The Many Ways to Play Evolve

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Turtle Rock Studios’ upcoming shooter Evolve is one of the best shooter experiences we’ve ever had with a controller (and I’ve played a lot of shooters). Part of that slick functionality is about how well-designed the control system is, but a lot of it has to do with the kind of game Evolve is. Unlike some other shooters – which reward accuracy combined with speed – Evolve tasks its four monster hunters with shooting at a gigantic target that can be seen coming from quite a distance. It’s not about snapping the aiming reticule instantly to a single pixel; it’s about timing, controlling space, and teamwork.

And that’s just when you’re playing the hunters. As the monster, it’s even more fluid on Xbox One. “We thought of Street Fighter,” said Phil Robb, co-founder of Turtle Rock Studios and creative director on Evolve. “It’s about launching the right moves at the right time – not twitchy reflexes.”

For the uninitiated: Evolve is an asymmetrical first-person shooter, in which a team of four hunters take on a single, gigantic monster in a series of maps and game modes. One player chooses the monster, and the others pick one of the four classes of hunter: Trapper, Assault, Medic, and Support. The Trapper is responsible for tracking and ensnaring the monster (at least temporarily), while the Assault is the frontline damage dealer. The Medic is just what it sounds like, and the Support characters have various abilities that buff other hunters or debuff the monster. Only one player can play any given class, but there are several different individual hunters to fill each role, all of whom have a unique set of abilities and weapons.

During our recent visit to Turtle Rock Studios, Evolve‘s developers revealed a series of new game modes and four new hunters. Previously, the only mode shown to the public had been “Hunt,” a straightforward mode in which the four hunters have to kill the monster within a given time frame. Now we have Nest, Rescue, Defend, and the campaign-based Evacuation modes to round out the gameplay.

Nest places the hunters in the aggressor role, dropping them into a map populated with six monster eggs that they must destroy. The monster must protect these eggs (which are scattered around the map), but may hatch an egg into an A.I.-controlled monster to help take the fight to the hunters if he wants. This is risky, since eggs are essentially hit points for the monster in this mode – but an aggressive strategy can pay off, since killing the hunters is your only option for winning.

Rescue is the other side of Nest’s coin. A few groups of civilians have been caught out in the wilderness with the monster roaming about, and the hunters must rescue the civilians (or kill the monster) before the monster can eat them. Each group of civilians is revealed as time passes, and it’s a best of five situation: The first side to save or kill five civilians wins. Rescue provides a lot of strategic options, as the monster can try to camp the rescue point that civilians will run to on their own (they are A.I.-controlled once rescued), or he can try to eat them while they’re down, but risk getting captured by the hunters. Or, the monster can try hit-and-run tactics to keep weakening the hunters while they’re busy rescuing… and then finish them off as they try to complete the level.

Finally, there’s the new Defend mode, which incorporates some elements of tower defense within the context of Evolve’s gameplay. In this mode, a ship filled with colonists is fueling in a hangar, which is protected by a series of shields. The monster is trying to get through those shields and destroy the ship before it can take off, while the hunters want to prevent that. The shield generators are helpfully placed outside the actual shields, so the monster can take them down – but they’re tough, and guarded by automatic turrets. In the monster’s favor, though, he starts at maximum level, and gets two A.I. companions, who spawn at regular intervals to assist. In return, the hunters get a drastically reduced respawn clock (30 seconds instead of the usual two minutes).

All of these modes, along with Hunt, are part of the new, dynamic Evacuation campaign mode. Taking place over five days, Evacuation creates a series of interlinked, dynamically changing missions for players who want the consistency of a scripted campaign with the variety of a procedurally generated one. Each mission follows successively after the next, although campaigns always start with Hunt and end with Defend. In the middle, players vote on what type of mission they’d like to play next.

Each win in an Evacuation mission dynamically affects the next mission in a variety of clever ways. For example, if the hunters fail in a Hunt mission near a communications tower, they may be showered with flaming debris from falling satellites in the Rescue mission that follows. Alternatively, if the hunters are successful, the next mission may feature a ship that circles above the map and constantly reveals the monster’s location. To prevent unbalancing, though, failing a mission also confers benefits, but these are on the “back end” – your team gets a slight damage boost and a slight armor boost for every mission you lose, but losing more missions also means you don’t earn as much experience when the campaign finally ends.

Many permutations and combinations can occur based on mission type, map location, and earned bonuses. Robb stated that there are, in fact, “more than 800,000” different permutations of Evacuation campaigns. He also said that the Evacuation campaigns are designed to last about an hour, but could theoretically be shorter – or considerably longer, depending on the way missions play out.

With a bevy of new game modes, new characters, tons of polish, and the slickest Xbox One shooter controls we’ve seen, it’s safe to say that Evolve represents one of the most exciting new properties coming to Xbox One in 2015. Balancing teamwork one the one hand, and solo skill on the other, it promises a unique gameplay experience that should please any type of shooter fan.