Not squid­ding around

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY - By Kal­lie Plagge

Spla­toon 2 is easy to love. It’s col­or­ful and quirky and un­afraid to be dif­fer­ent, and it’s con­sis­tently a blast to play. As far as shoot­ers go, its unique move­ment me­chan­ics stand out and make each match ex­cit­ing. And while the lo­gis­tics of its mul­ti­player aren’t per­fect, Spla­toon 2 is a vi­brant and ex­u­ber­ant se­quel with enough fresh ad­di­tions and changes to set it apart from the orig­i­nal.

Like the first game, Spla­toon 2 stars hu­man­squid hy­brids called In­klings. Their world is bright and filled with nau­ti­cal puns both spo­ken and im­plied, and even just walk­ing around and pick­ing out new clothes is de­light­ful. The shoe store is called Shella Fresh, for ex­am­ple, and cute fish-themed decor pep­pers the hub area. That ex­tends to the game play, of course; your weapons shoot (or some­times fling) ink, and you can in­stantly change into your squid form and swim through ink pud­dles to reload.

Swim­ming also has a stealth el­e­ment to it, since you’re harder to see and faster, and there­fore bet­ter equipped for sur­prise at­tacks. You can also ink walls and swim up them in squid form, which adds to your ver­ti­cal­ity in matches. In the stan­dard mul­ti­player mode Turf War, you’re tasked with ink­ing more of the map than your op­po­nents while also “splat­ting” them to limit their progress.

Mul­ti­player is un­doubt­edly the main draw of Spla­toon 2, but both new and re­turn­ing play­ers should ab­so­lutely try the new-and-im­proved sin­gle player mode be­fore jump­ing into any matches. Un­like in the first game, where you could only use the stan­dard Splat­ter­shot gun in the cam­paign, Spla­toon 2’s serves as a fan­tas­tic in­tro­duc­tion to all the ba­sic weapon types you’ll have ac­cess to-and it’s much more ro­bust, with col­lectibles that re­quire a sharp eye to find and cre­ative plat­form­ing chal­lenges that re­ally show­case how unique Spla­toon 2’s move­ment is for the shooter genre.

And while it starts out a bit ba­sic, each level builds on the last and re­quires clever ap­pli­ca­tion of your knowl­edge to com­plete. Grind­ing on rails while shoot­ing tar­gets, then switch­ing to your squid form and suc­cess­fully land­ing a tricky jump is sat­is­fy­ing not just be­cause it’s fun and cool but be­cause it re­ally feels like you’ve mas­tered Spla­toon 2’s new me­chan­ics.

Un­for­tu­nately, not all of the sin­gle player cam­paign’s lessons make it into the mul­ti­player. Most notably, rail grind­ing, which is the stand­out from sin­gle player, isn’t pos­si­ble on Mo­ray Tow­ers’ rails. That in par­tic­u­lar feels like a missed op­por­tu­nity, es­pe­cially since that map is re­turn­ing from the first game. How­ever, get­ting to use a wide va­ri­ety of weapons in sin­gle player makes the tran­si­tion to mul­ti­player eas­ier, and sub­tle tweaks to weapons and gear, like faster move­ment with the roller, add a layer of new strat­egy for vet­eran play­ers. On top of that, the ma­jor­ity of the maps are new, and fa­vorites in­clude Inkblot Art Academy and The Reef, both of which have sev­eral ver­ti­cal lev­els that re­sult in in­tense strug­gles for con­trol of the higher ground.

The only mul­ti­player mode for non-ranked matches is Turf War, which is con­sis­tently so much fun that only hav­ing one ca­sual mode isn’t re­ally a prob­lem. Cov­er­ing the most ground with your ink is a sim­ple enough con­cept, but skill­ful move­ment, well-timed ink­ing, and the right strat­egy for your weapon all work to­gether to give each match more depth. There are some wrin­kles with the lo­gis­tics of these reg­u­lar bat­tles: there’s no way to change your weapon once you’re in a lobby, so you’re stuck with what­ever team com­po­si­tion you get, and you can’t guar­an­tee you’ll be on the same team as any friends who join your lobby.

But, as the most laid-back of the mul­ti­player op­tions, Turf Wars’ quick games and random team as­sign­ments make it easy to jump in and out and have fun with­out too much pres­sure. It might be frus­trat­ing when your team of random doesn’t seem to know what they’re do­ing, but the fast-paced strug­gle to cover turf with your team’s ink is as ex­hil­a­rat­ing as ever.

Ranked bat­tles re­turn with Tower Con­trol, Rain­maker, and Splat Zones. Each mode is sim­i­lar to game types you might be fa­mil­iar with in other team shoot­ers; Tower Con­trol con­sists of es­cort­ing a tower to a goal, Rain­maker is like re­verse cap­ture the flag, and Splat Zones re­quires you to “con­trol” spe­cific ar­eas for a cer­tain amount of time by cov­er­ing them with your team’s ink.

Un­for­tu­nately, the lob­bies for ranked matches haven’t been pop­u­lated enough for us to play them ahead of launch, but based on our ex­pe­ri­ence with the first game, we can ex­pect these modes to work es­sen­tially the same way. Spla­toon’s ink me­chan­ics make these modes feel dif­fer­ent from other games, and the fo­cus on spe­cific ob­jec­tives is great for com­pet­i­tive play­ers who want some­thing more than the in­for­mal struc­ture of Turf War.

There’s also a new co-op mode called Salmon Run that lets you play along­side one to three friends in a horde en­vi­ron­ment. It’s sur­pris­ingly chal­leng­ing and re­quires more strat­egy and fi­nesse than Turf War by far. Even on lower dif­fi­cul­ties, my groups strug­gled against mini bosses that re­quire spe­cific strate­gies to take out­they’re less threat­en­ing than the sin­gle-player bosses but hard to deal with in high vol­umes.

Suc­cess­fully clear­ing the waves was sat­is­fy­ing know­ing that we had to have worked well as a team in or­der to sur­vive. In ad­di­tion to the up­dated sin­gle-player cam­paign, this is an­other mode that shows off what’s so great about Spla­toon 2’s unique game play in ways that PvP mul­ti­player doesn’t.

The big­gest prob­lems with the orig­i­nal Spla­toon’s mul­ti­player were lim­ited match­mak­ing and a lack of voice chat, which made team strat­egy ex­tremely cum­ber­some and dif­fi­cult. While reg­u­lar bat­tles still lack shooter match­mak­ing main­stays like par­ties, there’s a new mode called League Bat­tle that lets you group up with ei­ther one or three other friends and play to­gether in a more com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment. League bat­tles in­clude the same modes as ranked but don’t af­fect your solo rank, which is a great op­tion if your skills aren’t quite in line with your friends’. That said, voice chat is still a prob­lem-you have to use a phone app to com­mu­ni­cate, which is in­el­e­gant at best and ridicu­lous for a mod­ern team-based game. There’s no good rea­son it couldn’t have been in­cluded in-game.

At first glance, Spla­toon 2 seems very sim­i­lar to the first game. But all the small changes, and even the big­ger ones in sin­gle player and League Bat­tles, make for a fresh take on the al­ready unique shooter. If you played a lot of the orig­i­nal, the se­quel has enough to keep you com­ing back, and if you’re new to the game, it’s a fan­tas­tic place to jump in.

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