Evolve is finally starting to feel like a full-sized game, with a new multi-stage campaign called Evacuation, three new modes, a third monster and another four hunters.
Evacuation is Evolve's literal game changer. Until now things seemed light, with the only gameplay option 'hunting' or 'being' the monster, and not a lot else. This new campaign mode brings with it three extra match types - Nest, Rescue and Defend - and ties them all together with a rolling, randomised sequence of levels.
The three new modes can be played separately but the real meat of the game comes from playing them all in the Evacuation campaign. This sees you playing through a series of player voted maps and randomised victory effects that carry over to the next stage. These can be various buff or debuffs decided by who wins at each stage.
A hunter victory, for example, might see a masking agent sprayed over the next map to cancel out the monster's X-ray vision-like smell sense. Whereas a monster victory could see it gain an armour buff from 'feasting on the casualties.' Other effects include things like turrets, or healing stations, to help the hunters, or teleport rifts and toxic gas clouds to help the monster. 2K is promising some potential 800,000 variations between the different game types, buffs and 16 maps (12 general maps and four specifically designed for the Defend mode).
Hunt is obviously the mode we've seen so far, with the core 4v1 deathmatch setup. The other option, however, mixes things up with a few different mechanics. Take Nest: this sees a series of eggs randomly placed around the map - the hunters need to destroy them to win, while the monster has to protect its spawn. The creature can also hatch one egg at a time for some back-up from a level one Goliath, adding a risk/reward spin on those mothering instincts. You can only have one Goliath active at a time, and it's weaker than an egg, but it's also added attack power and if all the hunters are dead, the monster wins.
The hunter's equivalent to Nest is a mode called Rescue, where civilian NPCs have to be located and shipped out before they're eaten. They arrive in waves to space things out, and the winner here is decided by whoever saves or eats the most by the match's end.
The final mode is Defend, and this ties all the previous ones together to give the whole thing its Evacuation name. While a ship prepares to leave, the hunters must fight off the player controlled monster and two AI Goliaths, as they try to take down a pair of shield generators and, finally, a refuelling station to destroy the fleeing colonists. Players vote on maps and levels as the campaign takes place over an in-game five day stretch, dealing with the different effects winning and losing can inflict on them. Interestingly however, because of the finality of the final stage - everyone escapes or dies - one side can lose everything leading up to Defend but still 'win' overall if they come out on top at the end. That's something I think might upset a few people in the long run (mainly anyone who wins everything but the last round).
So Evacuation is a meaty mode, and this is what Turtle Rock is dressing up as its single player experience (if you don't mind bots). The core of the game is still multiplayer though and that's also getting a content boost from the new monster and hunters. The new beast is the Wraith, which is likened to a rogue: a fast, stealthy creature with the ability to teleport and cloak, and possessing a flurrying blade attack that currently feels like the most effective thing in the game - set it off, mash the buttons and all you have to do is charge in the general direction of the hunters for almost guaranteed devastation. The Wraith can also use an abduct ability to teleport in, grab a single player, and then teleport out again to attack them on their own, while cloaking also creates a clone decoy that attacks hunters while you escape or move in to flank.
To help the hunters deal with this new threat, each class gets another new member. This is where Evolve impresses me the most. Until now I was very much a one class guy - I like the Trapper, with, what for me is the game critical ability to deploy a mobile arena, a cage that traps the monster. However, the new characters are spreading my loyalty and opening up the game as a result by adding a variation for each class I like.
Take Cabot, the new support. He's packing a railgun that can shoot through anything, and tracking dust that can be dropped to highlight any creature it falls on. Plus he's got a damage amp that can be fired to make everyone hurt the monster more. I never really got on with the other two support characters, Bucket and Hank, but Cabot feels instantly rewarding. It's the same for the new medic, Caira. She has a grenade launcher which fires healing grenades and napalm. It's an odd combination but for me she felt useful as an offensive healing option, as opposed to, say, Val's weak-spot-creating sniper rifle, or Lazarus' ability to revive dead players.
Then there's Parnell, who's another solid assault option with a rocket launcher and shotgun and Abe. The latter packing time slowing stasis grenades, tracking darts that highlight anything they hit (and anything that then eats them, turning animals into traps should the monster consume them) and a great shotgun variation. Abe's signature weapon has a pellet spread that starts narrow but opens up the more you fire it, meaning that it's highly accurate at a slow rate, but turns into a handful of thrown gravel the second you start spamming.
When Evolve was first announced I wasn't entirely convinced it had the scale or variety to feel like a full sized thing. That initial gameplay felt like a good mode if it were part of bigger game, but not enough to carry a title by itself. However, now this is feeling far more substantial. And there's room for more before the February 2015 release: I get the feeling Turtle Rock is playing it by ear with features, adding in stuff as and when ideas work rather than planing them out long-term. If that's the case, then so far it's working.
This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour with a U from the British isles.