the way of the Flappy Bird if they don’t work together – which means voice comms are vital. There’s talk of some AI-led singleplayer elements in the release version, but it’s clear that this is a game which demands that one play as part of a chatty group. John Walkers need not apply.

Each Hunter team, you see, comprises one each of four classes – a Medic, a Trapper, Assualt and Support. While everyone has at least one pure damage weapon, only the tanky Assault character uses this the majority of the time. Even the sniper rifle-wielding support class is more about temporarily weakening the beast with a toxic dart than landing headshots. The sound of war is constant, but much of what’s going on involves electro-nets and harpoons and targeted airstrikes and personal shields. Killing the beast is the end goal of any skirmish with it, but first the steps of slowing it, containing it and staying alive while you’re stuck in a self-made arena with a very angry Godzilla. Simply firing your gun is a desperate act here.

It’s highly tactical, in other words: as the devs put it, each round is one long, rolling, unpredictable boss fight, and if the Hunters don’t work together they’ll get clawed and slammed and flame-breathed and rock-pounded to death sharpish. The big question is whether the 4v1/no laurel-resting formula can extend successfully over whatever one deems a ‘full’ game to be. It seems likely that fairly fool-proof tactics will emerge, for both hunters and monster, and then what?

Well, thrown into the pot along with Left 4 Dead and hunter/hunted modes is a MOBA influence of sorts. Teamplay and tactics are all, but they must be deployed against a variety of opponent types. Only one monster, which is essentially a surprisingly high-speed dinosaur with the ability to lob boulders and leap great heights, was on show. The lizardy Goliath, as he’s called, is described as the most straightforward, most conventionally monstery, and strategies which work against it won’t be so effective against… well, here I can only take you on a short tour of the Land Of Speculation. A crowd control beast, with its own trapping techniques? A summoner of some kind? A flier? A shape-changer? A midnight toker?

We shall see. And I’m quite sure someone, somewhere is rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of releasing a steady stream of new monster types DLC. Hunters too, in fact, as more class variants, load-outs and abilities are promised for a later reveal. Whereas Left 4 Dead essentially plays its entire hand right away, Evolve will be about recognising what you’re up against each time you play, and picking tactics to suit.

I hope it works. I hope it can a) support an entire game and b) doesn’t become over-fiddly, requiring a near-mathematical understanding of what counters what. What I played I found to be genuinely thrilling, and I found myself more determined to win than I have in most recent multiplayer games, because it was about thinking and planning and evading rather than who’s most shit-hot with a targeting reticule, and because there was a bloody great monster rampaging about the place.

Because of that, it does have a self-made narrative that your average men with guns experience does not – there’s a dynamic, player-driven plot arc of the monster trying to get keep clear of you, of it escaping when apparently cornered, of a hunter falling at the worst possible time or surviving by the skin of their teeth because the creature falls off a building or gets harpooned by a comrade. The Left 4 Dead DNA is more visible there than it is in the combat: a multiplayer game that’s about living a short and deadly adventure rather than chasing a high score placing.

Inevitably, though, there is an Experience and Unlocks system, and it does remain to be seen whether players’ hungry pursuit of such toys and e-peenery overwhelms the raw and tense hunt or not. If the unlocks involve even more magnificent facial hair (especially for the monster), I guess I’m onboard.

Evolve should be out this Autumn/Fall.

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75 Comments »

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  1. Tei says:

    This sounds really good!. Day one for me :D

  2. Premium User Badge

    Lars Westergren says:

    > You run and you power-jump and you clobber wildlife whenever the coast looks clear, so you can eat its freshly-cleaved flesh, find a quiet corner to hide in, pop yourself into an icky cocoon, and evolve.

    So it’s like playing a jungler in Dota 2.

    This looks really nice. Me and my friends are always looking for more small team co-op/versus online games. Payday 2, L4D2 and Dota 2 are the current rotation. Looking forward to Spy Party, and now this. Anyone know of anything else we should keep an eye out for?

    • mangrove says:

      Have you played Alien Swarm? Four player isometric coop. It’s free.

      http://store.steampowered.com/app/630/

      • CaidKean says:

        Nitpicking: Wouldn’t one call Alien Swarm top-down rather than isometric?

        • ResonanceCascade says:

          In the parlance of gamers (and perhaps engineers), yes. I’m sure there’s some esoteric meaning of the word that can technically apply to top down games as well, and I’m equally sure someone somewhere on the internet is extremely upset that we somehow overlooked this fact.

    • noom says:

      “You run and you power-jump and you clobber wildlife whenever the coast looks clear, so you can eat its freshly-cleaved flesh, find a quiet corner to hide in, pop yourself into an icky cocoon, and evolve.”

      And in the game

    • Williz says:

      Nope it’s like playing the Predator in the Predator mode on the Xbox version of the Original Far Crys multiplayer. God that was one of the most fun multiplayer modes but I think it was 32 player or less with only one predator. You had to be careful at the start then you had fun picking them off one by one..

  3. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    “ZZ Top: they are the real monsters here.”

    I hope there’s an Eliminator mode in this game.

    • Premium User Badge

      Skeletor68 says:

      An Eliminator mode sounds like it would put me Under Pressure.

      Crappy joking aside I saw them live last year in Cork. Ridiculously good fun.

    • Geebs says:

      Screenshots are less ZZ Top, more Mastodon

  4. Lobotomist says:

    Unfortunately the games that require coordinated teams , are only reserved for people that have team of friends available when they want to play them.

    Otherwise these games with pickup teams are fubar exercise in frustration.

    Here is exactly the same sentiment by reviewer on the end of Eurogamer preview video

    • PopeRatzo says:

      Being an adult, it becomes harder to find 3 friends who are gamers who want to play this particular game at the particular time I can play.

      “Co-op” appears to be designed for under-employed twenty somethings who have stayed close to home. I suppose that’s a growing market. It does absolutely nothing for me, and it is distressing to see so many games going in this direction. It means there are a decreasing number of games meant for me.

      • derbefrier says:

        what a load of crap.

      • Siimon says:

        I agree somewhat with your first statement: “Being an adult, it becomes harder to find 3 friends who are gamers who want to play this particular game at the particular time I can play.”

        But being a busy adult means I have less time for games in general. In fact, I rarely every play single player games because of this. The time I do have for games I make sure is with friends, because it is so much more rewarding.

      • mouton says:

        Actually, I know people who have jobs and children who play games, including co-op games. It is all a question of priorities and organization.

      • Premium User Badge

        Lars Westergren says:

        > it is distressing to see so many games going in this direction. It means there are a decreasing number of games meant for me.

        The games industry is not necessarily a zero-sum game. There are more co-op games lately, sure, but there are also more single player strategy, adventure and RPGs being released.

      • Lobotomist says:

        I so much agree.

      • RIDEBIRD says:

        If you actually are an adult and capable of basic social interaction you could just visit the RPS forums and join one of the very many gaming groups in there with already set up voice communication and organisation. It is not very difficult.

        Each one I’ve tried had at least 5+ people online when I wanted to play. I’d say your issue is completely non-existant unless you really dislike socialization. By the way, there are a lot of previous grumps about online play like yourself in these groups that were quite happy to find that not all people are those dreadful, good for nothing, unemployed 20 somethings with absolutely no future. Well perhaps some are, but you might learn that they are human beings and that might cheer you up a bit.

      • HPLoveshack says:

        Rather salty comment. Sounds like you’re pretty envious of people with the time and friends to play 4p coop games. I really don’t understand people who bitch about a game that their own lifestyle excludes them from playing and then disparage those that can.

        The jealousy is so transparent.

    • LawL4Ever says:

      It should work if you have one guy doing the main coordination, then the rest can just throw something in whenever they think the leader has missed something important. Having one guy mainly in charge is the most efficient way of doing such things anyway, and usually it isn’t hard to at least find one person willing to do it (and if not, you can just become that guy yourself). It requires a mature community though.

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    ErogenousBeef says:

    All the ghouls crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man.

  6. MuscleHorse says:

    Looks like I need to look about getting that new system.

  7. Pangalaktichki says:

    Can’t say whether it will be worth it’s 50eur preorder price (some local stores are already taking preorders). Oh and the first DLC will be a monster skin so they’ll definitely try to milk this game as much as they can.

  8. Slaadfax says:

    There’s a lot of appeal in well-balanced asymmetrical multiplayer. Sort of reminds me of “The Hidden” mod for HL2, which I was awful at.

  9. malkav11 says:

    Can we please stop talking about team-based competitive games as “coop” games? They aren’t. The essential element of a cooperative game is that all the players are on the same side, working together.

  10. mandrill says:

    Once again it falls to me to be “that guy” but did no-one else find the fact that the only female protagonist that is evident (barring the creature, its sex is indeterminate) is the medic a bit jarring? Also the human team being described as “beards”. I’m sure you can see the point I’m trying to make.

    A question that is not asked or answered in the main text is this: Will there be options for the human team to select their biological sex, independently of the selection of the class played?

    Other than that the concept looks interesting, but along with other 4P co-op games would rely on having three friends that are available at the same time in order to avoid the inevitable fail of PUGs.

    • Sixtoe says:

      The female character seems to have a sniper rifle, so that’d make them the support class no? Also, bearded ladies are a thing, whether you’re into that thing is another matter…

      • Moraven says:

        I think his remark is the game has the standard gaming trope of a female character being the WhiteMage/Healer/Caster/Support class. So why can’t the assault class be a female designed? Bigger bulky females do exist that could carry that equipment. Why is she in a skin tight Kerrigan suit while the bearded men get to wear baggy pants?

        • SillyWizard says:

          Bigger bulky females do exist that could carry that equipment.

          Do those women need to be professional alien hunters? Maybe they’re dancers! Stop trying to pigeon-hole them.

          Just because a well-shaped woman likes to dress up enticingly and dance suggestively in public doesn’t mean she wants to be the object of anyone’s amorous attentions; just because a lady is built like a brick shithouse doesn’t mean she wants to slog around in the muck with a bunch of bearded hillbillies trying to kill an alligator.

          Sexist.

          • Moraven says:

            Then why can’t the guy x2 the size of everyone else be the support or trapper. I bet no one asked him if he wanted to carry that pack. What if he wants to wear skin tight armor and have heal guns?

            The character is a big hulking bruiser assault class that can carry heavy weaponry. Gender should not be part of the equation. Like in XCom. Of course they could be going the same L4D route and giving each person a story and personality, but L4D did not have a class system and their cast worked well.

      • Ergates_Antius says:

        I suspect Alec may have gotten confused on that point. Firstly, she has blue crosses on her uniform, and secondly in the gameplay footage linked (in the comments somewhere) you can see her firing a green ray gun thing at another player, which seems likely to be a healing gun thing.

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      Gap Gen says:

      L4D and L4D2 also only had one woman apiece (although it upped its representation of black characters).

      I think the “beards” thing is mainly Alec being silly; one of the (I suppose) male characters is clean-shaven with goggles, and the other has a Captain Price moustache and naked chin; can’t see the far one’s under-face. EDIT: Trailer confirms second beard.

    • Pangalaktichki says:

      Good point. Especially when you consider how L4D games had strong female characters being on the same level with all the dudes (which all had interesting personalities) and not a run-of-the-mill team of grizzled marines.

    • derbefrier says:

      ” but did no-one else find the fact that the only female protagonist that is evident (barring the creature, its sex is indeterminate) is the medic a bit jarring?”

      no, not at all.

    • AbigailBuccaneer says:

      Sadly, in the game development industry, one-in-four is seen as actually pretty good representation of women. Equal representation, of course, is tantamount to the women taking over.

      (I initially wrote my thoughts about why I don’t think character customisation is the solution, but in thinking through my arguments I’m no longer so sure.)

    • Alec Meer says:

      Yeah, mens to womens ratio was 3:1 here (if we exclude the monster), but apparently there’s going to be a whole bunch of hunter characters, which they didn’t want to show/discuss yet. I agree it doesn’t look fair right now, but may be best to wait and see how equal (or not) the full roster actually is. And then frown at them if required.

    • Premium User Badge

      Vesuvius says:

      Yeah, that bugged me as well. Especially given how the women in the L4D games weren’t pigeonholed into a ‘nurse’ role the way they seem to be here.

      • Ergates_Antius says:

        From the footage, I think “nurse” is, perhaps, a little patronising. You wouldn’t call the medic characters in other online mulitplayer games a “nurse” I suspect.

        • Unclepauly says:

          In bf4 my support mows down rows of soldiers with a light machine gun and plants c4 on tanks. Yup, nurse.

        • Premium User Badge

          Vesuvius says:

          Fair point, but I think “healer” better gets my point across. I went with nurse BECAUSE of the connotation- the idea of that particular role of healer being sexualized. The choice to have their sole woman in a support role, and the decision to use a model-like woman, slight in build next to all these grizzled men is suggestive of that I feel, even if the way I summed it up wasn’t fair.

    • NonCavemanDan says:

      According to this Kotaku article, the hunters are named characters and there’s plans to have different ones available including women in different roles (scroll down to the bullet-point thoughts):

      http://kotaku.com/four-players-are-co-op-heroes-the-fifth-is-their-giant-1520094796

  11. GamesInquirer says:

    Sounds like L4D mixed with Monster Hunter. Might be good, if there’s tons of level/monster variety and tons of depth in the mechanics (currently it just looks like standard FPS stuff sadly).

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      A lot of what is described in the article doesn’t sound like standard FPS stuff to me.

    • Philotic Symmetrist says:

      Except that it’s a team-based vs game not co-op, which makes it not really like Monster Hunter.

  12. PopeRatzo says:

    distressingly cynical free to play

    That is redundant.

    • Josh W says:

      Aside from TF2, I’m sure there are many other poor fools trying to pull it off, with the problem that working out if someone is actually not planning to exploit you somewhere down the line is quite tricky.

      “Free to play, and not actually evil!” is quite a hard thing to communicate.

      • Premium User Badge

        Gap Gen says:

        War Thunder is pretty great at being F2P while not screwing you over massively if you don’t pay anything.

      • Dominic White says:

        It’s a really easy thing to communicate, and there’s a rapidly growing number of F2P games where the only things for sale are either cosmetic, or of no direct advantage in terms of game balance. The problem is enraged nerds who refuse to even look at an F2P game because of something Zynga or EA did elsewhere.

        If you’ve already made up your mind no matter what facts might be presented, you’re not helping anything.

      • Ahnteis says:

        Path of Exiles in another extremely generous FTP. (Good game too.) Whole game is free with cosmetic and some minor convenience items (that you don’t need at all unless you are playing lots of characters) for purchase.

  13. Calculon says:

    Throwing money at the screen has commenced. Im not a “team guy” so this is great for me.

  14. Monkeh says:

    Some actual gameplay!

  15. Megakoresh says:

    Ooh! Exciting. It would probably be more exciting if it was PvE, but still. Me gusta.
    Also I would hate it if they started making Monster/Hunter DLCs. This is a Multiplayer game, that sort of shit would just split the community.

    • Monkeh says:

      If you want that, you can just let the AI take over the Goliath and play with 3 friends as the hunters! So yeah, it’s better as is. :)

      • Megakoresh says:

        I hope the game supports that, which you say!

        • Monkeh says:

          In the gameplay I posted just above your post, you can hear the developer talking about being able to choose any combination of AI and human-players.

  16. FMAN71 says:

    Natural Selection 4v1?

  17. KillahMate says:

    Note how here we have a handy solution to the issue brought up numerous times about games, which is how all the action game PCs are bloodthirsty mass-murdering psychopaths whose killcounts number in the hundreds and thousands by the end of their respective games. Shadow of the Colossus hinted at this principle too. The trick is that the mighty opponents don’t have to be monsters, you can have them be human. Just have, say, one per level, and make them powerful and dangerous. As, realistically, another human being who wants to murder you likely would be.

    In a single player game, a half-hour fight with a single inventive opponent can be tense and emotional. You can even put in character building moments for both the PC and the opponent. Their death can have meaning. Why waste development time and manpower on faceless mooks? Why not build up the bosses?

    Or put it like this: imagine the new Alien: Isolation, but replace the Alien with a human. Or the new Tomb Raider but with only a dozen enemies on the entire island. It would of course be vastly different, but I believe that could be a worthy game.

  18. Moraven says:

    Why an unlock system, whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.

  19. Moraven says:

    Reminds me more of Resistance 2 multiplayer, but with the goal of just one big baddie.

  20. Synesthesia says:

    “and it does remain to be seen whether players’ hungry pursuit of such toys and e-peenery overwhelms the raw and tense hunt or not.”

    It will. It always does. It’s what killed BF3 and turned it into a coward-fest of people jumping into the winning team. Stats never help. Let’s hope unlocks are only aesthetic.

    • Premium User Badge

      darkChozo says:

      To be fair, I’m pretty sure that’s more that people reaalllllyyy don’t like losing than anything to do with the unlock system.

      I kinda wish that more games took the LoL/DOTA philosophy that joining a game is a commitment to playing that game through. Maybe not for the forty minute clusterfuck that Battlefield rounds can be sometimes, but for something short like this I think it’d be an improvement.

  21. Premium User Badge

    Vandelay says:

    “if the Hunters don’t work together they’ll get clawed and slammed and flame-breathed and rock-pounded to death sharpish.”

    As great as this sounds, the fact that the monster can only succeed if the humans split could prove frustrating for the player on their own. Perhaps there is something missing in the description of te game, but there seems no reason for the human team to split and no reason for the humans to be distracted (such as having to operate some machinery.)

    If the humans’ goal is nothing more than to kill the monster, rather than complete objectives, the monster will have to rely solely on the human team to make mistakes. Which will be fine in initial few weeks of the game, but there will inevitably be a fixed strategy that will be the solution and make the game far less fun.

    A set of objectives would also probably just create set moments of viable attacks for the monster, but at least it will be something. You could also randomise these elements to keep it fresh.

    Still, without playing the game you can’t make judgements on such things. Definitely interest in this one though.

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      FhnuZoag says:

      Well, the monster can apparently attack ambient (?) wildlife and evolve if not interfered with.

      You run and you power-jump and you clobber wildlife whenever the coast looks clear, so you can eat its freshly-cleaved flesh, find a quiet corner to hide in, pop yourself into an icky cocoon, and evolve.

      So I assume the reason to split up is to cover more ground, find it while it’s cocooned and defenseless, and stop the opponent from getting too powerful.

  22. Cybershaman says:

    Concerning possible further development, I think this would be an interesting way to start a game like this:

    -Once the game begins, the creature player chooses their initial creature type and get’s something like a 2 minute minimum head start. They maneuver through a special “map entry zone” where they can snatch a few creatures to eat or just dash on to the main map.
    -During this time, the other players choose their characters. They too then enter the Entry Zone and literally track the creature. They see what sort of creatures it may have eaten, tracks it left and any other sort of “spoor” or damage.
    -Using whatever information they’ve gleaned from the creatures path, they proceed to the entrance of the main map and access a “gear locker”. That or even change their class (leaving character class emote: “Screw this, mates! This one is out of my league!” entering emote: “I heard someone needed a little more…firepower?”) but they have to do all of this as quickly as possible because Mr. Creature is now romping about somewhere in the main map zone gathering strength and possibly even ready to evolve to their next stage.

    Oh, well. I’m sure there are going to be plenty of ideas out there. I do hope there is a healthy mod community which, if L4D 1/2 is any indication, will probably be the case. Would anyone like this sort of thing? Or would it be a waste of time?