inFAMOUS: Second Son Review
Famously fun, but misses the mark on weak good vs evil morality
Infamous: Second Son is an important game for the PS4. It's effectively the first exclusive title to come out for the system post-launch. Sony clearly pinned high hopes on the game and it received an equally high budget to meet those expectations. Did it succeed? Personally, I'd say so. It's certainly not the best exclusive game a Sony studio has released recently, nor is it even necessarily the PS4's best game to date. But what it does represent is an optimistic future for the Infamous franchise and an exciting and fun debut for Sucker Punch Productions on the new generation of consoles.
For the uninitiated, Infamous: Second Son follows the story of Delsin Rowe, a self-proclaimed delinquent and graffiti artist who finds himself caught in the firing line of a group of supernatural conduits, and the D.U.P.: a military like organisation tasked with bringing down these bioterrorists'. Before long, he acquires a small array of supernatural powers which allow him to zip across the city and generally wreak havoc on the D.U.P. forces. Second Son builds upon the world created in the original two games released on PS3 and whilst it is a sequel or sorts, it is not a direct sequel, following a new protagonist and storyline. It's therefore the perfect opportunity for newcomers, with no prior knowledge of the games and a PS4 console just begging for a next generation game to test its muscle.
And test the power of the new console it will. Infamous: Second Son is one of a few titles which really demonstrate the graphical potential of the PS4. The world is big, the effects are suitably flashy and the finer touches such as high-resolution textures, particle effects, bloom and blurred lighting are all there. It's a joy to see in motion and adds to the impact and wow-factor of each power you acquire. One of my favourite new options in the game is the ability to freeze the action and take a snapshot of the view. The tool works much like a camera, with the ability to change effects and colours, point of view, orientation and focus. It's a great addition, which I found myself using more often than not just to gawk at my surroundings as Delsin left from a rooftop. It's also the perfect opportunity to make use of the PS4's share button.
So what of those flashy powers? Well, you start with the power to effectively turn into and manipulate smoke. Delsin will evaporate into a mist of smoke and cinder, to either fly across a gap, shoot up a pipe or escape through a metal fence. For offence, he can shoot smoke like orbs, heavy duty rockets or render enemies incapacitated with smoke bombs. It's a neat trick, but a power which left me feeling underwhelmed during the first portion of the game. Compared to the previous titles in the franchise where you felt like a thunder wielding God, smoke and flashes felt a bit lacklustre. The area it suffers most is when trying to scale buildings in order to weave your way across the city. It just wasn't fast enough and relied more heavily on Delsin's parkour abilities than his supernatural ones.
That all changed once he acquired the ability to absorb neon. Suddenly, he was less a man and more a blur of purple fused light, speeding through the city and up walls. The powers become more satisfying and suitably powerful' thereafter too. Last in his repertoire, Delsin acquires the ability to manipulate electronics/video, and finally concrete: the power used by his nemesis. My personal favourite is the power of video, as this sees you summoning angels and demons (from videogames a bit of a stretch on the video power concept, but roll with it) and sprouting ethereal electronic style wings, swords and lances. The newfound speed and destruction it brings as you soar across the city is easily the most satisfying part of the game.
So where, if at all, does the game fall short? Sadly, in a number of crucial areas. The combat and navigational gameplay are undeniably fun, but the experience can feel somewhat shallow when the story, characters and decision-making are all so bland. Delsin Rowe for one, is not shallow or weakly cast. He's voiced by the king of videogame narration, Troy Baker, and comes across as a genuinely likeable rogue. His dialogue is very much cheesey, but for the most part it's pulled off well. The other characters however, not so much. Particularly Delsin's brother, whom was relied on in the story far too much. The gameplay in those scenes he is involved in also feel equally weak.
Overall the story leaves much to be desired, with less emphasis on saving the world' or righting injustice', as might generally be expected with a superhero theme, and more focussed on the acquisition of power and saving Delsin's local townsfolk. The concept of oppression against Conduits could have been exploited far better. In the end, it feels like a lukewarm subplot which was only briefly touched upon. Added to this is the good vs evil choice meter which impacts every element of Infamous' story and gameplay, but which is easily the game's weakest part.
To be presented with the choice of allow this enemy to live or die, is fairly unoriginal but certainly not the problem with the good vs evil decision making. To be told, you can't kill that person because you started following a good' path at the beginning of the game just makes the whole system redundant. Particularly when the potential to unlock certain additional powers is restricted by your good or evil morality. It made sense to me to set Delsin on the path of the righteous at the outset of the game, as he seemed like an eminently good and likeable character. But that's not to say I wouldn't have chosen to make a deemed evil' decision later on. To further restrict these story and gameplay options by preventing you from unlocking certain powers is frustrating and served only to turn bitter milk sour.
In spite of the above flaws, Infamous: Second Son is nevertheless a success for the PS4 and a great exclusive title for Sony to showcase. It makes great use of the new console's increased graphical potential and in the end, it is a lot of fun to play. If you don't find yourself smirking as you sprout a pair of angelic blue wings for the first time and scale a building in a matter of a few seconds then I'd be surprised. Just don't expect it to be the best game you'll ever play from a Sony backed developer.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.