Is this the next stage of the asym­met­ric mul­ti­player shooter, or just a cul-de-sac?

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De­spite its off-kil­ter gait, asym­met­ric mul­ti­player is gath­er­ing mo­men­tum. The past holds many no­table pi­o­neers in the field – not least Alien Vs Preda­tor and

Splin­ter Cell: Pan­dora To­mor­row’s Spies Vs Mercs mode – but it’s only re­cently that such de­sign phi­los­o­phy has grad­u­ated from side note to in­dus­try buz­zphrase. And Tur­tle Rock Stu­dios’ Evolve, with its gi­ant-mon­ster­ver­sus-four-per­son-team setup, might just have the most asym­met­ric mul­ti­player yet. But while dis­par­ity is at the core of

Evolve’s de­sign, that only means Tur­tle Rock Stu­dios’ squad shooter rep­re­sents an even more in­tri­cate bal­anc­ing act. This is a game built around a suc­ces­sion of for­tune re­ver­sals that, fas­ci­nat­ingly, see the bal­ance of power change dras­ti­cally across a match with­out deny­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of vic­tory for ei­ther side. It’s a game that re­wards plan­ning and brav­ery in equal mea­sure, but one that pun­ishes fool­har­di­ness with alarm­ing speed.

The pro­nounced phys­i­o­log­i­cal and nu­mer­i­cal dif­fer­ences between the two sides un­doubt­edly con­trib­ute to mak­ing Evolve feel like a fresh propo­si­tion, but equally re­fresh­ing is the ex­tent to which hu­man play­ers must work to­gether as a team to suc­ceed. At­tempt to lone-wolf your way to vic­tory as a hunter and at best you’ll strug­gle to keep pace with the fast-mov­ing mon­ster; at worst you’ll find your­self iso­lated and the sole fo­cus of its wrath. There’s ag­gres­sive flora and fauna to worry about too, in­clud­ing gi­ant plants that snap shut around you and stocky quadrupeds that re­sem­ble rocks un­til you wan­der too close to them and get mauled. With­out the aid of other party mem­bers, mis­steps like th­ese are in­vari­ably fa­tal.

A good set of squad­mates can make all the dif­fer­ence, then, and Tur­tle Rock has been show­ing off the sec­ond set of four hun­ters since E3, with four more still to be re­vealed. Of the new­com­ers, Hyde, a burly As­sault class gunner, is the most tra­di­tional. His pow­er­ful mini­gun can mete out a great deal of dam­age from range, and he can switch to a dev­as­tat­ing flamethrower to deal with close-up threats. Hyde also car­ries toxic grenades that can be used to flush mon­sters from their hid­ing places as well as a per­sonal shield that grants him tem­po­rary in­vul­ner­a­bil­ity. This se­lec­tion of tools makes him for­mi­da­ble, but also re­sults in him be­ing the sim­plest and least in­volved class to play. You need to stay close to your group to avoid be­ing eaten, sure, but lit­tle in­ter­ac­tion is nec­es­sary in com­bat.

The Sup­port class is filled by Bucket this time around, a stocky robot ca­pa­ble of de­tach­ing his head, which then be­comes a fast-mov­ing UAV. Once in the air, you can

quickly search the area and tag the mon­ster with a track­ing dart, as­sum­ing you can hold it steady in your ret­i­cle for a few seconds. Once tagged, ev­ery player will be able to see the beast’s po­si­tion. Bucket has other tricks, too, able to de­ploy up to five au­to­mated sen­try guns to hec­tor the crea­ture and com­ing with a cache of laser-guided mis­siles for when he gets within range. Fi­nally, he can cloak the en­tire team for a time (as­sum­ing ev­ery­body’s close by) to en­able them to sneak in close.

Lazarus, our Medic for to­day, has a cloak­ing de­vice as well, al­beit a less al­tru­is­tic one, but his skills as a medic leave some­thing to be de­sired. He can fire out a heal­ing burst to patch up a mod­est por­tion of the health bar of any­one stood around him, but it will take a fair few hits to nurse a se­ri­ously in­jured ally back to full health. He does, how­ever, carry a Lazarus De­vice, which can re­vive his dead team­mates just so long as you can reach them

The best part? Hits will cre­ate weak spots on the crea­ture for your team­mates to pum­mel

be­fore the timer ex­pires. This re­sults in the rather macabre need to stand over dy­ing com­rades, will­ing them to slip away be­fore bring­ing them back to life with a jolt. (If a player does die be­fore you can res­ur­rect them, they’ll sim­ply have to wait a few min­utes in the drop­ship be­fore parachut­ing back into the level.) Lazarus makes up for his short­com­ings as a doc­tor by tot­ing around a sniper ri­fle, the range of which feels hugely em­pow­er­ing. The best part? Hits will cre­ate weak spots on the crea­ture for your team­mates to pum­mel.

Fi­nally, the Trap­per class – Evolve’s most be­spoke role def­i­ni­tion – is oc­cu­pied by two in­di­vid­u­als in our playthrough: Mag­gie, the ac­tual trap­per, and Daisy, a sort of hulk­ing blood­hound that sniffs out the mon­ster, tries to get the team’s at­ten­tion when she picks up the scent, and will even re­vive fallen hun­ters. Along with a ba­sic ma­chine gun, Mag­gie has ac­cess to har­poon traps – th­ese, as the name sug­gests, hold the mon­ster in place and force it to de­stroy its re­straints be­fore it can move on – as well as the es­sen­tial mo­bile arena, which keeps your quarry within fir­ing range for a few pre­cious min­utes.

The hunter squad is only so well equipped be­cause of its com­pe­ti­tion, how­ever, and bal­anc­ing out the bes­tial side of the equa­tion is the Kraken. A dark-blue ten­ta­cled crea­ture, it’s more Alien than the King Kong-es­que Goliath we played last time. The Kraken can still climb sur­faces quickly, but is able to fly, leap­ing into the air and zip­ping from point to point us­ing its air burst abil­ity. The crea­ture is less in­tu­itive to con­trol than the ground­based Goliath, but its blend of anti-per­son­nel mines, light­ning strikes and squad-scat­ter­ing vor­tex weapon make it a ter­ri­fy­ing pres­ence.

Tak­ing flight au­to­mat­i­cally sets your al­ti­tude, and while you’re able to move up and down to some de­gree, it’s far from the grace­ful swoop­ing ma­noeu­vre you’d hope for. We ex­pe­ri­enced some bugs in the build we played, too, which slowed our crea­ture down to glider speeds; even when the flight sys­tem ap­peared to be work­ing OK, though, we found our­selves bat­tling through syrup rather than bar­relling through the air. And due to the tiny size of your op­po­nents rel­a­tive to you, com­bined with their ro­bust shield­ing, the sense of im­pact when you col­lar a hunter up close is lack­ing. It’s dif­fi­cult to see the re­sult of your lunge, and your tar­get will most likely be up on their feet again shortly af­ter­wards. The Kraken is best played as a sniper, we’re told, and its ranged at­tacks are con­sid­er­ably more sat­is­fy­ing. But when you’re trapped in a mo­bile arena with few places to hide, pan­icked melee at­tacks are of­ten your main re­course.

Per­haps that’s the point. Play­ing as the mon­ster is gen­uinely tense as you tran­si­tion, through feed­ing on car­rion, from weak quarry to size­able ag­gres­sor. And, con­trol nig­gles aside, Evolve is an in­tox­i­cat­ing con­cept that Tur­tle Rock is well placed to de­liver on, given its ex­pe­ri­ence with Left 4 Dead. But while the short matches are in­volved, mul­ti­lay­ered af­fairs, the highly spe­cific na­ture of Evolve’s hunt threat­ens to sap the game of the depth and va­ri­ety it needs to en­dure. We’ve only seen one mode so far, and while oth­ers are promised, noth­ing has yet made it clear how the at­trac­tive nov­elty of the setup will mu­tate into a shooter with real stay­ing power.

The Lazarus De­vice must be equipped as a sec­ondary weapon, charged up and fired to bring back the fallen

For the hun­ters, matches be­gin in a drop­ship and they para­chute into the level. The mon­ster, mean­while, be­gins where the ship’s land­ing flare hits and must run away be­fore the hu­mans ar­rive

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