Evolve Preview

Left 4 Evolution.

"Asymmetric multiplayer" is a phrase that sends the red flags in my mind flapping in the winds of doubt. The idea of a 4-vs-1 match-up sounds great for an extra mode, some optional distraction that offers an interesting twist to the core multiplayer gameplay. Instead, Evolve centers its design around this asymmetric Hunt mode, daringly so, and if any studio had the chops for persuasion, it would be famed Left 4 Dead developer Turtle Rock Studios. Even though it became independent in 2009, parting ways with Valve, perhaps some of the magic has rubbed off (I mean, the game's name is two letters away from "Valve"). From only a few hours in an early showing at a recent event, Evolve is thoroughly impressive and is already my most surprising game so far this year.

Turtle Rock Studios intends Evolve to combine both competitive and cooperative play into a game that could fit naturally in an eSports environment, a point which was made plainly evident at the event with an incredibly large projector screen looming above four independent tables with five computers each. So it shouldn't be overly surprising to learn that the developer isn't delving too deeply into the plot behind the sci-fi humans-versus-beast conflict. Some time in the future, humans have begun to colonize distant planets and teams of hunters are paid to protect the population and tame the environment as best they can. On the rocky-jungle planet Shear, however, the hunters have met their match.

The beast available during the event, while probably not the only monster that will be selectable as Evolve develops, was a 30-foot-tall Goliath that seems to be the progeny of Godzilla and Perfect Cell from Dragon Ball Z. It can breathe fire, hurl boulders, leap attack, climb rock faces like they were nothing, and knock everyone down with a simple charge. In its unevolved state, the Goliath can choose two abilities and must evolve further to a maximum of Stage 3 to gain the others, but it'll need to eat enough wildlife and find a good hiding spot to evolve safely for the ten seconds it takes to do so. At that point it's best to drop the antics and attempt to slaughter the four human players as quick as possible to win the match.

But even when Goliath is in its final form, the four class-based human characters can synergize their abilities to exterminate the beast. The name of each class speaks for itself as to their primary function—medic, assault, trapper, and mechanic—and while there was only one character available for each class, you can expect many, many more to be available at launch and as you earn experience in a certain role. It won't be a simple change in cosmetics, either; different characters will have varying fixed loadouts. In general, no matter which class you choose, you will have two weapons and two special abilities, nearly all of which has infinite ammo and infinite usage but take time recharging and reloading.

The standard assault member, Markov, can lay down a set number of proximity mines that do considerable damage and switch between a long-range assault rifle and a close-range homing lightning rifle. His special ability shields him to all damage, ensuring that he can get in safely and protect his teammates from potential damage. The mechanic Hank doesn't have that much in the way of weaponry, but can offer incredible support by giving characters a shield and dropping a high-damage orbital strike that can win the fight if he can get it to land on the beast more than twice. He also represents the team's last-ditch save since he can cloak himself and slip away for several seconds if the rest of the team is in the middle of respawning. So long as one human member is alive at the end of the two-minute mark, the human team can survive another day.

The medic Val, who can heal any character from afar, is usually the first character that Goliath needs to target to have any chance at a win. Not only does she have an AoE health burst, but she has a tranquilizer gun that can slow down the beast at long range to slow its movement and make it difficult for it to eat and evolve. Likewise, the trapper Griffin can also slow its movement by harpooning the beast and can place down a mobile arena which can trap the beast in a large spherical area for a limited time. In short, when all four characters are working in sync, chances are that Goliath will be taken down, especially if he's caught early.

A standard match in Hunt mode is an interplay and constant role reversal between hunter and prey. The beast has a short head start before the humans drop in on its location, and it's here that Goliath must gain enough distance to start munching on the various wildlife in the environment. At the same time, the humans can track where the beast has left footprints, so it's important for Goliath to sneak around occasionally without alerting birds and fool the human players. That said, there's no reason that the beast can't change up his tactics and begin dissecting the human players even in its most primitive form.

Other tactics based on the environment and winning conditions emerge. Certain wildlife give temporary bonuses when eaten, and larger wildlife like trap jaws and dinosaur-like sloths can be killed for basic upgrades as well, though sometimes it's best to save the corpse until later when you need it. When the beast is at Level 3, it can also win by completing the optional objective that will change depending on the planet but generally requires destroying a facility and remaining colonists. It's also a way to funnel both sides to a location so that the cat-and-mouse action doesn't continue forever.

Evolve has the potential to become a prominent eSports title, so long as we figure out how to plan 4-vs.-1 brackets, but Turtle Rock Studios has something both graphically and mechanically powerful. Hopefully as the game reaches alpha and beta, more characters, levels, beasts, and modes will be playable. Look for Evolve to release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC in Fall 2014.