Originally published on CultNoise Magazine (now closed) | April 5, 2014
Excitement for Sucker Punch’s latest open-world superhero game has been rife since it was announced at the same event as the PS4. Considered by many to be the first truly next-gen title in Sony’s arsenal, it certainly exhibits many next-gen traits. However, for everything that Infamous: Second Son does right, it misses the mark on others, making this a great first step in the beauty of next-gen, but by no means the prize horse Sony fans were hoping for.
For the uninitiated, Infamous began its life on the PlayStation 3 with two great games and a downloadable spin off. Now, with a new generation comes a new hero. Delsin Rowe begins life as an ordinary delinquent 20-something, constantly at odds with his Sheriff brother, Reggie, and the other members in his Native American community. But fate intervenes, and Delsin comes face to face with a busload of imprisoned Conduits – those superpowered individuals in the Infamous universe – and discovers some Conduit powers of his own.
Delsin isn’t like Cole, the Conduit hero in the first two Infamous games. While Cole could control electricity, Delsin has the ability to absorb the powers of any Conduit he comes in direct contact with. Thus he meets a Conduit with smoke-based powers, and the adventure begins.
Set seven years after the events of Infamous 2, Conduits are being hunted down, rounded up and branded as ‘Bio-terrorists’ by a new group, the Department of Unified Protection, under their corrupt leader Brooke Augustine. Augustine is suitably evil without being a caricature. When she turns up to the scene of the bus crash and causes trouble, Delsin puts his new Conduit powers to the test.
It’s a great origin story. Years of propaganda mean that Delsin is initially frightened of becoming a Bio-terrorist, but unlike Cole, Delsin begins to quickly enjoy his powers. It’s a realistic portrayal, and he is immensely likeable from the beginning. There are times that the dialogue genuinely made me laugh out loud, and the rapport between Delsin and the other characters is strong from their initial meetings.
However, here Sucker Punch misses their mark. The other Conduits that Delsin meets are set up to be vibrant, interesting characters, with their own tragic backstories, but are quickly brushed aside as the story progresses. It’s a real waste of what could’ve been; early videos hinted that Fetch, the drug dealer-hunting Conduit with Neon powers, would be an integral part of the story. However, after her initial few missions, she’s largely ignored for the remainder of the story. It’s a huge disappointment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there.
The game is much too short. While the series’ trademark karma system means that different good or evil choices lead to different outcomes, the main adventure lasts little over eight hours and seems to rush by in the blink of an eye. The game’s pacing is much too fast, and repercussions of events are barely felt. Furthermore, while the lack of a numbered title on Infamous: Second Son is indicative of the developer’s decision to make this an easy introduction for newcomers to the franchise, the events of the first two games are mainly inconsequential to Second Son. Fans of the series expected at least some direct reference to those events, however what’s present is little more than a handful of throwaway comments and Easter eggs. The story, as a continuation of those events, suffers as a result.
What remains of the story is, at times, genuinely affecting. Stakes are personal for Delsin, and there’s some subtle character growth there, as one would expect from an origin story. I grew to care about his fraught relationship with his brother Reggie, though it is too understated to have the emotional impact it could have. What remains is a story that stands somewhere between personal and grandiose, too unsure of its own muddled identity to truly shine.
Where the game does shine is in its gameplay, and as always Sucker Punch are masters of crafting a game that simply feels good to play. Dashing around as smoke is fun for the first few hours, but when Delsin acquires Neon he can dash up the side of buildings in a blur of colourful light. The game’s remaining powers, which I’ll not spoil, are equally fun and make traversing the city a real joy. Powers are drained from the environment; smoke from chimneys and destroyed cars, neon from brightly-lit signs across the city. Simply hold the DualShock 4’s touchpad near one of these sources, and you switch to a different power. Combat is standard Infamous fare – powers each have their own strengths and weakness, but have their basic movesets that consist of melee attacks, both weak and strong long-ranged attacks, and a superpowered attack useful for taking out huge groups of enemies but with limited use. This isn’t a bad thing by any means; it’s simply more of the gameplay we’re used to.
The city is a departure from Sucker Punch’s habit of setting the Infamous games in fictional locales, and a character in its own right. Set in Sucker Punch’s home city of Seattle, players will visit locations familiar even to non-Seattleites, such as the Space Needle and Crocodile Club. Parts of the game are drenched in rain, and at these times Second Son’s graphical engine is simply impressive to behold. Puddles reflect their surroundings in real-time, particularly in the glow of neon signs and powers. People walk hunched and huddled against the wind and rain. Graphically speaking, this really is the first truly next-gen title for the PlayStation 4, and indeed Sucker Punch have gone on record as saying the game could only be possible on Sony’s machine.
Infamous: Second Son is a game of duality. Torn between what I love and what I’m disappointed by, what’s left is a game that is a must play for newcomers and fans alike, but something which could have been so much more. While it’s a great showcase for the power of the PlayStation 4, the story is sadly lacking any meaningful pacing that could have made it a truly affecting narrative. It could have been the best entry in the Infamous franchise, but as it stands, it’s simply a little too weak to stand up against its big brother, Infamous 2.
All images courtesy of Sony and Sucker Punch Productions