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It is, without a doubt, the most anticipated multiplayer game of 2015. Everyone seems to want Evolve in their veins and not only has Turtle Rock Studios done a great job in keeping the hype in check and giving gamers the dirty details in the right way and at the right time, but they’ve also helped spur along the creation of a new genre: the Asymmetrical Multiplayer Co-op Tactical Shooter (which I coined myself and abbreviate as AMCOTS). Though other games have had their hand in producing games that adhere to the AMCOTS style of play, Evolve is one of the bigger AAA releases that is getting all the attention.

With bundles of nerves, the NAG Online Podcast Team sat down for a match on Friday evening after the rAge Expo 2014 closed for the day and later wrote our first impressions. Hit the jump for expert analysis, killer-flytraps, and exactly as much professionalism as you’d expect.

Just a little background, Evolve is an upcoming 4v1 action-game, where a team of hunters work together to track and kill a monster before it can Evolve (Huh, huh? Alright, no more puns). At rAge 2014, Evolve was insanely popular and caused an early morning stampede to get in line as soon as the doors opened. The setup was great too: ten systems were set up to run two separate matches at all times, and the hunters had teamspeak enabled so they could hopefully coordinate their attack. We played a game of chance and determined Delano would be the monster. Below follows the frenzied chicken-scratch of our impressions.

Rick de Klerk as Val, the Medic

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I’ve always gravitated towards support roles, and it turns out that my instinct for this sort of play remains deeply ingrained since I sat down to play Val, one of Evolve’s Medic-class characters. Val has a mix of targeted and global weapons which aim to heal your squadmates and hinder the monster, and it became clear that I was going to need to rely heavily on my squadmates in order to survive.

Short of my sniper rifle, which has the added benefit of marking the monster with a weak point that increases subsequent damage dealt to that weak point by all characters, I had no further damage potential. Which is not to say that the Medic class is completely useless for combat – for example, I can tranqualise the monster — which slows it down for a bit as well as briefly reveal his location on the map. That’s needed, because these maps are huge. The environment we played was a dense swampland with scattered industrial installations, and we spent a good amount of time searching for Delano.

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Interestingly, while the primary tactic is to stay calm and remain together, I found the map and mechanics of tracking the monster are such that it promotes the traditional horror trope of inadvertently splitting up… because that always works out, right? Noticing the monsters tracks, for example, when your colleagues have not and diverting to investigate resulted in a tense situation where I walked into some sort of processing plant and Delano — playing the Kraken, a flying monstrosity — stepped around one of the vats.

In the end, our drive to explore won (or lost?) out against our primary goal, resulting in the Fick brothers engaging in a little hands-on botanical study of the local flora, a giant Venus Flytrap. I left Chris Kemp to die — fittingly — which merely added to our undoing.

Matthew Fick as Markov for Assault

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Not much thought went into my character choice, I simply picked the first system open and settled in to play the Assault Role. I was also the only one to play the game using the Xbox One controller provided, so you can count this as the ‘Console’ impression. My character’s class was by far the simplest, and my only two roles were tanking, and holding controller buttons until my enemies turn into paste.

I tried to play this way, boldly jet-packing for the nearest signs of danger, while silently assuring my teammates that “Big Thunder” had this handled. “Big Thunder” is the name I chose for myself. I’ll tell you this, the game plays great on a controller. It handles well and the button mapping is convenient enough to appeal to console-gamers.

One little niggle with our match was that laying mines was never properly explained, which led to an awkward moment of dancing around Delano’s evolving monster while holding a mine like a frisbee superglued to your hand.

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Unfortunately, “Big Thunder” has just one weakness: the mewling cries of his brother. See, at one point Wesley got himself eaten by a Venus Flytrap, so I came rushing over to help and got further separated from the group. I arrived in time to see Wesley’s character die. A second later I tried to loot his corpse (don’t know why) and was immediately eaten by the same damn Flytrap. I was rescued, but didn’t last long afterwards.

So in my conclusion, Evolve is great fun. Teamwork is utterly essential, the graphics are superb, and the sprawling verticality of the levels is mind-boggling in its possibilities. Just watch out for the damn plantlife.

Chris Kemp as Hank for Support

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Right, I’m not going to go into the venus fly-trap situation again because it’s been covered and frankly, it still hurts every time I think of Delano’s smug face peering around from his side of the stand after rudely crushing me like a beetle. Evolve was everything I expected it to be – fun, tactical, engaging and just about the best thing you can play with a group of friends.

What I didn’t quite expect, however, was how well put together it was. Each class has a very specific role, and deviating from that role means certain death. Victory relies heavily on sticking together and sticking to your character’s primary function – if the medic tries to go Rambo with his/her piddling little BB gun, things are going to south quickly.

It’s difficult to comment on the balance of the game without grinding out a few more matches, but it felt pretty solid to me. As a tight-knit group I felt like we had a clear path to victory – stick together, stick to your role and don’t stop moving. That, of course, was sometimes easier said than done.

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For the monster, it didn’t seem to be about stomping in and trying to take on the whole sqaud, Godzilla style – it felt like Delano needed to be more calculating than that, look for the right opening and launch a devastating attack when we weren’t properly prepared for it. And, if he finds that opening, the game is over in seconds.

It’s a battle of attrition vs a well-timed critical strike, and it’s beautiful. The game looked great, it played great, and I cannot wait to pick this up and explore it further.

P.S. A quick shoutout to the leader of the civilian-murdering, shirtless GTA V gang, who was kind enough to stop by the stand and give me some tips on how to tackle “A Monster Named Delano”. I’m pleased to report I listened carefully to all his sage wisdom, before blowing it completely. We would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that meddling fly-trap…

Wesley Fick as Griffin in the role of Trapper

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So… by now you have a pretty good idea of how things went down. I sat down, unknowingly, for the role of trapper and I was a bit perplexed at first at what my role should have been. Being a trapper, Griffin is equipped with a sub-machine gun that acts as his primary weapon and there’s a moderate amount of recoil for it it won’t damage monsters too much, but it helps to chip away at the health bars to bring the monster player further into a panic.

What I couldn’t figure out, though, was how his harpoon, sound spikes and mobile arena worked. I learned later that the harpoon gun attaches to the monster and needs to be placed on the ground nearby to trap it. The sound spikes are useful if the team is split up and Griffin’s controller happens upon the monster. Deploying the sound-spikes will alert them to yours and the monster’s locations on the map.

The mobile arena would have been interesting to explore further, as it traps the monster into a given area to allow the hunters to attack it head-on, but I ran into some interesting environmental concerns along the way and it ultimately led to our demise. Assuming your teammates aren’t around to help, the Venus Fly Traps are one-hit-kill freaks of nature.

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What I found interesting technically about Evolve (and what I studied as I listened to the screams of my teammates trying to band together) is that the game is clearly made for use with a controller. There’s a very subtle hint of aim-assist and cursor smoothing even though I was using a mouse and keyboard. Often I’d snap the reticle to the middle of the screen and it would drift ever so slightly in the direction it was traveling in. It wasn’t a sensor-related issue on the mouse itself (a gorgeous Steelseries Rival) so I figured that this is how the game would help new players to get to grips with the controls.

I sincerely hope I can turn it off because it will only end up annoying the crap out of me.

I wasn’t able to dive into any of the graphics options but there were a few things I could gather from playing through the map. The first is that there’s a moderate application of motion blur and immediately I wondered if the game was running at 30 or 60 frames per second. There is a certain smoothness to the game that feels like it’s been frame-metered to 30 fps, but there was almost no input lag. I recall seeing the resolution briefly when someone came to turn off the demo units and it was running at 720p. I don’t think this is any indication of the game’s performance when it will eventually ship on the PC, but perhaps development is at the stage where Turtle Rock is still fine-tuning the performance and decided to err on the side of caution.

All in all I loved Evolve and I thought it played really well and has a unique dynamic that forces Hunter teams to work together to properly catch the monster. I just hope that it isn’t victim to hype in the run-up to the retail release.

Mark Del as the Kraken

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Hooboy. I knew things were gonna be interesting the moment it was decided I was to be the monster. It’s quite a responsibility, because I knew I had to take down a team of four whilst displaying extraordinary abilities. Upon being thrust into the game proper and getting a cursory familiarity of the basic controls, I selected the Kraken; a terrestrial cephalopod with impressive agility and limited flying ability.

Despite my mobility, I found the landscape to be quite intimidating: many different levels of ground, trees, boulders, cliffs, rivers and seemingly abandoned installations all came together to create an elaborate and confusing playing area. In addition, the world was littered with all manner of fauna, mostly passive but others of a slightly more aggressive disposition. Engaging the animals was a top priority for my creature, as it afforded him (her? it?) a major chance to level up.

Eventually I came across the Hunters and it became apparent that, despite my imposing stature, taking them down was to be a formidable task. With their guns, force-fields, tranquilizing darts and ability to track my movement, they ganged up on me and dished out some serious pain. Anybody else playing the creature would also quickly realise that simple brute force isn’t a worthwhile strategy against a cooperative team.

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So, our little match became a game of cat-and-mouse, move and counter-move. I tried to stay away and level up as much as possible so I may evolve. The Hunters tried desperately to stop my progression. They came very close to putting me down forever as my efforts to evolve were repeatedly interrupted. But in the end, I was indeed able to evolve and my abilities became ever more deadly. It was then just a matter of time; watching, waiting for them to wear out and make a stupid mistake.

My chance was not long in coming. I noticed a lone human, separated from the rest of the group, and proceeded to make him rue the day he ever decided to cross me. Shortly after, one his teammates appeared and attempted to rescue his doomed comrade, only to suffer the same fate. It was here that I learned that the rest of the team had befallen an environmental hazard, and I had won by default. The mesmerized crowd cheered me and I basked in the glow of sweet victory.

Does Evolve have issues? Certainly. The balance needs to be adjusted slightly and the natural hazards need to come with a warning, lest hapless humans engage them. Would I recommend it? Most definitely. Keep your eyes on this one.

The gameplay is engrossing, the environment is vast and amazing and it’s a fantastic multiplayer experience. Stay tuned!

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