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Evolve's Big Alpha releases Goliath into the wild for the first time

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During a press-only preview last week Polygon was given the opportunity to go a few rounds in the Big Alpha of Evolve before the general release. Originally slated to hit retail this month, Evolve has had its release date pushed back to Feb. 2015, ostensibly for tuning and balancing. The Big Alpha is a test, not only of developer Turtle Rock Studios' ability to delivery on the promise of this game, but to show that the delay has been justified. The results are fairly impressive.

Evolve pits four players, in the role of futuristic big game hunters, against a single towering monster, controlled by a fifth player. The goal is simple; bring the beast down before it wipes out your party.

Each round, which lasts between 10 and 20 minutes, begins with the hunter team dropping out the back of a hovering dropship. Our party consisted of four of the eight announced characters, each in one of the game’s four classes.

Markov, our assault character, came equipped with a lightning gun as his main weapon. Val, our team’s medic, had an armor-piercing rifle as well as a medgun to perk us up during the fight. Hank, filling the support role, had a wicked little plasma cutter along with the ability to bring in an artillery barrage from orbit. Finally, there was Maggie, our tracker. Accompanied by her lizard-dog familiar Daisy, she was helpful in tracking the monster down and pinning it in place while the rest of the party circled doing damage.

Most of the early part of each round was a cat-and-mouse game. The monster for the Big Alpha, the Goliath, received a head start and the four hunters had to be quick to find it before it grew in strength over the course of the round. Along the way I had to contend with the other wildlife on the map, which included hordes of smaller enemies as well as some larger elite creatures. Add to that a smattering of carnivorous plants, and simply making our way around the level was treacherous.

Each hunter comes equipped with a jet-pack. It was useful for scaling the many vertical surfaces of the map, but also for skipping along the ground at high speed and making quick directional adjustments to dodge attacks. But it was always running out of fuel, and with a huge beast bearing down on me that was usually about the time my hunter's life ended.

Turtle Rock has stated that their goal with Evolve was to take the boss monsters from the now famous series Left For Dead and build an entire experience around those encounters. What surprised me was just how much the Goliath creature reminded me of the L4D's Tank — and not in a bad way.

What surprised me was just how much Goliath reminded me of the L4D's Tank — and not in a bad way.

There's an unlockable second monster in the Big Alpha, a flying beast called the Kraken. The final release will have three monsters total. But, as an intro to the game, Goliath presented an immediately understandable adversary. It came charging at us and pushed us back, but also pulled huge boulders from the ground and chucked them around to keep us at range. When I got too close, the Goliath spit out a stream of flaming liquid that clung to us and did massive damage over time.

The only way for us to even begin to make a dent in the creature was to carefully work together. That meant communication, and the game’s voice chat worked well at keeping us in touch. I was constantly talking: Where was the creature? How far up off the ground was it? Has it seen us? Is it getting ready to level up? What weapons are charged and ready to go?

That kind of adversarial gameplay forced us to do something that not every multiplayer game expects its players to do — make a plan, and then execute it.

After seeing demos at this year’s E3, much of the fine tuning I noted in the game came in the way that it tried to inform and even educate its players.

evolve_maggie

For instance, I couldn’t always see the beast I was tracking, but our display called out when birds or other wildlife had been disturbed. That allowed us to begin to see the map as the monster does, as a dimly lit buffet table. Maggie’s tracking dog always followed the creature, and Goliath’s huge glowing footprints helped to keep us on its trail as well. There came a point where I began to bound past the dog entirely, snapping off harassing shots on Goliath from range and putting the monster on the defensive.

At the conclusion of each round a map of the area showed the action in replay form, each of the four hunters and the monster alike able to see where they had made a wrong turn or bunched up at a critical moment. Before I was even back in the lobby, I was already strategizing on our next run.

Evolve forced us to make a plan, and then execute it.

Adjusting Evolve’s balance will play a huge part in the lead up to its February release. Much of that will be invisible to players, as weapon damage and jump distances are tweaked. But what stood out to me was the organization of the rounds of play in the Big Alpha.

Even if most of the hunters were stomped early in the match, they could usually drop back into the game once or twice more. A timer in the upper left counted down two-minute chunks of time, and keeping a single hunter alive long enough to spawn the rest of the team in for one more go meant that the monster was never able to rest on its laurels. It was always forced to attack relentlessly, or be destroyed.

Polygon staff will be joining the fray once again over the weekend, when more than 100,000 players are expected to participate in the Big Alpha event across the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC platforms. With luck, we’ll be able to tell you more about the game from the perspective of Goliath.

If you haven’t already, grab a code and join us.

Edit: This article has been updated to show that the Kraken monster is available in the Big Alpha, and that the final release of the game will feature three monsters total.