OPINION: Top-tier developers cannot rely on former glory for PS4
- Posted July 30th, 2013 at 21:36 EDT by Lee Millington
At the end of the last generation, the gaming industry was in a different shape. Between first- and third-person shooters, racers, and sports titles, there were platformers. On PlayStation 2, the genre was led by three all-star development teams: Insomniac Games, Naughty Dog, and Sucker Punch. A generation later, the genre is near-enough dead, but not all has changed: those three developers that brought the genre to life years ago are still here. For better and for worse, however, their output is not what it once was.
Insomniac Games was undoubtedly progressive in the PlayStation 2 era. Ratchet & Clank, its only PS2 franchise, performed the impressive feat of introducing gunplay while maintaining a Pixar-esque vibe. Indeed, Pixar is the most common reference point for the games, but perhaps Dreamworks is more appropriate--the Ratchet & Clank franchise contains an amount of pop-culture references and adult humour comparable to the Shrek films. It is this delicate balancing act that has kept the series popular throughout PS3's lifecycle, at a time when many of its competitors have vanished.
The Ratchet & Clank developer was the first of the PS2 platformer trinity to put a game on PS3, releasing Resistance: Fall of Man as a launch title. Focused on a world-devastating alien invasion, Resistance proved much darker and adult-geared than the developer's past titles. Gameplay-wise, it hearkened back to Ratchet & Clank, with the creative guns now a hallmark of Insomniac's games. However, it has been regarded as generic, and the first two games feel a bit half-hearted compared to an excellent, unique shooter such as Half-Life 2. That said, Resistance 3 took a step forward by providing a genuinely exciting experience, rather than just another solid shooter.
Insomniac continued Ratchet & Clank with three new installments, but wanted to end the new console generation with something fresh. “One of the aspects of building franchises, and sticking with them for a long time is that even the team can get franchise fatigue,” said Insomniac CEO Ted Price in an interview with GamesRadar. Hence came multi-platform title Overstrike. It had action, wit, and a sprinkling of camp. However, a redesign brought a more serious tone, more realistic character design, and a new title: Fuse.
The move from fun platforming to serious action has been a bumpy ride. The Resistance series hasn't had universal praise, and Fuse was somewhat poorly received across the board, including here at PSU. Even Ratchet & Clank suffered some brand damage, with the widely disliked multiplayer-focused installments by Insomniac's secondary studio. However, the Ratchet & Clank games released by Insomniac's primary studio--Tools of Destruction and Crack in Time--have continued to receive near-universal praise. The evidence suggests that keeping a franchise in the hands of its lead development team generally has a positive effect.
Sucker Punch has had a much smoother trajectory. On PS2, its Sly Cooper trilogy was very well received, but Sly has always remained overshadowed in terms of sales in favor of the more famous PlayStation mascots Jak and Ratchet. We have argued that Sucker Punch is underrated. The greatest strength of its Sly Cooper trilogy was the strong, likable characters and fun gameplay, features which made the developer a reliable underdog.
At the turn of the generation was an interesting leap away from Sly's stealthy platforming to superhero action series inFAMOUS, although it's not hard to see that the same team is behind both. The series share similar mechanics and comic-book elements. inFAMOUS' comic book roots are much more distinct, and it suggests personal passion went into the games. It's a shame, then, that the gameplay can become repetitive. Superpowers should allow for great freedom, but instead the world is too open for its own good, and the emphasis on destruction makes for a lack of variety.
Despite the weaknesses in inFAMOUS and inFAMOUS 2, both were well-received, leading to inFAMOUS: Second Son becoming one of PlayStation 4's headline games. Clearly, inFAMOUS has won the hearts and minds of Sony and its customers alike, and Sucker Punch are no longer underdogs. It looks like it will remain that way ... (continued on next page)