Take-Two Interactive’s 2K Games publishing label is unveiling more hunter characters in its 4-on-1 monster-hunting title Evolve today that show how diverse the gameplay can be. In advance of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in June, 2K Games and developer Turtle Rock Studios are showing more hands-on gameplay that makes me believe that this will be one of the year’s big titles when it ships on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on Oct. 21.
This is one of the most entertaining new next-generation titles coming, with beautiful graphics and enthralling gameplay mechanics that inevitably lead to a lot of shouting among the nerve-racked players.
Aside from the launch date, 2K Games is also announcing four new hunters that you can play in the game. They include Hyde, an assault class soldier with a flamethrower and a mini-gun; Maggie, a trapper who has a monster pet of her own named Daisy; Bucket, a mech-like machine who serves as a high-tech support soldier; and Lazarus, a medic who can actually bring characters back from the dead.
In the cooperative multiplayer-only title, you can either play as one of four hunters or as a monster. It’s a twist on Left 4 Dead, the zombie-shooting game that Turtle Rock’s founders previously created for Valve. Cofounders Phil Robb and Chris Ashton started Turtle Rock in 2002. They did a lot of work with Valve, creating Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, Counter-Strike: Source, and Left 4 Dead. The latter game was about four human players who teamed up together to fend off hordes of fast-running zombies.
Robb said that game taught the developers a lot about cooperative multiplayer, including boss battles. Such battles are usually scripted and repetitive since they’re based on computer-controlled bosses. (See our interview with Robb and Ashton about the story here and their views on co-op games here).
In this case, the monster is a badass known as Goliath. It wanders through a living, open world full of lush jungles and ambient animal life. Goliath tries to eat the smaller animals, so it can evolve into a stronger monster and beat off the hunters. But instead of being a dumb artificial intelligence character controlled by the computer, a more crafty human player controls Goliath. In Evolve, you can be the boss — one that is big enough to toss the characters around as if they were rag dolls.
But the world can betray Goliath. If it walks into a flock of birds, they may fly off and warn the hunters of Goliath’s location. Once the hunters trap Goliath, they can employ technologies such as a giant force field that will trap Goliath in a smaller, containment area. The hunters include trackers who can spot Goliath’s footprints, but the Goliath can erase footprints by walking in a slower stealth mode or by just walking into a stream. Based on my second hands-on preview of the game, I think that Evolve is an enormously fun cat-and-mouse game with infinite replayability.
You can chase after Goliath in a forest on a planet called Shear, but 2K Games is also showing a desert environment at E3. Each environment has different types of wildlife, and you have to learn how to use that wildlife to your advantage. The game will have multiple monsters, hunters, and game modes and more than a dozen maps.
Goliath gets a headstart on the ground, and can seek out a good hiding spot. But the world is not so huge that he can hide forever. Goliath has to aggressively seek out wildlife to eat and, at some point, has to go on the offensive to take out a big facility on the ground. At that point, the hunters become defenders.
Before you enter a match, you get some points to spend on your character to customize his or her weapons or protections. Generally, you can focus on more mobility or more firepower.
In a couple of matches, I got to try out the new characters. In one match, I played Hyde. Once the trapper tracked down the monster, my job was to constantly attack with either my mini-gun or flamethrower. But I had to beware of Goliath’s charge, which can be activated by the monster player with a single button push. So I stayed close and stayed out of Goliath’s way. By and large, that worked, and I was able to bring it down with the help of my colleagues.
In another match, I played Bucket, who can deploy auto turrets. Those auto turrets can wreak havoc on Goliath, adding multiple new shooters at a time when Goliath is trapped within a dome.
In the map, there was a big new wildlife creature that is like a giant spider. The spider will attack the hunters if antagonized, and it is like a boss unto itself. But the spider will also compete with Goliath to eat smaller wildlife.
Maggie’s Daisy, dubbed a Trapjaw, works a lot like a blood hound. She can find the Goliath more easily than the hunters can. But Goliath can attack Daisy too. Once we had Goliath tracked and trapped, I set up some robot auto turrets, which did a lot of damage to Goliath. But we really depended on the firepower from others to finish off the monster.
When it became my chance to play the monster, I had a plan. I was able to quickly find some wildlife to eat. Once I ate three of the little critters, I was able to evolve to the next stage. That made me a lot stronger.
I was looking for more things to eat when I got spotted by the trapper. I tried to turn and fight, but then the trapper sprung the dome over me, and I couldn’t escape. I tried to move around as much as possible and stay out of the crossfire of the different hunters. If a hunter was isolated on the edge, I would charge. But my powers didn’t last forever, and I had to wait for them to recharge. I bought some time by jumping up to a rock. The hunters couldn’t reach me, and they tried to snipe at me. But I just pulled back from the edge. Eventually, they used their jetpacks to fly up and dislodge me from the rock. After that, I didn’t last long.
One of the minor problems I have with Evolve is that you have to pay attention to indicators like meters. If you don’t watch yourself, your Goliath’s health will drain away and you won’t realize just by looking at him. You’ll only know if he’s really hurt by looking at the small health meter. But in the middle of combat, when you’re being attacked from four sides, that’s not easy to do. Similarly, when you’re dealing out the blows, you won’t know if you’re really bringing down the hunters. They have meters, for sure, but you may smite them nine times and they might not die until the tenth blow, particularly if someone is actively healing them.
If you could really just smite a hunter and get a kill, that would be much better feedback. But it would make the game too easy for the Goliath. By the same token, if you have characters like Lazarus who are too powerful in bringing back characters from the dead, then it becomes too easy for the hunters. Turtle Rock is aware of that and is carefully balancing the strengths and weaknesses.
Lazarus, for instance, can’t heal people as a medic. He has to wait until they are incapacitated or dead. Then he can revive them. That helps, because you then don’t have to wait a couple of minutes for a drop ship to bring you back in and respawn you.
2K Games announced today that everyone who preorders Evolve from retailers will receive the Monster Expansion Pack, which includes the Savage Goliath skin as well as a new monster character that will be available after the game is released. Over time, Turtle Rock will add refinements and new characters to the game.
The game has been in the works for more than three years, but it looks beautiful because it is targeted at next-generation hardware. The forest has a lot of foliage where the monster can hide, thanks to the graphical horsepower of the PS4 and the Xbox One. Take-Two bought the rights to Evolve after now-defunct publisher THQ went under. It paid $10.8 million for Evolve, and right now, it’s looking like a bargain.