- The Washington Times
Saturday, February 21, 2015

Warriors track and terminate a ferocious beast on the hostile planet of Shear in the multiplayer epic Evolve (2K Games and Turtle Rock Studios, Rated Mature, reviewed with Xbox One, $59.99).

The developers who made zombie hunting a co-operative sport in the well-received “Left 4 Dead” have built quite the complex game of cat-and-mouse.

I’ll compare it to taking part in the original “Predator” movie as well as having the chance to roam around Skull Island from Peter Jackson’s “King Kong.”

At its simplest, up to five players control characters and take part in four types of dynamic matches in exotic environments.

First, one player handles a huge monster through a third-person perspective. He has three possible beasts to eventually choose from and each just as deadly to puny humans.

Specifically, when I chose the Wraith, it reminded me of Giger’s “Alien,” displaying spindly speed, bladed arms and stealthy movements. Or, the fire-breathing Goliath acted like a compact version of Kong pouncing, charging and throwing boulders while the tentacled Kraken resembled a flying version of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu creature.

Next, the other players become the hunters and co-operatively search and attack through a first-person perspective. The team always, whether human or bot-controlled, consists of warriors tied to the classes of assault, medic, trapper and support.

A total of 12 hunter characters exist to choose from, and each has a grizzled personality, name and specific gear.

Hunters have plenty of tricks and weapons to use to find and kill the monster, depending on their role. Such weapons and items include shotguns, cloaking devices, radioactive dust to tag beasts, flamethrowers, land mines, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, a mysterious Lazarus power (to bring a teammate back from the dead), tracker darts, harpoon cable, tranquilizers and even a napalm grenade launcher. You get the picture.

An unfair advantage to the hunters comes in the form of a lizard-like canine named Daisy. Not only does the creature sniff out and follow the monster so the hunters can surround and attack it, but he can revive a fallen team member complete with licking his face.

To offer a pinch of the hunter’s diversity, let’s look at my favorite fellow to become, the cigar-chomping and bearded Hank.

With a gravely voice sounding like John Goodman (after a few shots of Jack Daniels), he falls under the class of support. That means he can help teammates by using a cloaking device near them (the group disappears) or use shield projector to target nearby hunters for protection.

Now, he also can also attack the monster with a powerful laser-cutter weapon or call in an orbital airstrike that drops explosives on the beast.

So what about playing as the monster? Well, it’s a lonely, stress filled life to always feel hunted and I have to admit that controlling the cool-looking creature was much more difficult than simply shooting at it as a hunter.

Monsters are quite vulnerable at the beginning of a match and they need to move around quickly, avoid major confrontations and feed to grow much stronger.

As a monster, I tried to avoid the hunters as long as possible until I leveled up. It’s very important to kill and then consume as much wildlife as possible in the locations to not only build up its shields and health but to “evolve.”

By the way, the “evolve” transformation of the monster each time is epic as witnessed by the Goliath who displayed the bulbous, popping blisters, spikes and fiery red gills as it grew and roared its approval.

Throughout the battles, hostile terrain exists, everywhere from rainforests to deserts, with ever-changing weather conditions (pounding rain and snow) attempting to impede both sides.

Be it man-eating plants, massive sharks hiding in the waterways and various carnivorous creatures stampeding, all greet both monster and hunter during night and day within the 16, gorgeous, free-roaming maps.

Additionally, the action is not just about hunting a monster or killing hunters. Variations include evacuating human survivors (or eating them), wiping out a monster’s egg nests (or protecting them and spawning minions) or defending a transport ship against an onslaught of monsters (or destroying the fuel pad to cut off the humans escape).

Although “Evolve” thrives with human players working together, solo matches can be equally rewarding.

I particularly enjoyed taking part in the extended Evacuation mode, especially as a monster. This 45-minute or so campaign offers five total matches (missions) played out to power up characters on each side and hone strategies.

Success or failure during each mission changes the conditions for the next round such as if a monster destroyed equipment, they might give off radioactive gas, deadly to a hunter accidentally stumbling into the green cloud.

“Evolve” is also a very easy-to-learn game thanks to a wealth of video tutorials that break down each monster’s and hunter’s attributes as well as each mode’s nuances.

Suffice to report; Turtle Rock Studios delivers a solid effort for gamers dedicated to co-operative play as well as those who love the thrill of the hunt.

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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