For now, at least, Xbox One owners have a couple of good reasons to feel smug. The first, Titanfall, really needs no introduction, its hordes of satisfied players ample proof that Respawn Entertainment is channelling the same diabolical magic as Modern Warfare-era Infinity Ward. The second, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, is more of a curio, but the sort of delightful, expertly made curio for which PlayStation 4 owners would be deeply grateful.
"It's immensely satisfying to clear expansive chasms through a skilled combination of leaping, hovering, and air-dashing"
Sony's retort to all of this Microsoft-funded mayhem is Sucker Punch Productions' inFamous: Second Son, the third game in a series widely agreed to have fallen short of its potential on PlayStation 3. And, if Eurogamer's release schedule is indicative of the way the next six months will play out on the system, it is also the last AAA PlayStation 4 exclusive for what may be quite some time.
Fortunately, inFamous: Second Son seems to be an improvement over its underachieving antecedents. The only problem is that the critics can't seem to agree on just how much of an improvement Sucker Punch has made, with the bulk of reviews citing the exact same strengths and weaknesses, and landing on different scores.
Joystiq has made its home at the top of the scale, awarding the equivalent of a 9 out of 10. With Second Son, Joystiq argues, Sucker Punch has eliminated weaknesses and accentuated strengths, shifting the emphasis from frustration to fun in the process. Key to this are the game's more generous approach to its traversal powers, which remove, "much of the tedious climbing that defined the early hours of previous infamous games."
"Delsin [Rowe, the game's improbably named protagonist] is immediately equipped with a power that allows him to travel through vents, teleporting him from ground level to rooftops in an instant. Further upgrades increase his ability to hover and travel long distances, making it a breeze to fly between waypoints. One particular mission late in the game highlights these expanded abilities by challenging Delsin to land on large crates in mid-air as they're being carried off by helicopters. This would likely be a frustrating challenge in earlier Infamous games, but in Second Son, it's immensely satisfying to clear expansive chasms through a skilled combination of leaping, hovering, and air-dashing."
For Polygon, which sits just below Joystiq with its 8.5 out of 10 review, the frictionless pleasure of getting from A to B is ably supported by the glorious damage Delsin can do to others as he makes the journey. Polygon laments a number of missed opportunities related to the game's Orwellian premise and somewhat feeble web of moral choices, but, "I was having so much fun blowing shit up that I almost didn't notice." "Because it backs down from its grand vision, Second Son may not hit as hard as it should have, But combat takes up the vast majority of time in Infamous: Second Son. There are some side missions, and the handful of boss battles often have a small gimmick to figure out, but all primary progress comes back to blasting bad guys. And it's a hell of a lot of fun to do so.
"It's no rebel, then. In fact, it's a conformist"
"Each power set in Second Son is kept small - so as to not overextend the control scheme - but with enough options to never feel constrained by your current choice of powers. And they all feel suitably different as well... While I eventually settled on neon as my personal favorite of the game's options, I appreciated the variety and how well the game encouraged mixing things up from mission to mission. Between blast shard upgrades and narrative progression, I always felt like I was unlocking something new to mess around with."
For Edge - which also praises the visceral satisfaction of simply playing the game in a 7 out of 10 review - Sucker Punch's dogged refusal to flesh out the moral choice system it has voluntarily included in every game in the series is difficult to understand. In what is now a tradition for inFamous, the protagonist is presented with a series of blunt, binary decisions that push you towards one of two karmic alignments, and one of two limited sets of additional powers.
"Characters will also treat you differently in cutscenes according to your choices, but your decisions have little real impact. Reggie [Delsin's sidekick] might chastise you briefly if you opt not to protect the innocent - indiscriminately wiping out a squad of his Seattle-based colleagues, say - but you'll soon be exchanging sibling-rivalry-fuelled quips again. Still, if you decide to be a hero, your life is made harder by the need to aim for legs behind cover rather than exposed heads and to avoid collateral damage."
For Eurogamer, which also awards a 7 out of 10, Second Son is another example of promise unfulfilled, and Sucker Punch is partly to blame. When the game was announced at the unveiling of the PlayStation 4 last year, director Nate Fox offered a rather histrionic introduction that started with his own experiences being menaced by riot police at a demonstration, and finished with some portentous remarks about ubiquitous state surveillance. Topical? Yes. Relevant to the game? Well, no.
"All primary progress comes back to blasting bad guys. And it's a hell of a lot of fun to do so"
"The stakes are strictly personal, the counter-culture clothing just borrowed threads," Eurogamer remarks, and they cover a game that, while more assured than its predecessors, still feels undernourished in most of its core competencies - not least the combat, on which Eurogamer and Polygon tend to disagree.
"Once you start exploring the powers, you'll find that flavour is about all they change. Once unlocked, you can switch between the power suites and expand them in a skill tree, but they offer only mild variations in combat or movement style, with most of the skills being analogous. It's also unavoidably wise to concentrate your skill points in one power - probably smoke, since you get it first and are forced to use it in a couple of late missions. (Yep, Second Son has that dismayingly common habit of giving you a box full of fun toys and occasionally restricting how and when you use them.)
"Overall, it's good clean fun - so it's a shame that Second Son suffers from a consistent failure of imagination in how it's put together. There's not been much of an attempt to shake up the mission scenarios or structure of the game, leaving you with a very rote open-world adventure.
"It's no rebel, then. In fact, it's a conformist."