Clinging to the bottom of the food chain: Pansy plays Evolve

“For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted.” – Frank Underwood, House of Cards

 
If you’ve not heard about Evolve, the latest title being worked on by 2K and Turtle Rock Studios, what rock have you been hiding under?

I heard whispers from a few eSports aficionados that Evolve might be something to keep an eye on but, being forever the pessimist, I reserved my judgement. While I watched the trailers, checked out the gameplay videos, and generally read around it, for me to put my official stamp of approval on something, I have to try it first-hand. Luckily for me, I got the chance to do just that.

Early morning expectations

Early (well, at 10am) one sunny May morning, I set out on a five-hour car journey to Munich with my partners in crime Jason Kaplan and Sean Charles to visit the 2K Germany studios. After a car ride filled with Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and countless renditions of Let It Go (much to Jason’s annoyance), we arrived, my mind racing in anticipation of what I was about to walk into…

In total honesty, I was a little nervous – we all know the feeling of a video game slowly raising our hopes only for them to be destroyed in one swift, disappointing moment. It’s also a touch different when you‘re standing around the people who put countless hours into the game in question. However, walking in and meeting the guys over at 2K Germany settled my nerves, and after the sit-down chat and deciding that some pre-gaming pizza should be devoured it was then time to play.

Meet Hank

Evolve sees four class-based hunters facing off against a fearsome monster, with them having to trap, kill and deny the monster of a chance at its final objective. It all sounds great on paper, but I had my doubts as to how it would be executed (and how well).

After having been a relatively competent Medic in Enemy Territory, I decided to look towards playing either the Medic or Support position for my first game. One of the 2K team was a strong medic player, so I swallowed my ego and took Support – let me break down the role of Hank for you.

Hank

  • Badass beard – Self explanatory
  • Shield Gun – Provides teammates who are about to be smooshed with a temporary invulnerability to damage. Make sure to use this carefully as its recharge time can be pretty punishing
  • Laser Cutter – Powerful weapon but rather easy for the monster to spot so sometimes it’s more advisable to not let yourself look like a lighthouse
  • Orbital Barrage – A rain of awesome explosions and something that I’m pretty sure Michael Bay has dreams of
  • Cloaking Device – When I fell off a ledge, this is the button I’d mash repeatedly in hopes that I’d turn invisible and would be able to run away from the gigantic creature chasing me

While these aren’t the official descriptions, they should give you a solid idea of how I, Lauren “Pansy” Scott, super awesome video gamer, failed during some of the games we played.

Getting into the game

Onto the first game, where me and Jason had been tasked with hunting down the delightful Sean Charles with the help of two of the guys from 2K.

To put things into perspective, Sean had played this game before but – without hurting his feelings – is a massive noob, so I had my hopes high of doing well here. There was, however, an additional element – he had a coach. The monster has around a 30 second head start, to run, feed and set up traps, but more on why this is so important later.

Next it’s spawning time for the hunters, and the dropship lives up to its name, chucking us out in what looks like the deepest jungle in the world – think Predator meets Jurassic Park (both films that terrified me as a child). You get hit with this beautiful but terrifying environment straight away, the lighting perfectly emulating the darkness you’d expect to result from sunlight struggling to come through the thick tree canopy above you, while creatures genuinely startle as you begin to look around for signs that the Goliath – the monster – has left behind.

The initial dose of wonder aside, thankfully our Trapper was a experienced player, and was on the lookout instantly. He immediately dropped a sound spike and found the monster’s tracks – the hunt was on. The movement controls were the next thing that really hit me – smooth and well-rounded, although they also took a little time to get used to before I could use them to navigate around the map perfectly.

We scaled a small cliff face and headed deeper into the thick jungle that hid the huge monster we were hunting down. It was rather overwhelming how large and interactive the map feels when you first experience. Everywhere I looked, the environment reacted perfectly – a rustle of a bush, the sounds of the larger creatures howling in the distance – it all added to this ominous feeling of being watched. The jungle was vast and riddled with overhanging rock faces that added to our paranoia, shadows made us turn and huddle together – everything makes you feel so far from the top of the food chain.

Thankfully, before I could have a heart attack, the Trapper called out that one of the sound spikes had picked up movement, and with a quick glance at the map we had an idea of where the monster could be. The one player who is so vital to the team’s survival, or at least direction, is the Trapper – he is the tip of the spear when charging in and sets the pace for the rest of us to follow.

At this point, we had noticed a number of animals left in tatters on the way to investigate the movement alert, the corpses looking like they’d been eaten and tossed to the side. We knew that the monster had to feed to level up and grow in order to become a real threat, and according to the game he had already reached stage two. It made my stomach flip reading it – I had no idea what we were walking into or what the monster would be able to do.

Hunters hunted

You could hear the monster prowling in the brush. I’ve never felt so vulnerable, and my heart was beating out of my chest. I didn’t want to let down my teammates – I knew I had to keep them alive if we were in trouble.

The first thought was to get to high ground. I, as the support, shouldn’t be on the front line if the monster was going to go for us here – I, like the Medic, had to stay alive to be able to do the same for the Assault (Jason) and the Trapper. We were near the crocodile pit with a beast lurking under the water and high rocks either side – not the worst place to go for a battle, so there, with glimpses of the monster escaping in front of us, started the chase.

We were getting close – very close, for that matter, as a well-timed tranquiliser dart from the Medic affirmed, but Jason decided to embrace his inner Crocodile Dundee and go for a swim, holding us up. Once we had bailed Jason out, the monster was pretty far in front ahead of us, and we had lost the trail.

However, the clock was on our side. Time was starting to run out, so the monster had limited options. He had just hit stage three, the cap of his evolution, and could either take us on head first or start working towards the generator. The generator is the backup plan – the final objective for the monster to go for to win the game.

Our Trapper was well aware of this, so we headed off to the main complex to set up the best trap we could. Mines were littered all over the floor covering the entrance, while the Medic and I decided to head towards the upper catwalks so we could support the Assault and Trapper on the ground. There were several entrances that the monster could take, and I knew there were only a couple of minutes left for him to make his move, so I decided to put down a Orbital Barrage to deny him at least one entrance to the Generator. While all this going on, Jason caught a glimpse of the monster moving into the main complex.

Closing in for the kill

This was go-time. You could hear the howling getting closer… and also Jason calling to us that he needed help. The Trapper was already there, laying down covering fire, but we had to get Jason some cover in the form of shielding or healing or else he’d be in trouble. My first proper view of the monster was incredible: it looks utterly awesome up close and personal, and you really do feel like you’re at the very bottom of the food chain. Jason seemed to be the main target of the monster’s rage, slam after slam coming in and throwing Jason around the map, but a combination of well-timed healing and shielding kept the fight going.

We decided to take it inside, hoping that the mines would cause some real pain and help us bring down the beast. The monster’s health is more than vast – it’s slightly unnerving when you try and do what you can damage-wise and hardly see the HP bar move.

The mines did large chunks of damage while the beast still tangled with the Jason, sweeping and throwing what he could at the surviving party members as he did. As its HP got lower and lower, the monster was struggling to really cause damage, the setup we ran with higher ground helping us provide healing and shielding making it difficult for him to single us out.

The fight bled outside towards the waterfall, where suddenly I felt rather vulnerable with no high ground to hide on. I was finally on the monster’s level, with him towering above me as I tried to evade his attacks (but ended up just smashing my keyboard in desperation to try and find my invisibility skill). Thankfully the Medic topped me up, and I managed to flee back to a safer distance.

The fight finally came to a close – we had ripped the beast to shreds and overcome the monster at last. You have no idea how much relief washed over me when I knew it was over. The feeling of being so small in the grand scheme of things was almost overwhelming – if the cohesion of players hadn’t work well, we would have been monster food in about 20 seconds flat.

Getting involved with Evolve

It had been a long, long time since I’d had anything close to that experience in a game – the feeling that, without your team beside you, you would be unable to succeed. Normally in video games you are gifted the feeling of being above and beyond nearly everything around you, the top of the food chain, but in Evolve you start somewhere around the middle, where even the environment feels like a threat.

The learning curve is fairly steep, but that isn’t actually a bad thing – I miss having games that I want to learn. Most FPS games these days allow people with a fairly competent skill level to walk in and be well above average, but Evolve takes so much more, it depending upon the mechanics that made me adore some of the team play-based video games from many, many years ago.

If you crave a title that will actually emotionally involve you and genuinely challenge you to play as a team rather than an individual, Evolve is something to keep an eye on. I’m not telling you that upon release this will be the world’s next big eSport – I’m telling you that, even at this early stage, this game has all the elements that made me want to improve and compete in gaming in the first place.

I will certainly be keeping a close watch on this title and seeing where it goes. I feel that Evolve has got something fresh and new that most games don’t seem to embrace. Don’t write it off because it’s not your normal 5on5 S&D: play the game, immerse yourself in what it offers and see how you feel. If you share the same journey I did, I think you will also see this game’s potential to really go far.

I look forward to what Evolve can bring to gaming as a whole and as well as the competitive scene.

I would also like to thank the guys and girls at 2K for being so welcoming to Jason, Sean and myself – I really am looking forward to trying the game out again soon!

For another perspective on playtesting Evolve, check out this article written by ESLGaming.com’s editor in chief Johannes Schiefer, and be sure to come back next week, when you’ll be able to read about Jason Kaplan’s experiences playing the monster. Stay tuned for more information about the game and its potential as a future eSports title.

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