Watch your back, Hunters.
It might be easy to spot a rampaging Goliath or a menacing Kraken as it hovers overhead, but Evolve's newest monster is the stuff of nightmares. She'll hunt you in the shadows, pick you off one by one and rip an unprepared hunting party to pieces with massive bladed scythes before melting into the mists. The Wraith completely changes the way you play, whether the hunter or the hunted, and adds a nervy new dimension to Turtle Rock's shooter.
Last week I attended a lengthy hands-on preview session to personally test out the Wraith in action, as well as the newly announced Evacuation campaign that adds some much-needed value to the package. Though Evolve is still a tough sell, there certainly seems to be a lot more bang for your buck now.
If the Goliath is the tank and the Kraken is the mage, the Wraith is very much Evolve's assassin class. She's a Geigeresque horror, a disgusting mass of tentacles, blades and chitin, who excels at carefully stalking prey, separating the herd and then picking off the weakest Hunters one by one.
Capable of teleporting surprisingly large distances in the blink of an eye and slithering up any surface, she's versatile and very quick, but her reliance on pure melee damage also means that you have to think cleverly about how best to use her unique abilities without getting gunned down. In effect, you have the choice between building a stealthy assassin or a terrifying berserker.
The Wraith's signature ability is definitely Abduction. This nasty skill allows the monster to teleport to a distant Hunter, grab them and then instantly pull back to her original location, leaving the hapless human (or robot, sorry Bucket!) isolated and ready for a quick filleting.
It's a great way to separate Trackers and Medics from their fellows, leaving the remaining team without essential logistical support, or pulling weakened targets away from potential healers. In Rescue Mode (which we'll get to later), it's also a great way to steal human survivors away and murder them before slinking back into the darkness.
Speaking of slinking, the Decoy ability is designed to let you outfox and outmanoeuvre the hunting party with some tricky misdirection. As the name suggests, firing it off creates an AI-controlled decoy that can deal damage and attacks targets for the duration, while turning you invisible. Useful for bamboozling panicked hunters or pulling off a desperate last-ditch escape, you'll probably want to have at least one point in this skill at all times.
However, the Wraith also boasts two abilities that are far less subtle. Warp Blast creates a massive crowd-control slam, dealing huge damage, knocking back and stunning hunters in a fairly wide radius. Supernova, meanwhile, pulls a double shift as a Rage Mode and a panic button, granting you massively increased speed and melee damage for a decent amount of time. It's overwhelming force. When the mobile arena goes up, you can quickly turn the tables on overconfident hunters by suddenly hacking and slashing your way into their midst and getting what usually amounts to a guaranteed kill or two.
Trust me, there's little more terrifying than suddenly having to deal with a Supernova-using Wraith as a hunter. I suspect that advanced players may actually use this skill to force an early win against inexperienced opponents by maxing it out and pushing the advantage at Level 2.
The Wraith's deadly stealth skills coupled with her relatively squishy HP and lack of ranged damage makes her a unique proposition, and brings a nice layer of counter-hunting to the experience. You'll need to be decisive and know when to press the attack as well as when to run like hell.
Interestingly, the preview session was offline only -- yes, you can play the game offline and in singleplayer if you want to -- which let me try out the 'hotswap' singleplayer when controlling the hunters. Sadly, it's not really much cop. While playing as the monster is always a laugh whether you're facing real humans or AI, the bot hunters tend to hang about in a gaggle and follow the leader, forcing you to do all the heavy lifting and spend most of your time as the tracker. As we've feared, Evolve just isn't consistently fun and enjoyable when playing as the regular humans even if you're by yourself.
This does make Evolve a tough sell at £40, but thankfully Evacuation Mode brings some substantial extra value to the table. This mini-campaign throws the hunters and monster into five back-to-back matches, starting with a traditional Hunt before letting players choose their next destinations, then finally finishing with a desperate Defence match that sees a fully-powered up alpha monster attempt to destroy an evacuation ship and purge Shear of the pesky homo sapien menace once and for all. It acts as a mini self-contained narrative with an intro, various pre-match cutscenes and a cumulative 'colonists saved' meter that factors into a massive XP payout once the credits roll, which should hopefully deter players from ragequitting as they're guaranteed a massive reward.
Though you start with a traditional Hunt gametype, you're then able to vote on the next three matches and pick from a selection of modes. Nest Mode tasks hunters with destroying a certain amount of durable eggs against a tight time limit while the Monster desperately defends their brood, able to sacrifice an egg to spawn a minion in a pinch. Rescue mode, meanwhile, introduces nine downed human survivors into the maps who have to be revived then escorted back to an extraction zone. Naturally the monster's job is to kill them, and the first to either save or kill five wins the round. Normal Hunt rules still apply, though, so skilled hunters could go straight for the monster and try to tip the scales that way.
Defence Mode, meanwhile, is the most fun I've had with Evolve. Monsters start out fully-evolved with respawning minion support, with their sole objective being to destroy a selection of power generators before taking down the evacuation ship's fuel pump. Hunters get quick 30 second respawns and have to hold out until the timer expires. It's absolutely brutal and can come down to the last few seconds.
What makes Evacuation Mode more interesting, however, is that the winning side gets a tactical or situational advantage in the next round. For example, should the humans defend a power generator, they might benefit from activated defence turrets in the next mission. Conversely, destroying the generator might create choking toxic clouds or allow the monster to start with minion backup. There are more than 24 of these map effects, which thematically tie into the maps and pre-mission cutscenes, and it creates a welcome sense of continuity and narrative to what is otherwise a disconnected selection of multiplayer matches.
I'm still not convinced that Evolve should have been developed as a full-priced AAA title. Its asymettrical multiplayer doesn't seem to be consistently enjoyable enough to pre-order with confidence, while I don't feel that watching a monster run around and eat things makes for a particularly engaging Esport either.
But that said, at least Evolve is proving that there's decent on-paper value to be found here... and that sadistic stealth assassin's are going to make a killing.
Disclosure: I ate two tiny burgers at the event. They were delicious.