Posted Sat Nov 1, 2014 at 08:00 AM PDT by Levi van Tine
Can't stop hunting, even if my teammates are having trouble staying upright.
Turtle Rock Studios was the original developer of 'Left 4 Dead', the wildly popular co-op zombie shooter. They have been working on 'Evolve' since at least 2011, when it was known as 'Wild' and was to be published by THQ. After THQ capsized in 2012, 2K Games picked up the title and it was renamed.
I’ve been excited about this alpha for some time, as I was a big fan of 'Left 4 Dead' and its asymmetrical multiplayer. (Asymmetric on account of the differences between the four Special Infected and the survivors.) 'Evolve' also has asymmetrical multiplayer - each match has five players, with one taking the role of a huge, powerful monster and the others forming a team of specialized hunters to take it down. The alpha features most of the content announced to the public to date - one mode, eight hunters, two monsters, and three maps.
That Point of a Big Alpha
Despite the relatively large amount of content for an alpha, it will remain inaccessible to most players throughout its short four day lifespan. The servers were quickly overloaded, which has resulted in stillbirths for the vast majority of matches. I was only able to start around 20% of the matches I was connected with - most would simply kick me back to the menu after several minutes of loading. This meant that for most of day 1, I was getting only two or three matches an hour. Many of the other players I connected with complained of the same issues. The load became easier to manage as the alpha went on, but still far from optimal. Because most pre-orders received an access code, and Turtle Rock controlled how many other people got one, it can be assumed that the wide release in February will have a similar (or greater) mass of gamers pressuring the servers. Hopefully the connection problems can be solved before then - we wouldn’t want to see another 'Grand Theft Auto Online'.
After I was able to actually play the game, I had a blast. On each hunter team there are precisely four roles to fill - Trapper, Assault, Medic, and Support. This balance is so important that if a player drops, an AI will take their place until another player enters. The monster player has enormous power and mobility, so the hunters must carefully develop a strategy or they will not win. 'Gears of War' or 'Call of Duty' this is not. Trying to play as a lone wolf will quickly lead to defeat for the entire team. The team itself is very balanced, and it’s clear that this is a high priority for the designers. Each player can level up to earn perks and abilities after each match; just keep in mind that none of this progress will carry over to the full release.
The trapper is unequivocally my favorite class to play. As the name would suggest, they are responsible for finding the monster and keeping it in one place long enough for the rest of the team to bring down. The two available trappers are Maggie and Griffin. Maggie has a machine pistol, a huge bloodhound named Daisy, harpoon mines, and the mobile arena. The arena is the signature trapper ability and all trappers have it. It creates a medium-sized dome around the area where it is thrown. While all hunters can move through it freely, it serves as a temporary prison for monsters caught within it. This forces the monster to fight - the arena is not large enough for them to convincingly hide. Once the arena is in operation, the game gets really exciting. Unable to escape, the monster fights with a cornered ferocity, and the hunters must coordinate to survive. As Maggie I would often forego shooting while in the arena to hang back and throw harpoon mines. (Detonated Harpoon mines pin the monster to the ground and must be shrugged off.) This made it much easier for the other classes to hit the monster, and Maggie’s little pistol offered minimal damage anyways. Her alien bloodhound Daisy serves almost as a fifth player. She can track the monster, revive other players, and a team wipe does not count as a loss as long as Daisy is alive, as long as a hunter respawns before she dies.
The only job of the assault class is to deal damage to the creature. Markov does reliable damage at close and medium range with his lightning gun and at a little longer range, assault rifle. Hyde is much more effective at close range with his flamethrower, but his minigun is less accurate and limits his effectiveness at range. Both assault have a personal shield that makes them temporarily invulnerable. I learned that monster players tend to target medics and trappers first, so I would wait for them to become engaged with one of those classes. When their backs were turned, I would dash in at close range with Hyde, unleash hell with the flamethrower, and then activate the shield as soon as the monster turned around. Note that this tactic only works if the teammates are able to recover and launch another offensive on the monster before the shield runs out - if not, the assault quickly becomes lunch.
Medic and Support
The medic and support classes keep their teammates alive with various abilities. Both medics are snipers and can create temporary weak points on the monster with their rifles, should they actually have any spare time during the battle. Hank the support has a bit of assault in him, as his orbital strike and laser cutter do considerable damage. The other support, the robot pilot, is more of a trapper, as his head can detach and float around the map to find the monster.
Playing as the monster is a power trip, one that only gets stronger as the match goes on. The longer the monster survives, and the more creatures/hunters it eats, the more powerful it becomes. Eat enough critters roaming around the map (the critters are small to the monster but can pose a nuisance to hunters) and the monster will evolve. At power level 1, the hunters will quickly kill a trapped monster. At level 2, the two sides are more or less equal in power. At level 3, the monster is supercharged and will destroy most teams without much effort. It is absolutely imperative that the hunter team find and dispatch the monster as soon as possible, otherwise it will grow into an unstoppable juggernaut. This is one of my few complaints about the balancing. Because the monster is so fast, they can quite easily avoid most hunter teams throughout an entire match. All they have to do is run away until they evolve to level 3, at which point they quickly chew through the hunters. This meant that several matches were little more than a 10-minute goose chase with a quick defeat at the end. The trappers’ abilities to pin down a monster are of little use if they can never actually catch up to it.
(Editor's Note: This problem has affected every demonstration of 'Evolve' thus far. At first players go all lone wolf, only to find the monster and get beaten easily. Later, teams of four stick together to a fault, leaving the faster monster plenty of room to hide. The best strategy I've found is to pair off and be ready to make haste to the other pair if need be. No doubt, when the game releases and server stabilize, most players will catch on to how best to track and trap the monster. It'll then be a question of execution.)
A Visual Stunner Even in Alpha
While it is described as an alpha, the February release date is not far off, and as such, 'Evolve' is very pretty. It is one of the few games so far to use the fourth edition of the robust CryEngine, which has a strong pedigree. There are only three maps in the alpha, but they all look great, if a tad similar to one another. They are definitely three-dimensional to a high degree - the Goliath monster can climb adeptly, and the Kraken can fly. The monsters, hunters, and critters are very detailed, and the lighting is sophisticated.
'Evolve' is very promising in regards to its gameplay and visuals. The game already has a lot of little nuances that increase quality of life for the player - the character automatically vocalizing specific critter types and a recommendation for dealing with them, player-initiated objective tagging, pregame class prioritization, AI scabs for teammates, and a postgame minimap replay, for example. With a scant three months before it goes up for manufacturing, Turtle Rock has only a bit of balancing to do, at least for the content we’ve seen so far. There are at least four hunters and one monster we haven’t played,(plus the pre-order monster) as well as an unknown number of maps and gametypes. There is also a single-player mode that we know very little about. But, if 'Evolve' ends up being similar to 'Left 4 Dead', it could be a real winner...especially if these pesky servers get their act together.
You can find the latest info on 'Evolve' linked from our Video Game Release Schedule.
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