Evolve Preview

Watch out for that rock!

Few games get my mind to reel like Evolve has in the past few months of pre-release promotion. Perhaps it's the succinct title, slightly asynchronous multiplayer setup, or 2K’s hot streak that has me eager to get more time with the game, to play against others, and to see what kind of damage I can do with the monster. Pitting four players against a singular Godzilla-esque baddie sounds partly silly and partly awesome, but ultimately it boils down to a thrilling race towards completely different definitions of what “the end of the match” looks like.

Isn’t that funny? Isn’t it odd to think of a multiplayer shooter from a few different angles that don’t define winning in the same way you’d expect? Call of Duty and Battlefield armchair generals will be challenged by the action found in Evolve, though you could argue that it’s to the genre’s credit in this sense. Shooters literally haven’t evolved much, no matter how many press releases argue otherwise. I managed to get several hours of hands-on time in both single-player and multiplayer last week, but I still can’t say anything guaranteed to land on the back of the game’s box.

While 2K has only really promoted Evolve to involve four mercenary-style first-person shooters facing off against a singular monster, be it the Goliath, Wraith, or Kraken, the title allows for single-player gamers to progress through a series of battles on either side of the coin. Specifically, playing through matches changes the next meeting between teams and the monster, though choosing from a wide variety of mercenary cast members allows for quite a lot of variation even when you’re not playing online.

I took control of a medic character named Caira, uniquely equipped with a grenade launcher that either burned enemies or healed the rest of the team. For this initial outing, I didn’t pay much attention to the mercenaries riding with me, but flamethrowing Hyde, monster-tamer Maggie, and reliable hunk of metal Bucket were in the mix for one or two missions. I liked every character I played and core abilities like the Trapper class’s electrified dome are retained no matter who you use, meaning you won’t have to change too much on the fly.

In fact, I didn’t mess with the lineup after launching into a match and ultimately came to rely heavily on dedicated play with my chosen class. Evolve lets single-player gamers switch between classes with the D-pad (on console) so as you attack or defend against the monster, you’ll inevitably learn to swap when it’s most important to. I didn’t have to curse out the CPU thanks to the fact that all of the mercenaries worked together intelligently, but you can tell that the explosive action will be more entertaining when you attack from multiple angles.

In team-based play, communication will prove more effective than any number of special abilities. In fact, I probably enjoyed single-player more for the fact that the monster wasn’t constantly smashing me and my team. At the event, several single-player Xbox One stations had been set up for that mode while three larger tables held powerful PC hardware and offered full multiplayer. Four players sat on one side while the monster sat on the opposite, hunting down mercenaries through the single-player’s missions. Obviously, Evolve’s multiplayer will prove more engaging thanks to online matchmaking, but understanding the progression in single-player will make multiplayer more entertaining.

Rather than outright attacking the monster, players could try to push for better progressive conditions. With every match, things will either get easier for the monster to dominate a human team or easier for the humans to complete objectives established before launching. If you know you’ll need to rescue several human survivors, you may (as a team) choose characters with more healing abilities and protective gear. The survivors you pick up will actually help fight against an aggressive monster, but they can also pick up a rock and throw it at one of these poor outcasts.

Survivor-rescue objectives proved most difficult during my time with the game, though others seemed balanced in favor of the humans even when a particularly strong opponent had control of the monster. It’d be nice to have even more match types, though what’s present currently feels like it’ll take time to learn. With gameplay pushing each side against each other in uneven fashion, players will find that Evolve wrestles back in a really satisfying way.

One multiplayer match proved to be an absolute steam roll, up against another writer as the monster and aligned with three players I didn’t recognize. As much as I tried to dish out lots of health with Val’s healing gun, it became clearer that pushing the hulking opponent into corners and dealing heavy damage needed dedicated teams. Once the third or fourth match wound up in the monster’s favor, it was clear that we would lose the territory colonized by hapless space-farers.

It’s, in fact, Evolve’s open-ended multiplayer style that has me most enticed. Experienced shooter fanatics won’t be able to exploit systems nearly as easily as they have in the past. You can’t camp when an objective sits a hundred meters away and the monster seems to have a lot of options when it comes to attacking, fleeing, and ultimately taking down one or two mercenaries with a few well-executed powers. I didn’t expect the characters to be so funny and the monsters themselves feature some truly haunting designs.

Evolve looks, plays, and feels like a monster movie come to life and is decidedly dark in humor. Film has tried to capture mythical monsters in a variety of ways lately, particularly with the handy-cam styled Cloverfield and (one of my personal favorites) mecha-vs-monster in Pacific Rim, but Evolve is that next step thanks to highly variable (and more importantly) interactive gameplay. I’m still curious to know how Evolve will further online multiplayer once it hits a large audience, but it’s clear that this is a step in the right direction, driving shooters into new methods of linear and competitive gameplay.

Evolve releases on February 10, 2015 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.