At last June’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, Turtle Rock Studio’s Evolve collected the most awards because its asymmetrical competitive multiplayer was set to reinvent multiplayer gaming on the next generation of console hardware. Evolve’s release date may be delayed from October 21, 2014 to February 10, 2015 but the Big Alpha gave players firsthand gameplay experience with the four Hunters versus one Monster matches.
From a disability accessibility standpoint, Evolve shows that a new IP is capable of providing accessibility for disabled gamers with both standard accessibility and rare accessible features. For example, Evolve includes not only the option to automatically enable sprint but also provides multiple controller layouts for both the Hunter and Monster roles. The multiplayer mode features not only subtitles but subtitles that are large and thick for easy reading in the midst of frantic action that even includes tags naming the speaker. Visual cues communicate a wide variety of information and are clearly contrasted against the dark environments as well as icons used rather than a reliance on color.
The alpha’s playable mode was four Hunters versus one Monster. The five player matches have five defined classes that requires players to fill their assigned role based on the weapons and abilities for each class. Players can search for matches with a specific role selected or search with a ranked list of preferred classes.
Hunters are not universally equipped with an assault rifle to fall back on if suddenly face to face with the Monster. Instead, the Hunters range from the option to stay out of the direct fight completely by playing the Medic to taking on the monster in a frontal attack in the Assault class or a mix of the two as the Support or Trapper. Or players take on the role of the Monster in a fight against the Hunters.
Combat is straightforward. Hunters have two abilities and two weapons. While only one can be equipped at a time all four are always available during a match at the touch of a button. Iron sights are available but not necessary with the majority of weapons and abilities not a traditional gun. For example, the starting Support class character Hank has a team cloak, a shield projector to protect individual teammates, orbital barrage for launching a missile strike, and a laser cutter as the gun.
Controller customization is available for both Hunter and Monster layouts. The primary factor in controller customization is where the options to equip the Abilities and Weapons are as well as the button mapping for Jump. Of the five Hunter layouts, Jump is mapped to the bottom face button or to the Left Bumper. The Abilities and Weapons are assigned to a mixture of face buttons, bumpers, and triggers because each of the Abilities and Weapons are mapped to an individual button. Fire is always on the Right Trigger. For the Monster, there are three controller layouts that again individually maps four abilities (the Monster has no weapons). The Monster layouts do require use of the Left and Right Sticks. Whereas the Hunter layouts removed the need to use the Left Stick by enabling automatic sprint and the player can choose an option that maps a rarely used feature to the right stick.
The classes ensure that each player fulfills their role. The Medic’s tranquilizer gun slows the Monster and outlines its profile for easy visibility for all while the Medic’s sniper rifle puts a target on the Monster for hits that deal more damage. Neither gun shoots bullets that harms the Monster. Disabled gamers can choose their desired role in the game and maintain that class. Assault leads the attack with guns, mines, and an emergency shield. Medic tags the Monsters and heals the other Hunters from a distance. Support provides shields, cloaking, and a missile barrage. Trapper tracks and contains the Monster with an AI companion, a mobile arena, and harpoons.
Evolve brings well-done subtitles to multiplayer gaming which in the previous console generation didn’t even exist. The Hunters have spoken dialogue during the launch sequence before each match and during matches the Hunters have scripted speech that both gives the characters personalities and includes comments, mostly requests for help. The subtitles are noticeably easy to read even during action sequences but the white text does get lost at times in brightly colored backdrops. Additionally, the subtitles are tagged with the name of the speaker, even including the tag “Female AI” for the robotic voice that gives an overview of each role.
Tracking the monster is all about following the visual cues from the glowing blue footprints to the startled birds’ animation to the waypoints that lead to eaten animal carcasses left behind. The visual identifiers are meant to be seen with distinct contrast against the dark environments. For the Hunters, the two weapons and two abilities are displayed with relatively large icons in the bottom right corner with the mapped button that allows the player to quickly remember the available options and how to access those features. Additionally, an optional mini map retains the clarity of the game’s visual indicators and is readable as a mini map that’s larger than most.
Many unknowns remain about Evolve from the nature of the game’s other content to how well disabled gamers can be competitive after the gaming community has extended time with the game. But Evolve’s Big Alpha has shown that Turtle Rock Studios is critically thinking about disability accessibility based on those extra details added to the more standard accessible features.