Evolve is a game for people who are sick of cookie cutter classes. It's a game for people who like teamplay - but also for those lone wolves who want to singlehandedly take everyone down. It's a game for people who want a new first-person shooter - a fast-paced, active, agile experience that gives you a jetpack and throws you into an alien jungle to face off against a monster three times your size.
The brand new 4v1 co-operative / competitive shooter is one of the games industry's best-kept secrets. Evolve was a mysterious casualty of the THQ bankruptcy - we heard the name thrown around occasionally, we heard Turtle Rock confirmed as the developer, but we didn't know what it was or what would happen to it.
The game was shopped around to multiple publishers. Some of the biggest names in gaming spent time with the class-based shooter, but it seemed most were prepared to pass on the experience. There were only two public bidders for Evolve when the property made it to auction - and one of them was Turtle Rock itself, who threw $250,000 into the ring in a desperate bid to ensure the game stayed in good hands.
First things first: Why is Evolve named Evolve?
Simply put: It's the monster's fault. The monster that we first met was named Goliath (he's a brawling bruiser, by the way). At the start of a round, he cuts a pretty menacing figure, but he's weak. If he's caught early, he faces a one-sided battle that's not in his favour. The monster needs to feed, to gain energy, to ...evolve.
Goliath's task in the early part of the game is to survive. Not only does he have to avoid the hunters, but he also needs to be aware of his surroundings. Some animals on the planet are tasty morsels, easily consumed to fill his energy meter. Others pose a greater threat, and may attack without provocation - and we're not even going into the carnivorous plants that dot the landscape.
Once Goliath has eaten his fill, he needs to find a quiet location and evolve into his next form. This can happen twice across the course of the game - and, like some giant, killer Pokémon, by the time he reaches Stage 3, the monster is a towering, aggressive hulk of a beast. He's bigger, he's got better skills, and he's out for blood.
I didn't spend anywhere near enough time with Evolve, skipping briefly into a couple of classes for just one round each. I did play as the monster, though - and the sense of power that comes with being a hulking alien being that can throw boulders at puny humans is really pretty awesome.
The puny humans do hold their own, though. There are no cookie-cutter classes in Evolve. Turtle Rock has carefully crafted four individuals who can work together to devastating effect: Assault, who is the primary damage dealer; Support, who brings the tactics to the battlefield to both attack and defend; the Medic, who must keep the team alive; and the unique Trapper, invaluable when it comes to tracking and capturing the monster.
We only saw one person from each class, but Turtle Rock promises multiple options at launch. Each character has their own weaponry and skills, so even if you know you want to play Support, you can still choose what sort of Support you provide.
Teamwork is escalated to an artform. The four character classes have been so beautifully balanced that - in the right hands - they work together seamlessly. Orbital Barrages cast brutal amounts of damage when strategically placed: It takes quick button-presses for Hank to switch between attack and defence, one click back to the Shield gun to protect his colleagues.
The Medic is a surprisingly strong offensive class, Val's Anti-Material rifle perfectly poised to damage Goliath's thick, armoured skin. Once weakened, it's a simple matter for Markov to step in with the Lightning Gun and coat the monster in blue flames.
...and the fourth class - Griffin the Trapper - can be an asset or a liability. He's unique, the team-member best equipped to actually deal with the monster. He's got a submachine gun, standard issue, but it's his other gear that's more interesting, particularly the Mobile Arena.
Anyone can enter the glowing blue Arena, but while it is active, none can leave. If the hunters have the upper hand, containing a wounded beast can be enough to win the battle - but if the monster is too strong, he can take out the humans like shooting fish in a barrel.
Turtle Rock has spent years defining exactly what it wants Evolve to be. The fast-paced, competitive nature of the game seems like it'd be a perfect fit for eSports tournaments, and the studio's already exploring its options.
We're promised more Hunters, more Monsters, an assortment of maps and a variety of game modes - and that's just at launch.
Evolve hits Xbox One, PS4 and PC in the second half of 2014.
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Jimmy the Geek