Infamous: Second Son, the third Infamous game by developer Sucker Punch, was first revealed back at the initial PS4 unveiling in February 2013 and takes a big step away from its two predecessors. As is the recent trend of PlayStation games, Infamous is rebooting itself with a new protagonist and a new city for people to more easily get into the franchise. In many ways this helps Second Son make a great leap forward for the franchise; in others, however, it stumbles incredibly flat.
Delsin Rowe is the star this time around, a Native American extrovert who realizes he’s a conduit, someone with superpowers, after three conduit prisoners escape a prison convoy near his reservation. To capture them, the government agency known as the Department of Unified Protection, a.k.a. the D.U.P., sets up a military state in the game’s main setting of Seattle. Delsin discovers his gift is the power to absorb other powers, once he physically touches them first. This lends itself to great gameplay mechanics, in which he gets a total of four different powers throughout the game, each with a slightly different move set that the player will find suits different situations. You can’t switch powers on the fly, however, which is a bit disappointing; instead you have to find one of many power sources scattered around the city.
The powers Delsin gets make for really fun gameplay. All have the same basic moves but the slight differences between each make each feel unique. They all come from a take on “modern elements,” or elements that surround us in modern day, and are much more visually engaging and unique than Infamous 2’s powers of Electricity, Fire, and Ice. In the beginning you’re required to use the parkour elements, which look and feel a bit weird (it looks more like he’s jumping than climbing) and frequently don’t work, but thankfully before long you get powers that let you forgo having to do this. Using the smoke power, Delsin can turn into smoke and quickly shoot through air vents from the ground to the roof, and with neon he can run incredibly fast and even up walls. Each power also gains slightly different moves depending on whether you choose to be good or evil during your play-through. I won’t go into the other two powers so as to not spoil them, but they both have pretty fun transportation mechanisms and move sets as well.
The city of Seattle that you run through with these powers can feel a bit monotonous and grey at times but there are just enough variations between the districts to not be completely boring. I thought the city was the perfect size for this type of game; it never took super long to get to places I needed to go and it was fun and quick using the various powers to do so. It was just the right ratio between size and content in a game world. Also, the time of day changes in accordance with the story, allowing you to see Seattle in various times of day and night. There are nice ambient sounds that made flying around Seattle more enjoyable, in which several real world landmarks are featured and plenty of fun easter eggs can be found.
Although the mechanics of the powers are solid and work fluidly, the situations in which you use them are very monotonous and quickly become stale. Throughout the story, all the missions are either “follow this person” or eliminate all the guards. And all the guards are just generic enemies and look exactly the same. As you progress further into the campaign, Second Son unfortunately falls into the trap of just giving more total and more powerful enemies, rather than having the player use the mechanics in more creative ways. The boss fights are really monotonous and not always in agreement with the story. For example, one character makes several phone calls to Delsin telling him how much of fan he is and how much he wants to help, but when you find out where he is, you start a 15-30 minute boss fight where you just run around and shoot him. You do the same with another of the conduits too to a lesser extent. It’s not really clear why they should think you’re an enemy too, when apparently all the enemies look exactly the same. And when you finish the campaign, what’s left is just clearing out more of those generic enemies and a few side missions. One of those side missions, spray painting (“tagging”) various parts of the city with pieces of art, is visually pretty interesting but ultimately not enough to justify the monotony of everything else.
The story, however, is where this game falls really flat. The story is super linear and never really takes advantage of being an open world game. It stars the previously mentioned Delsin Rowe and his well intentioned cop-turned-politician brother Reggie, who both give really good performances by Troy Baker and Travis Willingham respectively. Delsin especially is a pretty fun character to play as, since he’s much more positive than many other characters in today’s gaming scene. The other minor characters are pretty cool to be around, but they ultimately exist solely to give you your powers and choose whether you want to turn them good or evil. They’re all also really one-dimensional and flat characters, especially the main villain Brooke Augustine, despite how fun their interactions may be. It’s also extremely unamibitous compared to the previous two games. In Infamous 2, there was a hundred foot Beast plowing though the Eastern coast and you had to develop your powers to take him down, but here you’re essentially just trying to get some powers to take some rocks out of his grandma’s leg. And we only see her for one short scene before we go to Seattle so there’s no real reason to care about her anyways.
The choice system is the other major defining part of Infamous games, and here it feels really antiquated and underused. There are only five choices in the game of whether to be good or evil, and the first four have little to no effect on how the story plays out. It’s also pretty clear that the story was intended to be played through as good because that’s where Delsin’s personality is most fitting and his character motivations actually make sense. For example, in the evil play-through, he literally chokes a man to death in front of his own daughter, kills plenty of street musicians and sign spinners, and eventually the main villain too, but we’re apparently supposed to believe he’s doing this all because he cares about his grandma’s well-being. When the choice system doesn’t do anything significant and doesn’t make sense, it’s questionable why it’s even used. Infamous has always been a game that focuses on gameplay over story, but that doesn’t excuse this almost insultingly straightforward story that essentially boils down to: find a conduit, find some boxes, find another conduit, find some more boxes, then fight the boss.
I did really liked the theme of how police states are really awful, but it was never fully developed. I suppose if they went any further they probably would have been criticized for being too “conservative” but still, it would have been cool. It was cool getting to run around dismantling the police state in a town and giving people their freedom back from an abusive government, through destroying cameras and military bases. It’s just unfortunate that this turns out to be incredibly monotonous gameplay. It also didn’t really make sense that the D.U.P agency that we’re supposed to be against for rounding up conduits uses almost exclusively conduits as its officers. There are literally thousands of concrete-powered villains patrolling the city and they’re allowed to stay there because three escaped conduits are apparently the real danger. The only way I could make sense of this is that it could be a metaphor for why gun control is bad, and how they’re proclaimed to be bad in the hands of good people but everyone’s fine with the government using them to force ideas on the people, but again this wasn’t really explored.
The game’s performance, however, is top-notch. The actual game and the setting look way nicer than anyone could have expected this early in the PS4 life cycle, although the cut scenes look about the same as late PS3 games (see: The Last of Us). I really can’t stress how amazing the game looks when you’re playing it. The lighting is simply astounding and makes everything look nearly real. It also runs consistently smooth at 1080p and 30fps without any dips in frame-rate when the action gets intense. The controls are really fluid and the parts that require motion and the touchpad are surprisingly not annoying. The light-bar turns bluer as you play more as a hero and deeper red as you play more evil. There were also several annoying glitches as is frequent in open-world games.
Infamous: Second Son is ultimately just a good game; not great, not bad. It’s definitely worth it for PS4 owners because of how gorgeous it is and the future it promises on the system. If games can look this good just four months into the system’s lifecycle, imagine how good games will look in eight years. Infamous: Second Son is ultimately forgettable because of how unbelievably lackluster the story is. The astounding graphics and performance combined with solid, fun gameplay ultimately can’t excuse the incredibly simple story.
By Tim Jones, @TiJoHimself