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Evolve Big Alpha (XB1) Hands-On

"Monster Hunting with a Class-Based Twist"
2K and Turtle Rock’s Evolve went through an eventful weekend to say the least with the release of the Big Alpha on Xbox One, PC & Playstation 4. From server issues on the Xbox One version last Thursday to the point I wasn’t able to play a match till that night, the PC version also having a shaky launch and the PS4 version of the alpha delayed till last night, it was definitely an “alpha-esque” experience for everyone. With all that said, how is Turtle Rock’s latest shaping so far? Evolve definitely has it’s core concepts nailed down, but there are plenty of concerns facing this highly anticipated multiplayer shooter from whether or not the core gameplay can be fun for a long time and the amount of content might not be enough for it’s February 2015 release date.

Graphically in this alpha state, Evolve looks fine even though textures can take a while to load at times. Speaking of load times, the alpha definitely has long load times to get into matches, so hopefully that won’t be the case for the final game. The sound effects were also buggy during gameplay as if my speakers were blowing up or something. Matchmaking consists of having preferences to the class you would rather play. If you prefer playing as the monster for example, the game will highly likely find matches that needs a monster. Other than that, bots will fill in the other class slots until an actual person joins in the match. It’s an interesting take on matchmaking especially for a class-based multiplayer game than your traditional lobby trying to figure out who would play what.
The monsters playable in this alpha build were the Goliath and the unlockable Kraken. I personally spent the most time with the Goliath and it can pummel the hunters especially at an evolved state. The monster’s goal in Evolve is to eat wildlife to change form and destroy the power relay at a map when at stage three. It can also win the match by eliminating all the hunters as well. Even at stage one, the monster can still kill them easily if the team of hunters don’t know what they’re doing. However, if the hunters coordinate well doing their roles, it will be a struggle for the monster especially when trapped in the trapper’s mobile arena trying to weather the storm. At the start of a match, points are assigned to the monster’s special abilities. The Goliath specifically has a fire breath attack, throw rocks at enemies a leap smash and a charge attack that is also useful to get away from a sticky situation. Monsters can also sneak around to eat wildlife and some of them offer buffs to certain stats for the rest of a match.

The hide and seek pacing of matches can be tedious specifically for the hunters if they can’t find the monster right away. I experienced matches where I can reach stage three without encountering any hunters. Monsters can scare off birds which would signal for the hunters it’s last known location. Mobility is also a big issue for both hunters and monsters. Even though monsters can climb up certain walls, regular movement doesn’t feel fast enough especially trying to get away from hunters. The majority of the time had to leap and waste my stamina right away just get around quickly. Hopefully Turtle Rock addresses concerns with mobility by the time the final game comes out especially in a year where mobility in shooters like Titanfall and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare have become critical to gameplay. However, having a match playing as a monster and everything goes in your favor from evolving to stage three, killing the hunters and destroying the power relay can be pretty satisfying. Our own Euan will now go more in-depth with the Evolve Big Alpha from the hunters perspective.

The Hunters Perspective by Euan Dewar
The hunters are split up into four classes including Assault, Support, Medic and Trapper. The first three are fairly self-explanatory. The assault is your tank-like class, soaking up most of the monster's attention and possessing the most powerful weapons. The support also has some damage dealing capabilities (including an airstrike of all things) as well as a device that can prevent teammates from taking damage for a limited amount of time. The medic, of course, heals their teammates in addition to tranquilizing and sniping the monster from afar.
The Trapper is the most unique of the four to Evolve and success as the hunters typically relies on smart use of this class. They are equipped with a mobile arena that they can lay down to trap the monster within it's radius as well as harpoon traps that restrict it's movement. Handily, they also come with an AI creature companion that can track the monster as well as revive downed teammates, even if the Trapper has died themselves.

Despite being the least mechanically inventive of the lineup I've far and away been having the most fun with the assault class. All the other classes sound much more interesting on paper, the trapper especially, but in the heat of gameplay they're rarely as gratifying to handle. The assault is able to really get into the fray in combat, which can make for some pretty intense moments. All too often though, playing the other classes just feels like a watered down version of the assault class. Take the trapper for example. Once they've laid down the dome to trap the monster, as well as some of those little mines that restrict it's movement, the only option left open to them is attacking the monster with their comparatively weak pea-shooter of a weapon.
Really though overall, I'm quite genuinely surprised by how much I haven't been enjoying my time with the alpha. All of the hunter classes just don't feel satisfying in the slightest. None of the guns, none of the movement, just nothing is as tight and weighty as it needs to be. The gulf between what I'm seeing my character do on screen and the feedback I'm getting as a player for those actions is huge. I could maybe understand the medic or support playing a little loosely considering how they aren't combat focused. But the assault? You know what playing the assault reminded me of? Section 8. Not a good thing to be reminded of when playing one of the most highly anticipated upcoming AAA games.

There's also a pretty large void in Evolve where the personality was in the Left 4 Dead games. They did a fantastic job of building characters and a world that stood out with just dialogue and the environments you traveled through. Evolve tries to insert in some banter between hunters, but there's very little of it and that's about all there is when it comes to world-building. And that's fine, of course, the game doesn't have to have that stuff. But if you aren't going to have it you must replace it with something, whether that be a more traditional narrative or whatever. Turtle Rock has hinted at there maybe being a mode that has more of a story but from what we've seen so far, I'm not getting my hopes up.
If there's anything I think this game is missing, it's the input of Valve. I don't want to diminish the work that Turtle Rock put into making the Left 4 Dead games the hits they were, they deserve all accolades that come their way for that stuff. But I think the reason those games reached another level, the reason every aspect felt so well-designed was because of the attention to detail and guidance that Valve bring to projects. They did the same thing with Portal, they brought in a team who had created this student project with great potential and helped them bring it to fruition as full thing. It ended up creating one of the most beloved games of all time as a result.

Without that guidance Turtle Rock seem a little lost. Again, as many have said, the core idea is really solid. Tons of potential here. But, like Left 4 Dead, it's an idea that only works if the gameplay is polished to the finest of points. The quality of the core conceit isn't enough to get by. My hope is that the shaky feedback they seem to be getting from the alpha allows them to sharpen all this stuff up. Lord knows we've heard instances of games that have only properly come together in those final months (Street Fighter IV comes to mind in particular). My fear though is that they don't have the time they need between now and release to bridge that quality gap. At this point I would be totally fine, happy even, with another delay.


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