Towering Reservations: Hands-on with Evolve at PAX East

Both Managing Editor Ron Whitaker and I got a chance to try Turtle Rock Studios’ upcoming multiplayer shooter Evolve at PAX East 2014, and unlike many people in the gaming world, we came away from it with reservations. Here’s what we thought.

Phil’s Take:

If there’s one thing about Evolve that seems enticing, it’s the game’s dedication to teamwork.

It also could be the game’s downfall.

Evolve plays on the idea of asymmetrical, team-heavy multiplayer, building off developer Turtle Rock Studios’ previous work on another great asymmetrical title: Left 4 Dead. Like L4D, it starts with the essential requirement of teamwork: Four players must coordinate to hunt down and destroy a giant, Godzilla-like monster. Imagine a multiplayer game where you and three companions band together to take on a huge, multi-stage boss.

Only the boss is not a boss. It’s another player.

On its face, the idea for Evolve seems like a great one. Each player has a very defined role: there’s the damage-dealing Assault class, which needs to get close to the monster to really punish it; the Trapper, who is capable of harpooning the monster to keep it from fleeing or trapping it in a giant dome so players can fight it; the Support class, which has the ability to call in orbital strikes and fire a beam that covers one other team member with an impenetrable shield; and the Medic, who can heal team members and use a sniper rifle to injure the creature.

Working together is a must in order to be effective hunters. If one player wanders off alone, it can spell disaster for their remaining allies. Meanwhile, the player controlling the creature wants to stay hidden and away from the hunting team so they can eat animals from around the map and power up through three stages of evolution.

When we got a chance to play Evolve on the floor at PAX East 2014, I must say I was excited. Other websites called Evolve their game of the show, and earlier preview coverage we’d done for the game made it sound exciting and fresh.

But I came away from my single game session thinking that Evolve needed … more.

Now, there are a lot of caveats to this opinion. I was playing with a group of random folks who’d waited in a lengthy line to check out the game (not unlike the folks you might be paired with online, though). I only played one match. And I had little understanding of how the game worked outside my own standard first-person shooter knowledge and skills; our team was coached by someone from 2K Games standing behind us and watching the action.

So my experience with the game is highly limited, and it should be understood that these impressions are preliminary (however, this is what 2K was showing journalists and the public at the show, so — we’re doing this).

My team leapt into action at the start of the match and immediately started following the glowing footprints that were to lead us to the monster. The goal in each match is to find and kill the monster as quickly as possible, before it gets stronger. But the first thing to realize is that Evolve’s maps seem to be huge. Most of our match was spent sprinting around, trying to figure out just where the creature was. That’s the “hunting” part of Evolve, which sounds good on paper — but which is actually kind of boring when you’re doing it.

My team was pretty competent: we stayed together, we moved quickly, and we were smart about our actions. We found and engaged the monster twice, and each time my team was effective in throwing down the “mobile arena” to trap it and force it to deal with us, using harpoons to injure it, and keeping one another shielded and healed. As the Support player, my job was generally to look out for everyone else, and it’s a role I feel comfortable with in most FPS titles.

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