If you haven’t heard of Evolve at this point, the basis of the game is fairly straightforward. It’s a 4v1 multiplayer game, where four players serve as hunters of various utility seeking to destroy a player (or bot) controlled monster before the monster can slaughter all the hunters or evolve to its final stage, Stage 3, and destroy a power relay on the map. Evolving, as you may have gathered from the title of the game, is a major goal for the player-controlled monster. Monsters evolve by attacking creatures wandering about in the world and feeding on them, which fills up an evolution bar. Each creature has four abilities that can be powered up with the points gained from evolution, making the monster steadily more deadly as the round progresses.

Turtle Rock Studios is the developer behind Evolve in partnership with 2K Games as the publisher. If the studio sounds familiar, that may be because they are perhaps best known for their zombie survival FPS series, Left 4 Dead. What Evolve lacks in zombies it certainly makes up for with an assortment of mutated aggressive wildlife, hungry carnivorous plants and other elite creatures that attack on sight or ambush you from within the depths of an otherwise innocent looking watering hole. All of the battles take place on the planet Shear, a planet not unlike our own, minus the mutated fauna and man-eating flora. The ultimate battle to protect the power relay from the monster has somewhat of a Dawn of the Planet of the Apes feel, whereby you could infer humans don’t have a dominant presence on Shear and coincidentally rely greatly on power sources precariously positioned in forests surrounded by hostiles.

Based off what we know about the story so far, I’m not really certain what the motivation is behind going after the monster, what humans are doing on Shear, or really anything other than some basic banter being exchanged between the hunters before dropping into the world. If you’re looking for a deep story you may want to look elsewhere because everything is pointing to Evolve being an online-only affair akin to Titanfall with no single player or campaign type maps planned. Hunt or be hunted, rinse and repeat.

The alpha just wrapped up on Tuesday, so let’s look at some aspects of the game now that I’ve had some quality hands-on time.

Level Design

The overall size of the levels, design of set pieces, indigenous creatures, and natural elements are all very impressive. Shear is very much alive, and the added element of avoiding man-eating venus fly traps in addition to tracking down the monster constantly keeps you on your toes. The rocky cliffs, swamps, waterfalls and other features of Shear are beautifully rendered. Verticality is the name of the game, as it provides areas for the monster to feed and hide. All the hunters use jet packs with limited fuel that recharges over time, so nothing on the map is inaccessible to a hunter with a little patience. Quite noticeably, especially if you are low on jet fuel, it takes more time for hunters to traverse a cliff than a monster providing many opportunities to put distance between monster and hunter throughout the match.

Monster Design

As I mentioned, monsters have four abilities that are a mix between melee, ranged direct/area of effect damage attacks and engage/escape type moves. The Goliath, a bruiser melee type that can throw rocks and breathe fire, and a pissed off electrically charged Kraken, were available to play during the Alpha and so far the only monsters that have been announced at this point. We do know there is a monster pack available that is free with pre-order that will immediately expand this roster at launch. Both creatures that were available in Alpha have a distinct play style, solid mobility and decent balance, especially considering where the game is in its development cycle.

Melee attacks do feel a bit clunky and at earlier stages of evolution you’re not exactly a steam roller, so you are forced to be strategic when deciding to go all in and when to flee. When you are not engaged with hunters you need to feed on creatures on the map. Sometimes you might encounter an elite creature which will offer a buff in addition to regenerating your armor. Generally, your heath does not regenerate, only your armor, so deciding when to engage in a fight is critical. As you move about the map, you leave tracks behind that glow for hunters, enabling them to quickly figure out which direction you’re heading in. This can be mitigated by staying high in addition to a sneak mechanic that makes it more difficult to be tracked but in turn slows your pace. Monsters can climb quickly, and in the case of the Kraken, even hover or fly to move about the map.

Hunter Design

There are four hunters to choose from: Assault, Medic, Trapper and Support. Each hunter class has two hunters to chose from with a slightly different ability set or weapon load out. Only one hunter per class will be available at first with the second being unlocked after a short amount of gameplay. Assault is your typical meat shield, with an elemental weapon, some type of explosive, a big rifle and the ability to throw up a temporary impenetrable personal shield. Other than soaking up and dishing out damage, the Assault class doesn’t bring a whole lot to the party in terms of strategy. The medic is your typical healer type with several methods to heal companions over time. Both variants have a sniper rifle that after scoring a hit weakens the armor of the monster and provides an area all other hunters can shoot for increased damage. One variant of the medic can also instantly revive a dead player, which can be a game changer as respawn times are lengthy.

The Trapper is one of the most vital characters in terms of monster control with several weapons that slow and slightly immobilize the monster. The most impressive ability of the Trapper though is the mobile arena, which encases the hunters and the monster in a large impenetrable blue dome that lasts for a good period of time. It can stop a monster dead in its tracks and more often than not forces a fight. Rounding out the group is the Support class which is a bit of a jack of all trades, with explosive orbital bombardments, rocket launchers, reconnaissance, and the ability to apply direct buffs such as invisibility and shields to fellow hunters. Overall there isn’t too much overlap between hunters, allowing each to stand on their own and make clear individual contributions to the party.

Matchmaking

Matchmaking is arguably the most important aspect of any multiplayer game. I’ll tread lightly here as it is an Alpha, but we did run into some issues with matchmaking. Player levels were all over the board, so it was obvious the skill matching still needs to be tweaked. Actually getting into a game varied from near instantaneous to over seven minutes, and when a game lasts anywhere from 10-15 minutes on average that’s a big deal. I noticed the more people we had in party the more time it took to find people; a group of three seemed to produce the shortest wait times. Of note, you couldn’t queue a five person Xbox Live party in the Alpha, as you can’t be in the same party as the other four hunters and be the monster. Looking into this on the official forums, the mentality here is Turtle Rock does not want people boosting. However, at release, the ability to run a five person team, with one being the monster, will be available in custom matches but leaderboards will be locked. That being said, when we had four people in a party, finding a random fifth person to be the monster resulted in the longest queue times, as well as what class you end up playing as if you’re selected by the matchmaking system to be a hunter is controlled by setting preferences ahead of time, where you essentially rank the classes by personal preference. You are also able to prioritize playing as the monster if that’s more your thing.

Replay Value

I personally think replay value is going to make or break this game. In the Alpha I only got to play on a few maps, and most matches were very quick. Depending on the ability of the monster, as a hunter my experience was either a frantic, twitchy and extremely fun firefight, or a drawn out game of cat and mouse where I spent the majority of the time following monster tracks in circles. As a monster, if I was playing against a group of hunters who were not working well together as a team, the round ended so quickly I actually spent more time in the queue waiting for a game than I did playing. I could see playing this game for a while, as matches with the right mix of skill and teamwork were quite fun, but without the infusion of new game modes beyond hunter versus monster in addition to radically different new hunters and monsters, I can easily foresee this game going stale very quickly. It should be known though that the Alpha only provided a small glimpse of what will be available at launch as new game modes and additional hunter versions are anticipated to be teased as soon as this month. What I’ll be interested to see is how much additional content will be locked behind paid DLC once the ‘release’ content is determined.

Evolve is currently in alpha and is set to be released February 10, 2015, and you can pre-order on Amazon now.