Without a doubt, 2K Games' Evolve stands as one of my biggest disappointments of the year. Coming from the developers of the original Left 4 Dead—which got me into competitive/cooperative online multiplayer after a lifetime of reuctance—I had high hopes for what seemed like a winning premise. And hey, with that four-month delay, it was sure to be even better, right? Right?
Now, I don't think Evolve is bad, per se—it's just misguided. Having played and loved the Left 4 Dead series, I fully understand a multiplayer game like Evolve can't possibly contain the same amount of content as your typical 20-hour, single-player release. After all, the point of a multiplayer experience like Evolve is to master what it offers and then use that knowledge to account for the many variables at play when real people enter the equation. Yet Evolve saw fit to parcel out its meager amount of stuff at an absolutely glacial pace, locking down things like two of the three playable monsters behind experience point walls.
I would have gladly tolerated cosmetic upgrades as rewards for playing, but Evolve felt the need to artificially bloat the experience by forcing players to devote too many hours to unlocking its full functionality. Compare this to Left 4 Dead 2 on Steam: Once you buy the game—BOOM—everything's open to you, including all the scenarios from the series' debut. That's kind of expected from a game developed primarily for the PC market, but still, Evolve's unlockables are far too essential to keep hidden from the player. Imagine a Monopoly set where things like houses and hotels don't become accessible until your 15th or 20th game, and you'll get a good idea where Evolve went wrong.
Going into 2015 thinking Evolve would likely rob 100 or more hours from my life, I would have shooed you away had you told me a Nintendo-developed shooter and a car-based soccer game would supplant Turtle Rock's spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead. Yet, here I sit, with my copy of Evolve continuing to collect dust while Splatoon and Rocket League constantly enter my game-playing rotation—hell, the latter has been my gaming group's regular weekend thing for months now. And the reason both of these games have dominated my multiplayer gaming time in 2015? They're not afraid to give you instant, accessible fun.
True, Splatoon has its own unlockables, accessed through earning currency by winning matches. But, outside of some weapon types and tweaks provided by the many stylish accessories characters can wear, your first match won't differ much from one you have 20 hours later. And since all characters are essentially identical—there's no classes or jobs here—I didn't find myself grinding through a role I didn't particularly like just to see if a new weapon or skill would make said role a little more tolerable. Strangely enough, I actually like Splatoon's version of unlockables: bonuses attached to equipment that activate as you level them up. Even if a new passive ability is something I don't particularly need at the moment, it could always come in handy when used in tandem with a weapon I buy later down the road. Plus, it's oddly fulfilling to open your character's wardrobe to see an incredible variety of gear, waiting to be mixed and matched in accordance with whatever play style you're shooting for next.
And Rocket League is even more immediate than Nintendo's shooter in that everything unlocked is cosmetic. Outside of your (hopefully) increasing skills in vehicular soccer, your first game of Rocket League won't differ from your 100th. What you do unlock is basically icing on the cake: a seemingly never-ending supply of visual enhancements that prevent you from staring at the same model of car over and over again. Even if these unlockables don't really do anything, it's always fun to jump into your garage and attempt to assemble a Frankenstein's monster of fiberglass, steel, and ridiculous accessories.
Above all, what makes Rocket League and Splatoon so successful is that their straightforward approach to multiplayer makes voice chat mostly irrelevant—Splatoon doesn't even offer it as an option. It's not that I'm against in-game communication; when I play with my friends, we're inevitably in some sort of party chat or Skype setup. But sometimes, when jumping into a multiplayer game, I don't want to have to deal with the unpredictable temperaments of strangers: Rocket League and Splatoon allow me to do just this by providing the multiplayer equivalent of ships passing in the night. It's not that I've completely ruled out chat for multiplayer if it's a necessity—but said game has to be very good to get me to willingly open my ear canals to potential abuse by online jackasses.
And since Evolve kinda died on the vine, maybe Valve could fill the gap by giving us a current-gen console port of Left 4 Dead? I'm sure the sale of a single Team Fortress 2 hat could fund it ten times over.