Humanity attempt colonisation of a planet and fall victim to aggressive wildlife, fauna and hulking predators with insatiable appetites. Cue the rescue mission to evacuate the colony and minimise losses, and all within five days. Here's where you, and friends, come in.
You'll play as one of four members of a specialist team (there's another perspective which we'll get to shortly), dropped at strategic points on the world, and tasked with protecting colonists during evacuation and hunting down whatever huge beast is going at the survivors like a Nandos platter.
Each specialist has their own particular weapons and abilities. The Trapper must track down the beast and use an energy field to contain it in the immediate area, thereby blocking its escape. The Assault must bring the armoured creature down with heavy weaponry, while the Medic and Support characters need to use their futuristic equipment to keep the team alive. The hunt itself, tracking down the beast that lurks somewhere on each map, is reminiscent of the Raids you'll see in MMORPGs, with smaller creatures and dangers to contend against before even encountering what effectively is the map's boss. The twist, and that other perspective, is that the hulking creature can be controlled by another player.
Unlike the first-person perspective of the hunters, the monster handler plays in third-person, and the beast - there are three types available - dwarfs the humans in size and shear strength. However, at each round's start it's relatively weak and easy prey for a well-trained squad of hunters. The odds quickly decrease if the creature is given the chance to eat the local wildlife, digestion letting the beast armour up and eventually evolve, which unlocks new abilities and makes it a much tougher predator.
It becomes a formidable opponent, and the only chance of success is for the hunters to work as a team. Coordination of each skill is absolutely vital to survival. So the broad strokes of the gameplay are defined: the alien fleeing its attackers, feeding, trying to catch its pursuers off-guard, then fleeing again to repeat the evolution and unlock yet more abilities. The hunters trying to track, capture and kill their target. Who is predator and who is prey flickers back and forth between the factions repeatedly over the course of the round. There are different conditions for both factions depending on the game mode played, but the main thrust of this asymmetric multiplayer duel is simple and ingenious.
The big question though is how fast would the experience wear thin. While there is a single player mode with bots filling out the rest of the roles, it's really only there to test out the different characters and grab some easy XP. This is mainly a multiplayer title that demands five players who know what they're doing to enjoy, while there's a handful of modes that use the same maps but under different conditions and only three monsters available at launch.
As a features list, it mightn't seem much. But variety is soon apparent through the synergy of the different specialist classes (and the trio of different character builds in each class) stacked against three very different monsters, and how each and every one is controlled.
We've experienced a range of experiences already: aggressive monster players who target hunters through skilful exploitation of the terrain the early stages of the match, leading us into dead ends then confounding us by appearing out of nowhere, scoring a kill then ghosting back into the foliage. Or those that lay false trails and stalking around the maps, with our first encounter being the gigantic stage three mutations that are a terrifying foe.
There's a great difference between the trio of monsters, and a genuine sinking feeling in the stomach occurs come the match's start when you realise your opponent is one you personally hate (that'd be the Wraith for us), or as the match progresses and you feel the creature is all-too easily giving you the slip.
Filtered through this experience is a perk system a dozen strong for both sides that can improve certain skills, plus the bonuses of elite creatures do make every match unique - and somehow there is really something here for every type of player. Lone wolves will love the role of the monster, while real team players are allowed to use Medic and Support to care for their colleagues. Trappers and Assault can be more aggressive with their tasks and so care less about the team dynamic.
We've sat through many, many hours of the alpha and beta, and poured a week and change so far into the final version of the game, and are amazed at the lack of wear on the gameplay. Each match is different and always exciting. You never know how good the competition is and must always assume the worst. There's a lot to learn and refine, in terms of both tactics and strategies. There's no grind, with perks and characters unlocked quickly and higher player levels awarded with mostly cosmetic additions. It means that knowledge and strategy become key to winning, rather than an unlocked top-tier weapon or ability.
Evolve is certainly not a game for everyone, but fans of ground-breaking, strategic action will not be disappointed. It feels innovative and extremely exciting. It's new, fresh and gives an urgently-needed shot in the arm to the stagnating throng of triple-A shooters. It's a great idea for a title that's masterly crafted in the final product.