Square Enix’s new, PlayStation-exclusive, multiplayer foam-combat game—Foamstars—is out now on PS5 and PS4. It’s free for folks who have PlayStation Plus, which means the barrier to entry is low and it’s just your time you’ll waste playing this meh shooter instead of actual money.
When Foamstars was first revealed last summer, the reaction from the internet was a mix of “What is this?” and “Is this Splatoon?” There were also a lot of body-fluid jokes. A lot of them. Over time, we learned that this wasn’t just a Splatoon clone. In fact, it was something pretty different, focused more on throwing foam on people instead of covering the map in paint. Likewise, the foam could be used to build up to locations or to slow down enemies. It sounded interesting enough and some early previews were optimistic about this new live-service shooter. And now that’s it out I can confirm that, no, this isn’t Square Enix’s Splatoon. But damn, I really wish it was though.
Foamstars makes a great first impression with nice music and some stylish visuals. In a world where most free-to-play shooters are focused on military garb or realistic guns, it is nice to see someone making something truly unique. The mix of Las Vegas aesthetics, anime, and sci-fi is really eye-catching. I’d watch a TV show set in this universe. Sadly, this isn’t a TV show. It’s a (mostly) online PvP shooter, and that’s where this all falls apart.
Some of the worst guns in video games either fire slow-moving projectiles or have annoying arcs you have to contend with when aiming. Foamstars bravely asks: What if we combined the worst parts of the worst guns into one gun, and gave everyone in the game versions of that bad weapon? The answer is a shooter that feels like crap.
Matches in Foamstars’ main mode revolve around foaming up people into balls and surfing into them to knock them out. And I’ll admit that zooming around my team’s foam on a cool surfboard and then knocking out a foamed-up enemy is a blast. Feels great. But everything else is a drag. Moving around feels slow and while you are told to use that cool surfboard to get around, in most matches that wasn’t possible, because the enemy team’s foam was everywhere and slowed me down.
Shooting also feels bad. I tried out the various characters, who each have different foam guns. And while they all operate differently, they all fire in weird arcs and often shoot slow, imprecise projectiles. Worse, these projectiles—big balls of foam—are hard to get a read on. I was never sure when I was hitting an enemy, where I hit them, and how much I hit them. Likewise, in combat, it’s hard to know what’s going on as giant waves of foam fly at you in every direction. And if you get foamed up, you have to wait around for a teammate to save you or the enemy to knock you out. It’s not fun, but at least it gave me a break from playing.
I also ran into teams using the same annoying tactic. In the main Foamstars mode—Smash the Star—once a team has suffered too many eliminations, the best player on that team becomes the “Star Player.” They take more damage (or foam…) and the other team can only win if they take them down. Meanwhile, other players on the team can spawn endlessly to protect their Star. It’s a neat idea in practice. In theory, it led to teams shoving their Star to the back of the map on a single high point—which is hard to reach because you have to foam up to it or use a special move—and then just camping back there. This slowed down matches and wasn’t fun at all.
Speaking of stuff that isn’t fun, the solo missions in this game aren’t great and mostly consist of waves of floating enemies slowly moving at you from a few directions as you shoot them before they reach a generator. Repeat and wonder why you are playing this at all. I was tired one night when I played a mission and actually got so bored I fell asleep. Sure, some of the writing and storytelling is fun—one penguin-themed character speaks to JPEGs of animals and is trying to save Antarctica—but it ain’t enough to make me slog through the few missions that are here at launch.
There’s more to this game for those who dig, including other modes and cosmetics. But honestly, I’ve got no interest in spending more time playing Foamstars. I did notice a $40 cosmetic pack in the store and I just want to warn folks now: I’d recommend not buying that because I’m not sure this thing will be around in a year or two.