Hands-on with Turtle Rock’s new co-op shooter left Matt Martin emotionally scarred, broken, humiliated and clutching a worthless orange sweat band.
“2K may as well hand me the cardboard cheque for $50,000 and a barrel of Mountain Dew right now. I’ve got this.”
I’m pretty good at first-person shooters. Far Cry is my bag, but I can burst heads in Wolfenstein, hold my own in a Call of Duty online firefight, snipe a decent headshot in Battlefield, mow down zombies in Left 4 Dead, and, for some reason, I played all the way through the last Medal of Honor reboot. Maybe I just wanted to be punished or maybe I was attracted to the beards.
But going up against four hunters in Turtle Rock’s Evolve was always going to be a challenge. With the added – and unexpected – pressure of having to perform in front of a swelling crowd at E3, it was inevitable that I would be beaten into submission, a few fleeting moments of triumph overwhelmed by strong teamwork and my own inability to deliver the money shot.
I’d booked time to see Evolve way before E3, with an hour set aside for the game, and then another hour scheduled with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. As always happens at the biggest console games show, my first appointment bled over into the next, so I sacrificed Borderlands to concentrate on Evolve, a game that’s clearly trying to do a lot different in the multiplayer shooter arena.
“Arena” is the right word for it too. Evolve is a throwback to the the days of Unreal, rather than a different spin on online shooters like CoD or Battlefield. This was another element of the game that attracted me to it. We sat down for a quick five minute briefing (hosted by a real-life human who looked like an in-game space marine) and took a few notes. If you’re the Monster keep moving. If you’re a hunter, use teamwork, don’t stray from your group. That sort of thing. “Do you want to play as the Monster?” asked my 2K Games rep. Of course I do, what kind of a question is that?
We were led out onto the show floor and began queuing to play. A couple of cheeky US games journalists tried to jump the queue but that shit wasn’t going to happen on my watch. At E3 I’m like Robocop striding through a Nuke warehouse with an Auto-9. I’ve got a job to do and you’re not getting in my way.
So playing as the Monster should make for the better preview, because we’re always playing games as heroes, right? And our heroes are mostly human or humanoid in shape. Today’s Monster was The Kraken, a big old Cthulhu-esque creature armed with floating bombs (Banshee Mines), a lightning strike from the sky, a vortex that harms as well as pushes back the Hunters, and a close-quarters electric pulse.
The Kraken can fly, which should be the big movement advantage you have over the Hunters. You still leave a trail as you fly so can be tracked that way, but these marks fall to the ground. They’re not directional like footprints, so they are harder to trace than one of the creatures that dwell on the floor. The Kraken can use the ground too, and climb the environment like the previously revealed Goliath, but it’s not a land creature and is easily punished if it finds itself trapped in a confined space. Flight is the main differentiator here, and flying seems to be at its most useful when escaping quickly from attacks.
“There can’t be anything more entertaining than watching someone who plays games for a living play really badly. I can feel the crowd baying for my blood.”
The first five minutes or so were spent getting used to the controls. At the start of the game it’s essential you eat as much as possible to get you creature to Evolve. Before the match starts you have a handful of attributes to assign to your attacks and a few more when you do eventually level up, so as the Monster it’s crucial to gobble up local animals to power up and stay clear of combat until you’re absolutely ready. This isn’t easy. The map I played on felt small and as my first go on the game I was pretty disorientated.
The idea of my game being broadcast on the big screen didn’t phase me to begin with, and besides, I didn’t get a choice. There was some 2K dude spouting off on the microphone about the game, selling the various features and getting genuinely over-excited by the coming battle. He could have been saying anything, I was too busy trying to cram info from the stats screen for anything that would give me an advantage.
This must be how those e-sports professionals feel, right? How hard can it be. 2K may as well hand me the cardboard cheque for $50,000 and a barrel of Mountain Dew right now. I’ve got this. I even had a nice chap from 2K Games talking me through it as I played.
But then so did my four opponents, so as far as I was concerned it was 2 against 8, and those odds aren’t great, no matter how overpowered the Monster in the game is meant to be.
It’s as this point the giant screen above our heads is broadcasting live and loud and I’m getting more than a little paranoid. I’m from the U.K., we don’t like to make a big fuss. And there can’t be anything more entertaining than watching someone who plays games for a living play really badly. I can feel the crowd baying for my blood. This is added pressure already, and I’ve barely started fighting.
If I was one of the Hunters it wouldn’t have been so bad as there are enough of those guys for one poor performance to be hidden away amongst the others. But as the Monster I’ve got more eyes on me than 2Pac, I either have to come at this like Godzilla and destroy everything in my path, or topple from glory like King Kong. As it was I just sort of shuffled to my death like a sleepy moth.
“I either have to come at this like Godzilla and destroy everything in my path, or topple from glory like King Kong. As it was I just sort of shuffled to my death like a sleepy moth.”
Once the fighting began I never really got clear from the onslaught to recoup. These Hunters were good but I put up a decent fight in the early stages. There’s a great feeling of power when you manage to take down the Assault or Trapper class, and I’m pretty sure I put the wind up them, but I was struggling with the environment more than anything. My Kraken may be able to fly but there was never a great sense of freedom in the map – the Kraken is big and bumps into surfaces and never really had an open space to use. I’m sure the map felt big to the Hunters but to me it seemed like one big trap from the off.
The Hunters used the space a lot better than me. The few times I did manage to separate the Hunters was when I was at my best, but again, they quickly reformed and revived each other, so it felt like a losing battle from the start. I felt more panicked than empowered, which isn’t a problem with the game, but I’m not in any rush to play as the Kraken again.
The Hunters trapped me in a ravine, I retaliated with everything I had, but they wore me down. If this is what it’s like to be the bad guy I’m not so keen. It was one of those games where I felt myself losing slowly and gradually and I knew my inevitable death was coming. There’s not a lot of fun in that. Especially when your humiliating defeat is being broadcast to a hundred other people, all honking and hollering at your shameful demise.
I lost. The crowd cheered. The four Hunters high-fived more elaborately than Turk and Eliot in Scrubs. I was given an orange sweat band as some kind of consolation prize for my poor performance. I brought it all the way home with me from L.A. to Wales – like a little boy who tries to win a giant teddy bear at the fair but walks away with nothing more than a shit keyring.
I’m wearing it now, head bowed in defeat.
Evolve is out October 21st for PC, Xbox One and PS4.