I had the worst experience playing Evolve at E3.
The game seems wonderful. The act of teaming up with three other people and jumping from your ship onto an alien planet and hunting what amounts to a Godzilla-style monster that's also player-controlled is amazing. The fact it's coming from the team that brought us Left 4 Dead gives me even more confidence that the final product will be a game that's enjoyable for the long term. It's a very impressive game visually.
But I didn't have fun playing it. This may have something to do with the fact that our medic was a complete muppet. He decided to pull aggro from some random wildlife on the planet, and was promptly killed. "Maybe stay with your team?" the PR person helpfully said.
"Can someone help the medic?" the same PR person asked in a tired voice later. "He's being eaten by a plant."
Why are you killing this thing?
A person behind me in line to play the game brought up that you're jumping out of a perfectly good ship. Why not nuke the entire site from orbit? It is, as they say, the only way to be sure. I brought this point up to Chris Ashton, a co-founder of Turtle Rock studios and a design director of Evolve.
"There’s a lot about the story that we’re not talking about yet. Up until this point it’s been about the gameplay," he explained. "Things will make more sense to people when they figure out the bigger story." The team figures out what the game is first, in this case the game is hunting a giant beast, and then figures out the "wrapper," the reason why this is all happening, later.
That doesn't make me feel better when the PR person tries to explain to our medic how to revive me. I can see him on the screen, he's right by my body. The PR person seems close to physically removing the controller from our medic's hands to keep the game going. I'm an assault-class character, the guy with the chaingun and the flamethrower. I've been knocked on my ass by the monster, and the medic just can't seem to figure out which combination of buttons will bring me back.
"AI will be able to take over any role, so you’ll be able to play as a monster single-player against four AI-controlled hunters, or a single hunter with bot teammates playing against an AI monster," Ashton tells me later. "That stuff will always be there, but beyond that we haven’t really gone into specifics." So you'll be able to play by yourself. You don't have to put up with medics who have no clue what they're doing.
There were no classes at all in the original concept for the game, just piles of different pieces of equipment. You could pick a character, and then pick four things to take into battle, and the plan was to release a ton of different things to choose from.
So if they find that there are certain pieces of information that are shared every time, they just make it automatic
The problem was that, without classes, the players had issues working together. It was hard to remember what each item did. So now there are set classes, with set equipment. It will still take a long time to master each one, but there is a foundation from which to work.
You can play by yourself, sure, but the game will also help you if you're playing with random people without voice chat.
"We try to do as much as we can with the voice over. If you’ve played a lot of Left 4 Dead, you know you end up calling out that there’s ammo over there, because we know your crosshairs are aimed at the ammo," Ashton explained.
"So what we do is we play test the game a ton, and we listen to what people are saying and how they communicate, and then we bake that stuff into the characters." So if they find that there are certain pieces of information that are shared every time, they just make it automatic.
The medic in my game may have been confused by the controls, and they may have never held a controller before. The ins and outs of basic teamwork seemed beyond them, but Ashton had plenty of stories of higher-level play, and the fun things that happen when you master your class and weapons.
"I play Trapper all the time and I’ve never thought of that"
This is, for instance, a harpoon gun that allows you to lock the monster in place while your other team members focus their fire on them. The monster then has to turn around and snap the cable to free itself, and it takes a significant amount of time to reload the gun, reducing its effectiveness.
So one clever player would snare the monster, wait until the monster realized that it was caught and began to turn around to free itself, and then release the cable to begin reloading. "All he's doing is interrupting," Ashton explained. The monster takes time to turn around, and begins to deal with the cable, not realizing it's already free and the player is reloading for another shot.
"It sounds super-simple, but it’s very high level. I play Trapper all the time and I’ve never thought of that," he told me.
For my session I could barely try the use of my flame thrower due to the fact the medic was never in any position to help us. It's good knowing that information will be shared automatically, or that you can play without four other human players. I look forward to putting in the time to master playing as a single class, or even the monster. For now though, my time spent on the game was pretty horrible.
I can't wait to try again.