Evolva

Squad based sci-fi shooter previewed

Unless you believe the creationists, in the last five billion years evolution has taken us from single-cell bacteria and amoeba to sentient life capable of reaching our neighbouring planets and creating .. AOL. Ahem.

And now as we enter the 21st Century mankind is beginning to dabble in genetics, adjusting nature to suit our own needs.

Genetic Engineering 101

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The mutation screen

Computer Artworks' futuristic new game Evolva takes this to its logical conclusion, putting you in charge of a team of four "genohunters", creatures created by man to act as the ultimate warrior, and able to take genetic material from the bodies of their victims.

What this means in practice is that as you go through the game you absorb the remains of the creatures you have killed, and when you get enough you can mutate your genohunters, selecting which traits you want to encourage from their evolutionary tree.

Reached a chasm and can't quite jump across it? Mutate one of your genohunters to give it higher agility and speed ratings. Need to get through a dense mat of foliage that's blocking a tunnel? Kill the right enemy and use its genes to give one of your characters the ability to breathe fire, allowing you to burn your way through the plants.

It adds a unique new spin on character development to the game, and because all of the mutations are done on the fly within the game there are millions of possible variations that you can evolve your genohunters into, from agile sprinters to lumbering living weapons platforms with the ability to burn, shoot, slash and electrocute their enemies.

The possiblities are almost literally endless, and no two genohunters will be the same. Even the shape and colouration of your genohunters changes as you mutate them, and they can sprout claws, horns and spikes as they develop through the game.

It's Evolving

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Two dead aliens, yesterday

Evolva is itself a product of genetic engineering, splicing bits of genetic code from the squad based shooter and third person action-adventure genres with Computer Artwork's own "Organic Art" software to produce something truly unique.

You can guide any of your genohunters from a first person in-eyes or third person chase cam view, while at the bottom of your screen you can see little snapshots of what the rest of your team are up to. Basic "follow" and "stay" commands are available to help you control your team, and you can direct any or all of the other genohunters in your team to any location within sight using "command mode".

Missions usually involve killing lots of hostile alien life forms, absorbing their remains, evolving your genohunters, and overcoming whatever obstacles you find along your way, including piles of rocks, dense vegetation, chasms, and networks of caves filled with explosive plants.

Objectives are fairly varied, ranging from a basic reconnaissance mission to recover alien genetic material to more complex missions where you have to locate explosives and use them to destroy an alien structure, or defending indigenous life forms against hostile aliens.

And although the solution to most of your problems is generally fairly obvious, the frantic fast paced action and the constant mutating of your genohunters into newer and more deadly forms helps keep things interesting.

Graphic Violence

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Isn't it purty?

As you can see from the screenshots, Evolva is also well endowed in the graphics department.

Environments have a very organic feel to them, with giant plants, herds of grazing animals, flocks of vicious alien predators, and smoothly curving cliffs, caves and rock faces. Textures are big and brash, special effects are over the top and visually impressive, and animations are smooth and life like.

The game will take full advantage of the hardware acceleration abilities of the new generation of 3D graphics card such as the GeForce 256 from NVIDIA, and if you have such a card you will get to see highly detailed creature models and environments that put many games' pre-rendered cinematics to shame.

If, like me, you are still stuck with yesterday's technology though, don't fear! The game is able to dynamically adjust the detail of the creatures on screen, meaning that even when you find yourself over-run by a horde of hungry aliens the game will stay remain playable.

I've been running a beta version of the game on my RivaTNT powered P2-300, and although the level of detail isn't quite as impressive as in the screenshots, and 3dfx would like to try and convince me that the game is unplayably slow ("What, you're not getting 60 frames per second?!?"), the game still looks beautiful and runs fairly smoothly even in the heat of battle.

Conclusion

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More than just a pretty face

Evolva has attracted a lot of interest over the last few months, mostly thanks to its support for hardware T&L acceleration. We're now happy to report that as well as being a great example of what the latest generation of hardware is capable of achieving, Evolva is also a damn fine game.

The action is fast and furious, the AI generally very good, and the ability to mutate your genohunters during the game adds a more strategic element to proceedings. And of course the graphics are some of the best we've seen to date.

With luck the game will be on shop shelves around Easter time, and a little birdy tells me that a review copy is heading our way in the near future. We'll also be bringing you an exclusive interview with the team behind the game on Friday, so keep your browser pointed this way!

In the meantime, hit the "next" button at the bottom of this page for a bonus "eye candy" page featuring even more screenshots from the game!

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Eye Candy        

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