About an hour south of Los Angeles, in a nondescript office park, men are experimenting on monsters. Digital monsters, to be sure, though Turtle Rock Studios does have its own, real-life bearded dragon, who skitters around the office from time to time. “He eats roaches,” explains Chris Ashton, co-founder and design director at Turtle Rock. Perhaps that’s part of the inspiration for the enormous monsters that make up the antagonists in Turtle Rock’s upcoming shooter Evolve–crushing humans like bugs is a pet pastime. Of course, the humans have a say in how they’re going to be crushed, too, and Turtle Rock recently revealed a new set of four hunters to add to the eight already trying to put those pesky monsters in their place.
Each one of the new four falls into one of Evolve’s four hunter classes: trapper, medic, assault, and support (respectively Abe, Caira, Parnell, and Cabot). Each has his or her own unique personality, set of gear, and play style. “Originally, before we had the 12 characters we have now, we just had these four guys and a huge truckload of gear,” says Phil Robb, co-founder and creative director at Turtle Rock. “It ended up being overwhelming. We ran into situations where players could screw themselves right out of the gate–they’d take a bad loadout, so we divided the gear up into packages. Some sexy stuff that everyone wants and some non-sexy gear that’s important to gameplay balance.”
Abe, the new trapper, has a bit of Han Solo in him. He’s a smartass who can handle himself with a blaster–or in this case, a combat shotgun. Abe’s gun changes the pellet spread based on rate of fire: pull the trigger faster and you get a wider spread, useful for closer ranges. Shoot slowly and you get a tighter spread, good for hitting things far away. Abe also has stasis grenades that stick to and slow the movement of anything caught in their blast, which is useful for preventing monsters from escaping or blindsiding your party. He also has a tracking dart pistol that can be used on a monster directly or on potential prey animals. If a tagged animal is eaten by the monster, that monster becomes tagged and trackable. Like all trappers, Abe has a “mobile arena,” a tool that surrounds a small area with an impenetrable energy fence so that the hunters can trap and hammer away on a monster.
The four new hunters.
Imposingly clad in power armor, Parnell is the new assault class. He’s ex-military, and the special suit he wears is known for killing its user–but Abe’s tinkering has left it safe… somewhat. “When he activates his super-soldier ability, it basically makes him inhuman,” Ashton described. “He can run faster, he can jump higher, he can shoot weapons insanely fast, and reload insanely fast. The price, though, is that it damages his body. We wanted him to be as good as the other assaults in non-super-soldier mode, but super-soldier mode is like Assault Plus. It’s better. But we had to have a price for that somewhere.” Parnell carries an automatic shotgun and an automatic rocket launcher, one for close and the other for long range combat, and both become incredibly deadly with the super-soldier mode activated, but players will have to watch the health bar if they want to really start blazing away.
The good news is that the new medic, Caira, can help Parnell and other assaults with survivability. She uses a grenade launcher that can be set to fire either napalm grenades or healing grenades. Napalm sets monsters (or wildlife creeps) on fire for damage over time and allows the other hunters to do increased damage. Healing grenades heal everything (except the monster) in their blast radius, so Caira can heal herself, her teammates, or even wildlife. She can also raise them from a downed state. Her special ability is to activate an acceleration field, allowing her and anyone else caught up in it to move faster.
Rounding out the team is support class member Cabot, the leader of all the hunters, who brought them all together to take on these monster-killing duties. Stoic and calm by nature, Cabot sports a rail cannon, which launches slugs that have a long range and burst into shrapnel when they strike a target, allowing him to shoot through hard targets effectively. He’s also got a damage amplifying beam and the ability to call in a radioactive dust cloud that will coat anything it hits in a glowing haze, allowing the hunters to track it over long distances.
Previously, the team at Turtle Rock only ever showed one game mode in Evolve, but they’ve now unveiled more ways to play the game. Playable online or solo, the three new modes–Rescue, Nest, and Defend–join the previously announced Hunt mode for a total of four game types. “We made these modes years and years ago,” said Ashton, “but we didn’t want to overwhelm with a bunch of different modes at first.”
In Rescue mode, the hunters have to locate and save lost colonists before a monster can kill and eat them. The colonists’ locations are revealed bit by bit throughout the mission in groups of two, two, and five, and if the hunters can save at least five before the monster eats that many, they win. The colonists do have a mind of their own, though, and will try to book it for the extraction point once the hunters rescue them, so the hunters have to be careful not to end up herding cats.
Nest mode turns the tables slightly and puts the monster on the defensive. Six monster eggs, randomly scattered throughout the map, are the hunters’ quarry in this mode, and the monster must attempt to protect them. It can hatch an egg, however, to spawn an AI mini-monster to assist it, but this is risky, as the eggs effectively represent life points for the monster. Nest can be played on any of the 12 maps already used in Hunt mode, and eggs are procedurally spawned each time a map is played. Nest provides a lot of tactical options: hunters can either split up and try to divide the monster’s attention or focus on an egg at a time to take them down more quickly, or they can abandon killing the eggs altogether and just try to take down the monster itself.
Defend mode is just what it sounds like: the hunters must defend a series of shield generators from an angry monster and his continually spawning minions. If the shields don’t go down before time runs out, the monsters win. If they do, the hunters are hosed. “Defend feels like a finale,” says Robb, and Ashton echoes that sentiment: “It’s supposed to feel like one of those ‘it all comes down to this’ things.” In this mode, things are made more complex by the presence of AI monsters (and defense turrets to help the hunters out). The hunters do get an advantage by being able to respawn 30 seconds after death (as opposed to the usual two minutes), but the monster starts off maxed out in terms of power, as well. This is definitely the most advanced mode to play.
We checked, and there are over 800,000 different combinations of campaigns you can play in Evacuation.
Phil Robb, co-founder and creative director at Turtle Rock
It’s fitting, then, that the newly announced Evacuation campaign mode always ends with a Defend mission. A series of five missions linked together, Evacuation is a dynamic, modular campaign system that adds depth and continuity to Evolve’s gameplay. Essentially, a team of four players takes on the hunter roles (they can switch which character they want to play each mission), one player takes on the role of the monster (also changeable per mission), and they commit to a campaign that is designed to be about an hour in length, according to Robb.
Evacuation always ends with Defend, but it always starts with Hunt on a randomized map. In between, players vote on which mission type they’d like to play next. Winning a mission gives you key advantages in the next, such as more food for the monster to eat or more powerful defense turrets to assist the hunters. However, losing also powers up your defense and damage slightly to prevent unbalancing. In the end, the team with the most wins gets the most experience, which is used to unlock new persistent abilities and characters.
“We checked, and there are over 800,000 different combinations of campaigns you can play in Evacuation,” says Robb. These may be randomly generated, but they do a remarkable job of feeling internally integrated. Indeed, a game of Evacuation plays a lot like a campaign in Left 4 Dead. The two sides line up their strategy, attempt to execute it, and then everything goes to hell. Constant communication is necessary in Evolve, not just during missions but also between them. Lining up who’s good at which role, which particular hunter to take, and what your general plan is going to be makes for a much higher likelihood of success.
Of course, for the solo artists, there’s always the monster role. Each new game mode plays differently for the monster, and you have to be both adaptable and unpredictable, or the hunters will quickly overpower you. Playing the monster is a constant balance between hiding away, powering up, and quick bum rushes. You never know when trying to go in for the final kill will lure you into the traps that the hunters have for you. Each game mode emphasizes different monster styles, and while only two monsters, the Goliath and the Kraken, have been announced so far, Turtle Rock has promised more to come.
Evolve’s new announcements greatly round out the game, and the version I played was far less buggy than the early Alpha that was released to the community a few months ago. If Evolve can create a real sense of continuity and if it can continue to build on the clever level and character ideas it’s recently shown, it could be one of the most innovative takes on the shooter genre we’ve seen in years.