Evolve hands-on preview: a unique take on the shooter genre

Developed by Turtle Rock Studios, the creators behind the critically acclaimed Left 4 Dead franchise, Evolve has consistently remained one of the most hotly anticipated games of 2014, putting a unique and satisfying spin on the traditional cooperative experience. PSU was lucky enough to go hands-on with the game at E3 for the first time, and just recently, 2K invited us to get our mitts on the shooter once again — only this time, the publishing powerhouse had a brand new monster to show off.

Yep, new to the table ahead of the game’s fall release is The Kraken; a multi-tentacled, highly dexterous foe named after the mythical sea monster of legend, boasting some particularly nasty attacks up its slimy sleeves. Unlike the beast it is named after, however, Evolve’s interpretation of The Kraken is land-based, can hover above ground, scale the mightiest of cliffs, and turn its prey into crispy critters with some devastating lightning and explosive attacks. He’s a fast bugger too, and can effortlessly outrun the team of Hunters, forcing players to employ a diverse range of tactics in order to dispatch the creature.

Stepping into the role of the creature is a total paradigm shift, not to mention gives you a palpable feeling of empowerment. My first port of call as The Kraken – that is, after fumbling my way through the control scheme – was to hunt down some grub; that is, indigenous wildlife that your creature consumes (you can sniff them out by clicking the right-stick) in order to ‘evolve,’ making you all the more powerful and a far more deadly adversary. If you hit stage 3 of the evolution ladder, the Hunters’ generator becomes vulnerable, allowing you to attack and ultimately destroy it, securing victory.

After getting into a few brief scraps with the Hunters, I managed to gobble down enough of the local critters to evolve to level 2. This not only boosted my health (which had taken a bit of a battering) and armor, but also awarded me some extra skill points to put into my existing powers. However, you have to be vigilant of your surroundings; attempt to chow down on your quarry as you’re getting blasted, and you won’t be able to complete the animation. Speaking of powers, The Kraken is a formidable opponent; lightning strikes can fry your opponents from high above, or you can bombard them with mines. I was also given the ability to select a specific perk prior to the battle (increased damage, self-healing, etc), which is the case for both Hunters and the creature. Despite the fact you’re a menacing-looking killing machine, I never once got the impression the scales were tipped in my favor, and more than once I found myself ignominiously fleeing from a tenacious pack of hunters, with my proverbial tail (or should that be tentacle?) tucked between my legs.

The session lasted some two hours, and in that time I was able to sample every breed of Hunter. It’s here that you really get a taste of the teamwork and strategic value that Evolve brings to the table, and it’s incredibly satisfying and mechanically solid to boot. The Hunters faction is broken down into four individuals: Attack, Medic, Support, and Trapper. Attack is your trigger-happy, muscle-bound grunt who specializes in dealing high damage, which isn’t too hard considering he’s armed with a massive chaingun. Medic does exactly what it says on the tin; keeps your team in tip-top condition and revives deceased teammates. Support is a mechanical chap who can scout ahead with a drone to track down the enemy and packs a punch with a meaty sniper rifle. Finally, the Trapper is perhaps the most valuable asset on the team; as her name suggests, she can stall the Kraken by setting up a huge energy field, trapping the enemy within. To top it off, she also comes equipped with her own pet beast, Daisy, whose teeth come handy in the middle of a ruck and is controlled entirely by the AI.

Still, don’t expect to step into your chosen character’s boots and embark on a Rambo-style killing spree of your own; teamwork is a paramount to survival, and the only way you’ll overthrow your hulking adversary is by communicating with the rest of your squad. My hands-on was very much a methodical learning process, as we each warmed to our character’s various tactical nuances and applied them to the bigger picture. Once we acclimatized to the controls, powers, and general layout of the map – which featured a raging river down the middle, rocky cliffs, and dimly-lit tunnels punctuated by aggressive wildlife – we managed to form a level of cohesion between each other, barking out orders, warnings, and other advice over our headsets.

Pleasingly, our tactics paid off, and in the end we emerged victorious — twice in fact, though the end result was 3-2 in favor of The Kraken. Still, from my hands-on with the game, it’s abundantly clear that Evolve offers a unique take on the shooter genre, and remains one of the most rewarding cooperative games I’ve played.

Evolve will be unleashing havoc on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in October.