As a huge fan of the Left 4 Dead series—the only multiplayer-focused FPS I've taken a shine to—I had big plans for Turtle Rock's Evolve.
Just go back to our team's hands-on preview from last summer, and you'll see how excited I was over the original Left 4 Dead developer's latest efforts. Since Valve doesn't seem all too interested in making games these days—making money stands as a much more attractive prospect—I had high hopes this spiritual successor would fill the hole in my heart Left 4 Dead 3 never could—what with that particular sequel being filed away in the "not gonna happen" drawer of our reality.
You only need to turn to our Evolve review to understand how the final product underwhelmed me. While I still loved the core set of rules working within Evolve's exterior, the game's insecurity over its relatively modest amount of content kept this multiplayer FPS from hitting the heights I wanted it to. In a move that feels designed to artificially pad out the experience, Evolve hides nearly everything behind countless experience gates, making it so you'll have to play as characters you don't necessarily like in order to unlock the next one down the line—something that feels particularly egregious when you can't immediately select from all three of the game's tiny cast of hulking monsters. And when Evolve entered the rotation in my weekly game group, it only took a few weeks before we moved on to the newest distraction. But it wasn't until I picked up Splatoon that I fully understood why.
In all fairness to Evolve, Splatoon isn't without its problems. Nintendo's latest Wii U release offers a paltry amount of content for its $59.99 price of admission, though the developers plan on releasing a constant stream of new stuff throughout the summer. Splatoon's system of unlocks isn't much different than Evolve's, either; like Turtle Rock's game, the only way to unlock and level up equipment is to grind away in multiplayer matches. And, while Splatoon certainly isn't to blame for this, there's something about buying a full-priced Wii U game in 2015 that feels like an act of goodwill rather than just another consumer transaction—like you're donating to some plucky Kickstarter rather than a massive corporation that could buy and sell you ten times over. Yet, despite this baggage, one thing is clear: I can't stop playing this damned video game.
If I had to pinpoint how Splatoon gets everything right, I'd zero in on just how immediate Nintendo's competitive FPS makes everything you do. Of course, it helps that, just a week after its release, the multiplayer lobbies are overflowing with willing participants, but, outside of waiting for people to fill the rosters, Splatoon doesn't force you to sit through much downtime. Once you've assembled eight people—BOOM—you're in the game within moments, and without having to listen to world-building banter. This sense of immediacy extends to the matches as well; getting splatted amounts to sitting out for a handful of seconds, rather than listlessly twirling the camera around for a minute or more as you wait to respawn in Evolve.
And there's rarely a dull moment in Splatoon, since, at every instance, you're affecting the environment and scoring points for your team in one way or another. Whether you're re-inking previously claimed territory stained by enemies, or heading to the front lines to splat opponents and gain some ground, there's always something to do. With Evolve, the downtime between games creeps into the actual matches: While I've had plenty of intense sessions, I've also spent an ungodly amount of time doing nothing but jamming my analog stick in the direction the targeted monster should be—all the while fighting the temptation to open up Twitter on my iPhone.
From my experience, when you start losing in Evolve, it's incredibly hard to turn things around, meaning you have to wallow in your failure until the match's inevitable conclusion. With Splatoon, my teams have actually been able to turn things around in that vital last minute, and even when I lost, the short running times of Splatoon's encounters make it easy to forgive, forget, and immediately jump back into another game.
Like Evolve, Splatoon uses an experience system, both to match you up with similarly-skilled players, and to gradually reveal its selection of weapons and accessories. Granted, Splatoon has a simpler design, but this also means the essential experience opens up within the first hour or so. The game isn't shy about making available its entire array of weapon types from the beginning, which allows player to immediately figure out which particular "class" jives with them: the in-your-face assault guns, the long-range rifles, or the slow-but-powerful rollers.
And the extremely straightforward way these weapons work make Splatoon's lack of voice chat—something I've seen a lot of hand-wringing over—a complete non-issue. In the dozens of games I've played so far, my teammates immediately know what to do with their weapons of choice, and a quick glance down at the GamePad is all you need to see which areas need your support. Honestly, having the option to chat would be nice, but, at the same time, Skype exists on just about every device for free—it's something I've used with my friends plenty of times to avoid the utterances of the dreaded Multiplayer Rando.
I'm willing to admit that comparing Splatoon to Evolve might not be entirely fair; the latter goes for a more studied, plan-intensive approach to multiplayer, much different than the former's mission statement of "instant fun." Still, while I've retired Evolve to my DVD shelf, Splatoon has seen near-constant play from me whenever I have a minute of free time—and even if that attraction only lasts throughout the summer, I'll definitely have made the most of this little game.
True, Splatoon isn't likely to set the world on fire—and will undoubtedly reach far fewer people than the multi-platform Evolve—but in my heart, it's the real winner of the multiplayer FPS battle. The only way this situation could be any sweeter is if I had access to a time machine so I could convince Nintendo to make this the Wii U's launch game, not the underwhelming NintendoLand. Oh yeah, and I guess I could warn people about Hitler—time permitting.