Multiplayer shooters Evolve into something bigger

SINGAPORE — At E3 in June last year, one game stood out for me: EA’s upcoming multiplayer first-person shooter, Titanfall, which is currently in beta. At that point, Titanfall looked like a sure bet for the multiplayer game of the year, but now something has come out of the shadows to steal the limelight: Evolve.

Made by Left 4 Dead developers Turtle Rock Studios and to be published by 2K Games (after the demise of THQ), Evolve is a asymmetrical multiplayer co-op action game. It’s a five player game, where four hunters, armed with various weapons and traps, head out to take down a monster. If you’ve played Left 4 Dead you’ll have an idea of how it works: It’s almost like the versus mode, but it’s no longer four survivors against four infected, but against one solo player.

Think of it as a boss fight for the four players, except the boss is controlled by a player, not the computer. As far as I can tell, there’s no much story behind Evolve (yet): Four hunters — a trapper, support, assault and medic — team up to take down a beast on the planet Shear. The environment serves as hiding places for the monster, who can also hunt prey and feed on them (or feed on the humans, if they get killed) before getting enough nutrition to, well, evolve into a bigger beast with more powers.

Each hunter comes with specific powers: For example, the trapper can use a harpoon or cage to trap the monster while the support can either shield teammates or call in an orbital strike. The assault is purely for dealing damage against the monster, while the medic is the team’s healer and can also use tranquillisers to slow the monster down. Here is where synergy is key: A well-timed harpoon and tranquilliser paired with an orbital strike will deal massive damage to the monster, while the medic has to make sure every team member does not get out of healing range.

That’s not to say that the monster, fighting all by his lonesome, is at a massive disadvantage. The first monster revealed, the Goliath, has charge and jump attacks that also help him get away faster, and can also throw boulders and breathe fire to deal massive damage. Evolution makes him bigger and hit harder — he becomes a larger target, but he takes less steps to get close to the hunters.

In my first attempt at the game I was given the chance to play the monster, right after the hunter team had a pretty clean victory over the Goliath, giving me what felt like a disadvantage. The early game involved me mostly running for my life while eating prey whenever I could — the hunters a well-oiled team that nearly took me out a few times.

Things changed, however, when I had just enough food to evolve — and trapped within a hunter’s cage I had no choice but to bring the fight to them. It was mostly close-quarter fights as I did just enough to get my first kill, which then became lunch. The tide was turning, and at one point I had done enough to get the team down to only the medic. Hilarity ensued while I was feeding on a medic’s fallen comrade — the medic was still trying to heal him, which gave me even more to feed on and hastened my evolution.

Victory, however was out of my grasp: Trying to find a place to evolve took ages (you can’t evolve next to a wall, it seems), while clipping and control issues right at the end made me a sitting duck for enough time for the hunters to regain momentum.

It might sound like an all-out action fest — and it is — but there’s a level of quick thinking involved in Evolve, making it at points like a tactical chess game before the inevitable firefight. The roles of hunter and hunted can swap easily, and it only takes an error in judgement (stepping too close to other vicious creatures, for example) to turn the game around. The pacing of the game is immense and never lets up: Given that you’re either chasing or escaping at any time, there’s just barely enough time for the monster to find a spot to hide and evolve, while hunters will want to fan out to spot the monster faster, without getting isolated. Halfway through the first game I realised my mouth was entirely dry — not that I had the time to grab a drink.

What little I saw and experienced definitely made me hungry for more. The other journalists who were there would also agree, with some even claiming it as the game of the year — a bold statement to make less than two months into the year.

The biggest surprise of all wasn’t just how good the game already was: We were told at the end of the session that the game was still in pre-alpha stage, and some things, like the afore-mentioned bugs, made it clear that there is still some way to go. But given the amount of polish and fun the game already had even before beta, it feels like Evolve is just mere steps away to becoming the next great co-op multiplayer shooter, and it looks like it might even make a Titan fall.

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