If you had the chance to participate in the recent Evolve open beta, you were treated to a polished experience of cooperative and competitive multiplayer. But you would be forgiven for wondering where this game even came from; developer Turtle Rock has a surprisingly short resume to be turning out such an interesting – and eagerly-awaited – title. Founded in 2002, the studio really has only two major franchises to their name… but they’re biggies.
Clearly, they’ve made an impact much bigger than their small handful of properties would indicate. With tomorrow’s release of their next game, the highly-anticipated asymmetrical shooter Evolve, we figured now’s the perfect time to take a close look at Turtle Rock’s very significant contributions to the industry.
In the early 2000s, Counter-Strike was king of competitive first-person shooters on the PC. A complex game of terrorism and counter-terrorism, the series was one of the first embraced by e-sports competitors. It’s here that Turtle Rock entered the scene, debuting in 2003 with the Xbox version of this legendary title.
But that was only the beginning. Working closely with publisher Valve, Turtle Rock picked up development of the highly anticipated sequel, 2004’s Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, after a string of delays and studio shuffling. It’s here that Turtle Rock began to show hints of its bold steps to come. Condition Zero introduced AI-controlled bots for solo players to compete against, and in stark contrast to most first-person shooter A.I. of the time, these bots were fantastic. Believable, challenging, and useful, the bots in Condition Zero were constantly lauded as one of the high points of the game (the legacy of those bots can be seen in games as recent as 2012’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive on Xbox 360).
Turtle Rock would go on to develop a number of maps for the 2004 reboot Counter-Strike: Source, as well as putting in some work on Half-Life 2: Deathmatch, but it would be four more years before the studio really stepped out from Counter-Strike’s shadow.
In 2008, Turtle Rock made waves with an innovative new take on the multiplayer FPS. Left 4 Dead built an entire game around four-player co-op, throwing a small group of survivors into the madness of a zombie apocalypse. But the real innovation came via the game’s “A.I. Director.” This system customizes the game experience on the fly, adjusting enemy placement, difficulty, and pacing in response to the group’s individual play style. Building on their bot-crafting experience, Turtle Rock delivered a system that would offer believable challenges that also provided notably different gameplay experiences with each playthrough.
Left 4 Dead also built on the slightly asymmetrical multiplayer of Counter-Strike by offering a novel type of four-on-four competition. In contrast to most FPS games, where both teams have roughly (or completely) identical abilities, Left 4 Dead pits a team of human survivors against a team of decidedly inhuman Infected with dramatically different powers. That asymmetrical gameplay would persist through Left 4 Dead 2, but it took a few more years to blossom into something completely new.
Enter Evolve, an all-new franchise hitting Xbox One tomorrow, February 10. This game takes the four-way co-op of Left 4 Dead and turns it up a notch. Each of the four characters plays a dramatically different role – assault, medic, trapper, or support – as they work together to take down an enormous monster with devastating abilities.
And that monster? Also player-controlled. If Evolve turns Left 4 Dead‘s co-op up a notch, it turns the asymmetrical competitive multiplayer to 11. A single player steps into the shoes (well, claws – or tentacles) of a hulking beast, out to destroy the four-person team of Hunters. The abilities of each side are so different they could come from separate games altogether; where Hunters are equipped with some traditional FPS gear, monsters have skills like Fire Breath, Lava Bombs, or Lightning Strikes. And these skills can be upgraded in the course of play: As the monster kills and devours other creatures, it gains energy that can eventually be used to evolve (there it is!) into a more powerful form. The points of view are even different – Hunters use a first-person perspective, while Monsters see the action from an over-the-shoulder third-person camera.
As different as Evolve is from Turtle Rock’s earliest efforts, with a careful eye we can trace its lineage all the way back, noting how these ideas evolved themselves over the studio’s 13 years of existence. You can see the results for yourself when Evolve hits Xbox One tomorrow.