In 2015, Turtle Rock Studios is going to launch their latest game, Evolve, looking to combine many elements that I fell in love with in their previous work, Left 4 Dead. In many ways, I look at this new game as an opportunity for developer to shape yet another generation of gamers into co-op lovers just like me. Therefore, I've decided to take the opportunity to explain why I'm so hyped to play this game and so should everyone else!
October of 2008 is when Left 4 Dead first hit store shelves. Everyone was talking about how awesome its game play was and how addictive it can be to play with you friends. It was around this time that I believe the the zombie craze of the last decade truly began (it's slowly dying down now though, thank god). I remember my good friend talking about the game constantly for months and showing me one Xbox Magazine article after another that explained the game mechanics and zombie apocalyptic setting. At first I wasn't all that interested, being that zombies never really interested me at all. Little did I know that the game would later change my perception of co-op gaming forever.
Sure, there are hundreds of co-op games out there that we’ve covered here at Co-Optimus and many can be considered the best of the best in their particular genres. At least within FPS's though, I feel like the Left 4 Dead series has no equal and firmly set the bar early for the prime co-op experience. While I can't speak for a game that hasn’t been released, I do have a strong feeling that Evolve may raise the bar to new heights and bring us the next stage in evolution for cooperative FPS's. Left 4 Dead may have have the crown for now, but I believe Evolve will obtain its own legendary status in due time and here are the main reasons why:
1. Multiple Playable Characters & Monsters
Left 4 Dead was a game about four Survivors who must work together to reach safe zones and, in the end, escape the zombie apocalypse. Players chose their desired character at the beginning of each campaign and keep playing as him/her throughout it until a new campaign was started. The thing was, each Survivor character is no different from another, save their individual personalities and models. Each was mechanically identical, leaving character development practically non-existent and forced players to obtain their preferred items retrieved within a level (they wouldn't carry over into another game). While I do think this was designed with balancing measures in mind, any synergy between co-op players in Left 4 Dead had limits. There is only so much a player can do individually that would make them stand out on a team, examples being the "best shot" or "always carries the grenade launcher". It never gets beyond a certain point because everyone pretty much the same role as the other and there's no real co-op team dynamic, save those that have better skills in certain aspects of the game.
Evolve, however, eliminates this by providing a large number of Hunter character choices for players to choose from and assume a role of. One step above that, each will have their own set of unique attributes, strengths, and weaknesses apart from any other character. This fleshes the game out in a lot of ways, having players choose the character that matches their likes and dislikes, instead of having to hope that their favorite weapon will be provided somewhere along the line. This even helps to build a cohesive team with the characters' strengths that are chosen. In a sense, this is sort of like how a MOBA would work when building a team that synergizes perfectly rather than just everyone assuming the same role as everyone else.
Additionally, it's nice to see some options to keep things new and fresh. I played more Left 4 Dead than I care to remember, and I know dozens of others who tried but got bored quickly of the "repetitive" nature of the game. This way, players can now mix up game play a bit and find their niche class within the game and keeps things interesting longer. Variety is the spice of life!
2. Evolve is the Version 2.0 of a Left 4 Dead Finale
Some of the most intense parts of Left 4 Dead are the Tank fights during the Finale sequences of each campaign. These sections pits players against two Tank Infected before the campaign end is reached. Finale's required the most cooperation than at any other given time, mainly because the Tank has the power to take out a Survivor team single-handedly if they don't work together properly. Granted, the three other players on the Infected team could still assist the Tank in fighting the Survivors, they definitely weren't the primary targets of the Survivors. It was easy to see who's the more threatening enemy when the Tank can eat hundreds of bullets, knock around instant-incapacitating cars, throw huge chunks of rock with great accuracy, and punch Survivors off ledges. However, in higher skill levels of the game, it was up to the player controlling the Tank to stay alive as long as possible and avoid being lit on fire with a molotov cocktail. Often times, Survivors will corner the Tank on the map and light it on fire, forcing it to go on the offensive.
Evolve is essentially these fights with Tanks on a much broader scale. The Hunters are out to locate and destroy the Monster before he can grow and become too powerful to handle. Alternatively, the Monster needs to stay alive long enough to grow more powerful and destroy the main generator in the Hunter's base (wins the game for the Monster). The added dynamic of Hunters trying to pursue a hulking beast while protecting something besides themselves will add tons of new elements to the cooperation found within this game. Should the Hunters split up to pursue the Monster and protect their generator, or should they stick close to their generator as one unit and let the Monster grow more powerful? The choices, the choices!
3. There's More Space to Roam Around
Left 4 Dead's maps were basically courses that the Survivors needed to move through to reach the next stage. Depending on the chosen campaign, players would eventually see the best routes to take and know where to look out for the most devastating Special Infected attacks. The Finale were also mainly in an enclosed area where backtracking was either immensely difficult to pull off or simply impossible. This was because the Survivors were to make a last stand or sorts while waiting for some type of rescue transportation to arrive. There's not much room to avoid the large number of zombies encroaching on their position. At the same time, the Tank player had limited options for running and hiding if needed. And this is where Evolve seemingly trumps Left 4 Dead.
The maps in Evolve are absolutely immense. To get a sense of what I'm talking about, the Hunters all have the ability to track the Monster's footprints to find its location. Additionally, the Trapper is there to prevent the Monster from fleeing into the wilderness rather than fighting the Hunters head-on. Along with multiple ways for both the Monster and Hunters to move around in their environments, the maps needed to be larger to accommodate these mechanics. Examples being the Monsters being able to climb almost any surface or Hunters being able to use their jetpacks to reach new heights. Without knowing where the Tank will go exactly all the time, the Evolve maps do have many new opportunities for the Monster to hunt as well as be hunted at the same time.
4. Alien Animals/Plants Are More Useful Than the Horde
In Left 4 Dead, the normal Infected are more there to overwhelm and slow down the Survivors for the Special Infected, rather than actually be used to take down the Survivors directly. They are, in a nutshell, small roadblocks that sprint right at you the first chance they can. They aren't intelligent at all and can easily be taken down with a melee weapon or a few bullets to the head. The Special Infected team mainly uses them in the initial strike from a Boomer, blinding the Survivor team and spawning a large swarm to do as mentioned. Killing them doesn't add any more benefit than to clears paths for dealing with the Special Infected hassle-free.
While not as abundant as the Infected, the wildlife in Evolve, however, has multiple functions within the game. First, they are is there to help the main Monster grow in power, allowing it to be able to assault the Hunters directly with much greater success. I believe I read somewhere that the Hunters also use this wildlife to develop their own in-game perk as well, so there's an incentive for them to take them out. Additionally, some of the animals and even plant life are aggressive and will attack Hunters if disturbed. Strategically, the Monster can lure players into dealing with the wildlife to possibly provide an opening for an attack.
What's more useful to you as a player: the same generic and predicable zombies that attack with no common sense, or a wide variety of creatures and killer foliage that are intelligent enough to defend themselves?
Now, I know that I'm talking about two games that were developed years apart from one another, but that's my point: What made the Left 4 Dead series so great at the time will be seemingly multiplied a couple of times over within Evolve. It's made by the same developers (different publisher in 2K, though), they've had years to polish their game's design, and modern technology will help them to bring out the best of what Left 4 Dead had to offer: a solid co-op experience. I'm not the only one on the staff either who's seen the success of Left 4 Dead and Turtle Rock trying to recreate it for the next gaming generation. Here's what a couple of us had to say regarding Left 4 Dead's influence on them and co-op gaming community:
"The L4D series is probably my favorite co-op games of the last generation. That opening level when you start on the roof and have to make your way down the building. For me it is the non-narrative nature of the game that is so great. There is a story there, but you make it yourself among friends.
At one point I was playing the first game in the series so often that I was giving myself night terrors - I had to cut down a bit then!"
"Left 4 Dead was a game I instantly knew was going to be a hit. I saw it behind closed doors at E3 in 2007. I sat down to play with with Scott Benton from InGameChat and we were given free reign. The only thing the rep told us was to watch out for the cars. That didn't make sense at the time, but soon one of us set off the alarm and started the infamous stampede of zombies. The sheer action and intensity that firefight gave as we all struggled to survived together was second to none. I absolutely couldn't wait to get my hands on the full game.
I still think Left 4 Dead is the reason co-op gaming exploded when it did. We started this site the same year the game was released and it's a big reason we are successful."
What I'm trying to get at here is, Evolve is shaping up to be another groundbreaking game within the co-op gaming community, if not the entire gaming industry. If what I'm researching and hearing about is correct, then Turtle Rock is once again wielding a recipe for success. It didn't win the "Best In Show" Game Critics Award at E3 2014 for nothing. Turtle Rock Studios will make a stellar co-op game that I am confident will spawn a new generation of co-op gamers and grow our community even further. At least for us at Co-Optimus, that's an awesome thing to look forward to.