inFamous: Second Son – Review

Title   inFamous: Second Son
Developer  Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher  Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform  PlayStation 4
Genre  Action-adventure
Release Date  March 21, 2014

There’s probably not one gamer or geek out there who hasn’t dreamed of one day gaining super powers. It’s a staple; the common denominator which, at any level, can bring us together – “If you could have just one super power, what would it be?” Well what if you could have more than one, what if your ability was to absorb the power of others? Now that would be something; you could become the Earth’s greatest hero, or its most powerful tyrant.

Second Son is the third of the InFamous series by lauded developers Sucker Punch, creators of the Sly Cooper franchise. Taking place seven years after the end of InFamous 2, the US authorities have begun a strict crackdown on Conduits – the super-powered heroes and villains of the series – by creating The Department of Unified Protection, whose sole purpose is to hunt and contain conduits, imprisoning them.

As Delsin Rowe, an Akomish Native American and trouble maker, you get caught up in this governmental war following a car accident near your tribe’s home. Conduits, referred to as Bio-Terrorists by the authorities, manage to break free during a prisoner transport. Delsin’s brother Reggie, the local sheriff, attempts to intervene and in the ensuing carnage Delsin discovers his ability to absorb the powers of other conduits.

When the authorities come to town looking for the prisoners, their leader – Brooke Augustine, a powerful concrete-based conduit – begins torturing and eventually murdering the tribe to gain information. This torture method, the slow insertion of concrete shards into the body, is slowly killing members of the tribe but the only way to remove these is by the same means they were created, so Delsin and Reggie decide to head to Seattle where Delsin can hopefully absorb the power from Augustine and save their people.

Playing as Delsin, the question is whether you will seek revenge or do what you can to save lives and remove the threat of the DUP. The Karma system returns and plays a major role in how the story will play out as well as which powers you manage to unlock.Throughout the game you are presented with major moral choices; for example, will you re-imprison the conduits you find as you explore Seattle or attempt to convince them to join you and get them through their issues? As well as these, there are minor events like busting up a drug deal or beating up a busker. Your moral compass will also be swung by how lethal you are in combat, heal a civilian and you gain good karma points while executing a surrendering enemy will score you some bad.

Like many of these moral choice systems in video games, there’s little benefit to playing through the game as a neutral, it’s a straight up choice of playing the hero or the villain. I for one would have liked to see that third option and become that morally grey character. The story in Second Son is reasonably solid, but fairly typical with very few twists, there is love, loss and redemption… or is that love, loss and a rise to power? In any case, just don’t expect to be blown away.

My main issue was that Delsin can be a little tiring as a character; his interactions with the other characters, especially Eugene (the computer geek of this particular game) can make him sound like a douche. Troy Baker, recently the voice of the Joker in Batman Origins, plays Delsin well but overall I felt a lack of connection to the main character. At times it just felt like you were playing an incredibly immature teenager and due to that I don’t think I was ever fully engaged with the story.

Where Sucker Punch have really pulled out the stops is in the visual department, and it becomes clear fairly early on that this was going to be a show of just what the PlayStation 4 could do with its graphics processor. The first time I used the Smoke Walk ability I was blown away, as the character model broke down into particles and shot across the screen in a puff of smoke; that shouldn’t happen in a console game and, to be fair, I don’t think I’ve seen that level of particle effect detail in a PC game. As you gain abilities, which is difficult to write about while avoiding spoilers, your powers become more visually extravagant.

The lighting also plays an important part, and there is a mission about a quarter of the way in where the aim is to absorb the power from neon lights. This leads to a fight with some of the most amazing lighting, shadow, and particle effects I’ve ever seen in games. Honestly, for the first time in a very long career in gaming, I found myself looking at the background and surroundings during a battle, just trying to take it all in.

The level of detail in the environments is superb and is taken to another level by the destructible environments and enemies who will build environmental obstacles to stop you. Many of the DUP bases are fully destructible, as walls and towers can be torn down or smashed through. Enemies will construct concrete barricades to take cover behind, or use their abilities to vault in to the air and get a better vantage point on you. You eventually find yourself battling not only the enemy but the terrain, and it’s the first time I’ve seen this done well. To give you an idea of how far reaching the destructible environments are, I once landed in a coffee shop and accidentally smashed a folding chair which then exploded into its constituent parts, with wood and seat cushions flying everywhere. This is just one tiny chair in a city the size of Seattle and gives an idea of the level of detail the developers have gone for in Second Son.

Character models are beautifully rendered and contain amazing levels of detail, despite the fact that they all seem to have mouths full of horse teeth. While detailed, the animation of the character models can leave a little to be desired, especially when taking damage or, in Delsin’s case, climbing. For some reason there is this strange floaty feel to climbing, and when you jump you seem to hover for a millisecond before plummeting like Wile E Coyote over a ravine.

The climb mechanic also lacks the panache and sensitivity that you might be used to from Assassin’s Creed; press up and you won’t climb up to the next anchor point. Instead, if you want climb further up, you have to jump again, leading to aforementioned daft Wile E Coyote animation being repeated over and over as you bounce up the side of a building.

Combat feels like it has been pulled straight from InFamous 2 with ranged abilities, both heavy and light, complemented by melee attacks and travel powers. Now I won’t go in to what each of those powers are, it’s a little spoilery so if you don’t want to know then you should ignore the next paragraph. I’ve even put it in italics so you won’t read it.

As you progress through the game you will absorb the power of four other conduits. To begin with you gain the Smoke powers which are a combination of ash, fire and smoke setting targets alight or devastating areas with powerful rockets. Neon is your second power set and with that comes a more electrical feel, with super-speed travel and powerful laser fire to rain down on the enemy. Strangely, video is the third power set and it shifts away from the typical all-out assault abilities that the other power sets seem to focus on. Invisibility and stealth are the focus of this power set and flight becomes your fastest means of traveling around the city. Finally you will unlock the concrete power and a set of abilities that aim to knock down and crush enemies.

Second Son does lack the combos from the other series and each power gives you has a ranged shot, a chargeable blast, an area of effect ground smash, and grenade attacks that do unique things depending on the power you are using. Combat is frantic and challenging but ultimately enjoyable and incredibly satisfying when you manage to pull off a sweet combination of abilities.

The touch pad has also been shoehorned in to gameplay; for example, to recharge your abilities you approach a source of power and hit the touch pad, with the power-drain sound effect playing through the controller. At other points you may have to use the pad to move an object. It’s very lightly used and at times it just feels like they could have had the same effect with the standard controls.

Each power has its own ultimate finisher though, powered by your karmic actions in combat. Kill all the enemies and the bad karma gained fills the power until you hit the button and sit back. The finishers are visually stunning as Delsin unleashes enough firepower to level a building or, you know, incinerate an entire battalion of DUP troops.

Much like its predecessors, besides the storyline you can also move through a series of side missions, freeing regions of Seattle from DUP control by taking out secret cameras, hidden DUP agents or spray painting a wall. There’s roughly six of these side missions and they are repeated across the nineteen or so regions of the city. Once you remove enough of the DUP from an area you can then unlock the final showdown, effectively a boss fight for control of a region, a fast travel point, and a shiny new jacket.

Ultimately, the side missions become incredibly dull, and whoever thought the hidden camera missions were a good idea needs to go back to design school as most of the time you locate the camera within a couple of seconds and shoot off to the next mission. They would be fine if spread out but every region has the same missions and they are just not worth doing. Even the single player missions seem to repeat themselves – when you find a new conduit you chase them, catch them, and fight them. This is repeated again and again throughout the game.

I managed to complete Second Son after around ten hours and, according to my save, completed 70% of the content yet, despite its brevity, I really enjoyed my time with it. It feels to me like a game Sony wanted produced to show the power of their new console and it really does do that. There were points where there was so much going on visually that I was sure my PlayStation 4 was going to pack up and die, scenes even my fairly powerful PC would struggle with. Yet it carried on without dropping a single frame, stunning me with a spectrum of visual effects and making me chuckle when I managed to throw together a clever combination of abilities.

  • A true next generation game
  • Visually stunning
  • An incredibly detailed rendering of Seattle
  • Excellent voice cast
  • Combat is frantic and fun
  • Side missions are very dry and repeated far too much
  • Animations could do with some work

InFamous: Second Son may not be the deepest title to ever grace a console but it sure is the prettiest. The mix of frantic combat and stunning visuals will soon have you forgetting about the rather dull story and the endlessly repetitive side missions. While short at the time of writing, the developers have promised over five more hours of content through free DLC this month of release and, for me, this game sums up what the next generation can be - incredibly beautiful detailed worlds where characters can tell stories of bravery and heroism or cruelty and villainy.

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One Comment

  1. Chris Toffer says:

    I played the first Infamous game and really enjoyed it. It was one of the first titles I got for the PS3 and I really do want to go back and do it all again just for the ‘evil’ playthrough.

    When I eventually get a PS4 (and Sony are doing a good job of ensuring its a ‘when’ rather than an ‘if’), then I will be picking this up too.

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