An ambitious new shooter from Left 4 Dead developers Turtle Rock Studios
(PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Innovation in multiplayer shooters has stagnated in recent years. The dominant cycle of Call of Duty and Battlefield games has left little room for variation and, with soaring development costs, few companies are prepared to take risks. Enter Left 4 Dead developers Turtle Rock Studios with its ambitious asymmetrical shooter Evolve, a title that also acts as a statement of intent.
Set on an alien planet, each round features four player-controlled human 'hunters' and a monster. Although specific objectives vary, the ultimate aim is for either side to track down and eliminate the other, with each of the five classes armed with a variety of tools and abilities. Humans are split into support, medic, assault and trapper, with one player assigned to each. As a result of this circular support mechanism, it's essential for players to work as a team. The player controlling the monster gets a head start at the beginning of each round as they chow down on the local wildlife in an attempt to grow larger and ultimately evolve into a more powerful beast. Although monsters are blessed with a set of special abilities, such as breathing fire or charging through enemies, a well-organised team of hunters has all the tools necessary to bring it down as long as they don't dawdle.
Evolve borrows liberally from a host of other genres. Like an MMORPG, each player has a specially defined role, although – like Team Fortress 2 – there is scope to change the focus of that role using a variety of weaponry and equipment. It follows the push-and-pull rhythms of a MOBA, enabled by a joyous freedom of movement similar to last year's Titanfall. And, most significantly of all, Evolve feels like (yes) an evolution from Left 4 Dead, with an even more focus on teamwork. It's no coincidence that the very first monster feels like a beefed up version of that game's Tank creature.
Where Evolve falls down is its lack of variety. While each map is beautifully rendered and there are a generous 16 at launch, there's very little variety between them. Left 4 Dead overcame staleness with tremendously diverse levels, each of which offered a different narrative conclusion, and its distressed locations evoked a real sense of foreboding. Here, there's a great deal of green and brown, and trees and rocks are the dominant features.
Titanfall breathed fresh air into online shooters before repetition quickly wore off the sheen. And unless Evolve is properly supported after release, it will likely suffer the same fate. But, as it stands, this is a brave new take on the genre. Its varied mechanics are quick to learn and hard to master, and it's worthy of attention from anyone tired of the endless cycle of military shooters.