Is this the next stage of the asymmetric multiplayer shooter, or just a cul-de-sac?
PC, PS4, Xbox One
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