On the surface, inFamous Second Son looks little more than a (exceptionally pretty) graphical update of Sucker Punch Studio’s previous games. You would be forgiven for assuming that this was “more of the same with shinier visuals” from the pre-release materials or even when watching gameplay in a youtube video. Spend some time in Sucker Punches representation of Seattle with Delsin Rowe and co. and you’ll soon realise this is far more than a spit n’ polish job. This is refinement. This is change; big and bold and sometimes quite scary… but, in this case anyhow, change is really for the better.
inFamous Second Son has a bit of a shaky start. Unlike the first game which started with a cataclysmic explosion, or the second which launched you right into a gigantic boss fight, Second Son starts with a bit of petty vandalism. It gets worse. It’s petty vandalism involving motion controls. Ew… Anyhow, before long you’re running around the environment – but wait… where are your powers? Well, during this prologue, lead character Delsin is a complete “normal”; slang term for people who are not considered Conduits.
After some exposition that tells us a bit about Delsin, his family and the Akomish tribe of Native Americans he’s part of, we’re graced with our first real slice of action. A truck full of prisoners being escorted by anti-conduit police force, the D.U.P, freeing three pretty dangerous super beings off into the world. Unwitting hero Delsin comes into contact with one of the prisoners, activating his dormant Conduit gene and changing his life forever. After this incident, Delsin can use the power of smoke to teleport, fire bursts of flame and smoke from his hands and turn his (emo) wallet chain into a lethal whip of doom.
Tricked by another conduit named Augustine, head of the D.U.P and an all around evil broad, Delsin is left injured, as are many of his Akomish friends and family. Delsin’s disapproving big brother Reggie tells him that Augustine and the D.U.P have gone to Seattle to capture the escaped Conduits. Not only that, but Delsin will have to gain Augustine’s power to stop a concrete shard from slowly killing him – which would be a bit of a bummer, in fairness. This whole section is fine as a little wallop of exposition and all, but its what comes next that makes Second Son such an amazing game.
Once you get to Seattle you are (mostly) free to roam around the city, freeing areas from the tyranny of the D.U.P, doing story missions and side quests or just experimenting with your powers. If you are anything like me you will experiment a lot. Lets talk a bit about smoke – and no I don’t mean the “jolly green giant” variety. I mean Delsin’s primary power in Second Son. Many buildings in Seattle have vents near the base. Dashing into these vents using your smoke ability will see Delsin blast through the building and out through a chimney/rooftop vent. Gone are the days of sluggishly clambering up buildings, replaced by a simple yet elegant manoeuvre that just so happens to look visually awesome. As a fan of sluggishly clambering up buildings, I was unsure how I would feel about this. Well… the truth is, it dramatically improves the pace of exploration in Second Son’s free roam Seattle.
It’s worth noting that you can still parkour up walls. It’s not gone. But after using Delsin’s smoke power for a bit, you will notice that you don’t really feel like doing it anymore. Guess that means, it probably wasn’t actually all that fun after all. You receive additional powers later in the game like Neon, which allow you to run up the sides of buildings – almost completely negating the parkour aspect of the game made famous in previous incarnations. Your powers aren’t just about exploration obviously, they are also about murder and mayhem; or assault and restraint, depending on your alignment and all that.
Each power (neon, smoke etc.) come’s with a unique skillset. Interestingly they are all relatively similar, in that they typically have a dash move, a projectile, a melee attack, a grenade, a heavy attack and a karmic bomb (super mega awesome attack). They do feel different though. I mean, while using smoke you will play heavy style – focusing heavy attacks and grenades on your enemies. Use neon however and you will find yourself playing fast and smart – dashing, meleeing from behind, sniping and all that. Changing your power is done by absorbing that element from the environment. When playing with the smoke skillset, absorbing smoke from fires or burning vehicles will see you fill up your gauge. Want to change to neon? Find a neon sign or modded car and drag the neon out of it to change your skillset while refilling your gauge. It’s a great system that forces players to experiment with more than a single power and quite a departure from the over-abundance of powers accessible to the player in inFamous 2.
A change from previous inFamous games is the removal of the controversial cover system, meaning that players will really need to use their powers in combat scenarios instead of hunkering down behind cover like a generic space marine. You’re a superhero for gods sake, bloody well act like one!
You can use shards to upgrade your abilities, but many of your skills will be locked to a specific alignment. To see all moves in the game, you will have to play through as both hero and villain. Same goes for the story, obviously. As with previous titles, inFamous Second Son features a karma system. Do too many bad things and you will start to become all villainous – the people will despise and fear you, you will look decidedly more evil and the story will adapt accordingly. Be good and people will cheer for you in the streets, you will look clean and virtuous as virgin snow, while the story will chart your progression from lowly rebel to mighty saviour.
The karma system has never been very diverse and feels, if anything, more restricted in this outing. For example, there are anti-conduit protest groups in the streets. Apparently killing these groups nets you negative Karma. In my first playthrough I was the good guy (as per the norm) and assumed that shooting a blast in the midst of this hate inciting racist group (without actually killing anyone) would scatter the mob and net me some good karma. No, of course not. It was deemed an assault and lobbed some bad karma onto my nearly unblemished record. Stupid fascists… stupid morality… There are other incidents like this in the main story itself, which I can’t discuss here, as I’m trying to keep the review spoiler free.
The game looks absolutely incredible, truly screaming next-gen in every frame. The facial animations in the cutscenes were the highlight for me. Never have I seen such beautifully rendered emotions. You can clearly tell when a character is being sarcastic, suppressing a smile… hell you can almost tell if the character is biting their tongue. It’s really a sight to behold. It helps that Troy Baker, golden boy of the hour, gives such a stellar performance as bad boy anti-authoritarian Delsin Rowe. The supporting cast including love interest, Fetch Walker and big brother Reggie Rowe, are all quite good but never get the same chances to shine as Troy/Delsin.
The city of Seattle itself is rendered beautifully with some absolutely incredible vistas on offer throughout the town, including the space needle herself. Lighting and particle effects take centre stage in inFamous Second Son with the game serving as a fine demo for the capabilities of the PS4. When Delsin does a single smoke dash he breaks into over 11,000 individual particles. Wow. There are probably less particles in real smoke… am I right?
Although the city does look amazing there is not a whole lot to do in it. Exploring is fun, but sadly most of the side missions on offer are variations of the same three or four archetypes. Find an audio log. Locate the secret agent. Tag some graffiti on a wall. Rinse. Repeat… It’s such a shame really, considering how much work has clearly gone into making this feel like a living breathing world. People go about their lives and react to the environment in a believable manner. Litter blows throughout the streets and birds fly in the sky. Raindrops form puddles that reflect the neon glow of the city at night. There is still a lot to do in inFamous Second Son, it just sucks that it isn’t a bit more varied.
The audio has to be talked about here. I thought the original inFamous had one of the best videogame soundtracks of all time, coming from the mind of none other than Amon Tobin, but I have to say that the grungey sounds of Second Son are a bit more up my alley. Having a Nirvana song play during the credits gave me chills, especially considering the setting of the game. When low on health a haunting song plays through the speaker of the PS4 controller itself as opposed to the TV itself. When Delsin shakes a spray can, we also hear it through the controller. It’s an easy call to say that Second Son is the first game to really capitalize on the uses of the DS4’s speaker.
The game is pretty lengthy taking between 12 and 15 hours to complete, not including side missions, collectibles and district liberations. It’s a game you will definitely play through more than once, if only to see the flip side of your karmic coin.
TL:DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read)
After a shaky opening, I was a little worried that Second Son wouldn’t live up to the glory of the first inFamous. How wrong I was… Second Son is Sucker Punches magnum opus. It’s a game that oozes quality at every turn; from the visuals, to the sound, to the story, to the world design, to the gameplay… It’s the first game that you truly need to own a PS4 for. It gets so much right and so little wrong that there is no way I couldn’t recommend it to anyone. In the game a passing NPC uttered the words “More soul than Cole” to me. That statement is representative of my feelings towards this inFamous outing. Thank you Sucker Punch… Thank you so much.
Now to go be an evil git… mu hu ha ha ha ha!!!!!