Infamous: Second Son - REVIEW
With great power, comes great familiarity...
Infamous: Second Son is a reboot of sorts for Sony’s exclusive superhero/supervillain franchise. Whilst Infamous and it’s sequel focussed on electrically-empowered Cole McGrath’s story in fictional Empire City and New Marais, Second Son introduces us to Delsin Rowe, a young man who discovers he is a conduit, part of a select group of humans who wield extraordinary powers, and the scenery is swapped for an impressively detailed Seattle. The plot borders on the generic at best (saving Delsin’s village from the anti-Conduit stormtrooper squad known as the D.U.P.) but solid performances from the now omnipresent Troy Baker (which games HASN’T he featured in?) as Delsin and Travis Willingham as Reggie, his disapproving brother who means well create comical and touching moments often enough to keep you invested. Other characters are portrayed well, and the performance capture really brings the characters to life in what feels like an extension of Uncharted’s famed characterisation techniques.
Right off the bat, it should be made clear: Screenshots don’t do this game justice. Whether it’s the way smoke and flames can shoot from Delsin’s hands, or just looking at the sunshine bouncing off of Seattle’s puddles in the street, Second Son screams next gen. It’s the kind of game PS4 owners have been waiting for to show off their new box (assuming they haven’t already played Killzone: Shadow Fall). Seattle is the real star of the show, it’s buildings stretching into the distance, ripe for all the running, jumping, and super-powered traversal you can enjoy. Unfortunately, Seattle’s streets are frequently sparsely populated, so whilst the visuals bring it to life (complete with day/night cycle), it manages to never truly feel alive. There are civilians, sure, but they seem to be there solely for you to rescue or harm, playing into the game’s disappointingly binary morality system.
Just like the two games in the series before it, Second Son’s morality system allows choices at certain parts of the story, colour coded to “Good” and “Evil”. Whilst there are spin-off missions for each, as well as accompanying dialogue, the way the choices are handled seems clumsy and one-note. Take an early example – Delsin meets the mysterious Fetch, a purple haired conduit with her own set of powers. You can choose to help her with her anti-drug dealer vendetta, sinking houseboats loaded with contraband in the harbour, or you can take her with you to kill anti-Conduit protesters. Clearly, one of these is “good” and one is “evil”, but the two story threads are re-convened immediately after that mission. Thankfully, different skill-trees are available whether you’re a hero or “infamous”, which nudges you towards a second playthrough, even if the story doesn’t.
For all of its graphical and technical nous, Infamous: Second Son’s moment-to-moment gameplay feels like Infamous 2.5, as opposed to a new start for a new generation. The ability to gain new powers (four in total) allows for a greatly improved moveset from Cole’s somewhat limited electrical arsenal, but the game relies predominantly on increasing more and more enemies as the game progresses. On the harder difficulty levels, this results in a constant stream of tactical retreats to then re-engage when healed. It handles well and is fluid enough to always look cool, but it’s nothing new. Combat is improved by the use of spectacular special moves which can clear areas with ease, but these are built up from karma. When playing as a bad guy this is fine – it means more killing of enemies/civilians. Playing as a good guy means a lot more non-lethal takedowns, which in the heat of a firefight (literally) can prove frustrating, and makes you feel less powerful than you should.
Where Second Son really shines, however, is in it’s traversal mechanics. Whilst the original Infamous and it’s sequel felt cumbersome at times, particularly when climbing/jumping up the side of a building, Delsin’s powers enable you to reach the top of buildings in a split second. Without wanting to ruin the traversal features of the powers you’ll unlock later in the story, the initial smoke ability allows Delsin to hop into an air vent and be fired out of the other end, able to glide and boost across the skyline. Give it a little while, and you’ll be lining up jumps across huge distances, and even working them into your aerial attacks. The most fun I had with Second Son wasn’t using powers during combat, but just hopping across Seattle’s rooftops and streets. Movement has been built with fun in mind, for which Sucker Punch’s development team should be applauded.
As an open-world, the city features all sorts of collectibles and side missions. Whether its rescuing suspected Conduits from angry mobs, clearing DUP outposts, or tracking down shards which are used to enhance your abilities, there is always something to do. A highlight are the missions where you’re armed with Delsin’s spray-can and can use the Dualshock 4’s motion sensor to shake the can and paint over frequently hilarious stencils. Even the touchpad finds usage, admittedly just as an extra button, and the inbuilt speaker is used to mimic Delsin’s ringtone when he receives a call, as well as emitting a cool “swooshing” sound as he recharges his powers from a nearby smoke source.
So all in all, Infamous: Second Son is gorgeous to behold, but very familiar to play. Seattle makes a fun (if slightly empty) playground for your new abilities, and the characterisation helps keep you engaged with a story that, thankfully, doesn’t take itself too seriously. Combat seems in need of an overhaul, but there is plenty to see and do in Seattle, and it looks lovely at this time of year.