Unabashed criticism of Left 4 Dead? Sacrilege. But if there’s anybody qualified to bash the definitive co-op shooter it’s Turtle Rock - the team who first conceived the game and were absorbed by Valve for the duration of its development, before popping out the other side as an independent studio.
“You can only tackle so much every time that you make a game, especially if you’re trying to do new things,” said Turtle Rock design director Chris Ashton. “So there were a bunch of things when we came out of Left 4 Dead at the end of the day we weren’t happy with, that we wanted to make sure we really addressed from the get-go with Evolve.”
“Evolve started before Left 4 Dead did as far as the idea,” Ashton told VG247, “but obviously having made Left 4 Dead when we came back to this idea, we brought all of those learnings with us.”
The root of Ashton’s dissatisfaction seems to lie with Left 4 Dead’s key four characters - who, diverse though they were, played absolutely identically. Picking Bill rather than Zoey after an unsuccessful campaign didn’t offer a new tactical approach - and nor, “to a large degree”, did picking a shotgun rather than a rifle.
“It might make a little bit of difference as far as the things that I try to shoot at, or what I’m good at doing, but what we found was at the end of the round, we get done or maybe we die, then we start again… what can I do differently this time? How can I change up the strategies this time?”, said Ashton.
“In Left 4 Dead you were sort of limited with the options that you have to really change up the game.”
There’s a reason Ashton brings that up, of course: he’s promoting a new game that purportedly solves those problems.
Turtle Rock’s four-versus-one monster-hunting shooter Evolve features four primary classes - and within those, plenty of meaningful variation.
“With all the different hunter characters you can be a medic, but it’s not just about one medic,” explained Ashton. “There are more medics and they all play different ways, so maybe you’re not successful this time, but try a different medic next time.”
Playing as the monster, we’ll have the option to tackle the elite wildlife on the map early to bulk up - the evolution of the title - or simply get stuck into the hunters.
“Really you have way, way more options so that every time you try the game you get something else to try,” said Ashton. “Maybe this didn’t work so good so maybe try that. There’s always a lot of things to explore in Evolve.”
Structurally speaking, too, Turtle Rock have learned from Left 4 Dead - pushing the philosophy behind its dynamically changing level design forward.
“We [wanted] to make sure the second time you were playing you had a different experience as much as possible. We were successful in Left 4 Dead but we’re really setting up Evolve to do a lot more than that,” said Ashton.
“The game is very modular because of those procedural elements and being able to mix and match them in different configurations.”
I’m perfectly prepared for Evolve to come along and be an unusual, asymmetrical coop shooter - we’re certainly not spoilt for those. But I don’t expect it to replace L4D in my affections. How about you lot?