PC, Xbox One, PS4
About ten years ago a mod for Half Life 2 sneaked onto the Internet. Called the Hidden, it saw team of a dozen heavily armed soldiers squaring off against one other player wielding nothing but a small knife. The catch was that the lone wolf assumed the role of a strong, nimble, and almost entirely invisible mutant; the eponymous Hidden. What resulted was one of the most unique and thrilling FPS experiences around, as the Hidden nimbly picked off the soldiers one by one, and the soldiers desperately tried to stick together, firing wildly at anything that moved.
Turtle Rock's Evolve takes the Hidden's asymmetrical multiplayer concept, and expands upon it. I say expands rather than the more obvious descriptor, because to say that Evolve evolves those ideas would be untrue. What it does is add a large number bells and whistles to this simple, beautiful idea, resulting in a game that, although entertaining at times, feels simultaneously baggy and yet all-too fleeting.
Evolve is set on a remote jungle planet, the name of which I have already forgotten, and pits a group of four Hunters against a single player-controlled monster. In its central mode, Hunt, the objectives for each side are straightforward. The hunters must kill the monster, while the monster must either kill the hunters, or destroy a power generator located near the centre of the map.
As the match progresses, the roles of predator and prey shifts. Initially the monster is underpowered, and must attempt to evade the hunters by sneaking, leaping and climbing through the jungle. At the same time it must feed upon the wildlife that coexists on this biologically diverse planet. Munch on enough of your fellow animals, and you get the chance to evolve, growing in strength and power, and better able to take on the hunters.
For their part, the hunters want to kill the monster as quickly as possible. To achieve this, they must make full use of their abilities. The most important class early on is the Trapper, able to track the monster through various means, and upon locating it, enclose it in a large energy dome that temporarily prevents it from escaping. At this point, the emphasis switches to the Assault character, who can deal massive damage to the monster, provided he can get close enough for long enough. Aiding him are the Medic and Support classes. The Medic can heal and revive players, alongside a few other abilities, while the Support class can protect other players with a shield, and deliver aerial damage to the monster using a bomb strike.
The abilities of both the hunters and the monsters vary depending on which specific character you choose, but the essence of each class, and the game as a whole, remain the same. Hunters need to work together to beat the monster, and the monster must attempt to outfox the hunters in order to stand a chance at success.
When described, playing Evolve sounds like an ominous prospect, but in practice its surprisingly easy to get to grips with. Each side has a playable tutorial, and each new character is introduced with a brief video overview explaining their specific powers. What's more, all the content can be played solo, and although it's no match for a human player, the AI does an acceptable job. Even playing as the monster isn't as daunting as it initially appears, provided you make regular use of your "leap" ability to put space between you and the hunters.
But to be a truly great predator requires a cannier mind. The monster leaves tracks as it stomps through the forest. If it sneaks, however, no marks are left behind. Hence mastering predation involves learning how to double-back on yourself, finding good ambush locations on the map, and using the other wildlife roaming around to your advantage. Becoming an accomplished hunter is a little simpler. Stick to your role and stay close to your companions, and you'll at least stand a chance against the monster.