inFAMOUS: Second Son
In 2011, Sucker Punch improved on the solid Infamous formula tremendously. The once-unbalanced game design was fixed up, making it a more fair and fun experience, while the story continued the good-or-evil morality tale you could take Cole McGrath down. The setting was changed from the New York-esque Empire City to the New Orleans-style New Morais, the scope was much bigger right away with the human-sized Cole battling against a screen-filling Beast, and there was even user-generated content to theoretically give the game unlimited replay value. Second Son takes place after the end of Cole’s life, with him being revered as a legend amongst the general population. Now, Delsin Rowe is out to make sense of what his powers mean after an accident, while inadvertently carrying on Cole’s legacy as a misunderstood youth, although with society as a whole more accepting of conduits, the choice between whether to do good or evil is much easier to make.
Delsin is a grafitti artist and general mischief-maker who loves his tribe and his brother Reggie. Reggie saves him at the start of the game, and acts as an adviser ala Zeke throughout the adventure in Seattle – so in the universe of Infamous, you’ve got real and fictional places in it just like a comic book. Despite being brothers, Reggie and Delsin’s chemistry is a bit lacking, and the end result is Reggie feeling like a bit player. This issue is compounded by his character being far less entertaining or defined than Zeke’s too. He’s a nice cop at times, but he’s also a bit bigoted against conduits, and has a lot of surface-level traits that go through surface-level evolution. Reggie as a main character is also less entertaining than Cole, leading to new side characters like the honestly-compelling reformed junkie-turned-conduit Fetch.
The big evil-doer in this game is Augustine, a power-hungry conduit who hates conduits despite being one, and aims to cage up every last one of them and torture them beyond belief. It drove some insane, while others were driven to do good things to prevent that from happening to others, like Fetch. She’s also out to avenge the death of her brother as a result of drug dealers, and there’s a huge anti-drug message throughout the game that wasn’t in past entries – and helps Second Son stand out a bit. The core mechanics are about the same as before, for better or worse. You gain a new power, learn it by getting a power core, try it out, then get some missions opened up that allow you to use it before moving things along. New to the series is the ability to learn a variety of different powers. This may sound like Prototype’s setup in theory, but the execution is different.
You won’t be turning into a pseudo-Hulk or Venom here. Instead, you just gain new abilities that act very similarly to your starting smoke powers, just with a different energy or elemental property and visual effect. This gives you an accelerated way to move around, a variety of combo melee attacks, and a long-shot attack to take enemies out from a distance. Like prior games, a skill tree is present to give you new abilities and make your skillset more powerful. Given that you’ll frequently find yourself up against tons of enemies at once, you’ll want to upgrade at least one ability as much as you can quickly to help overthrow the little HQ areas you come across during your journey.
The core game feels a lot like the first two, with parkour and action, but the mission variety is a bit lacking. Main missions are how you’ll spend the majority of your time, while some busywork is given to you in the form of clearing out mobile command units to actually play an unlocked mission. Missions are at least varied up, with some being heavy on combat, others requiring some stealth, or even some investigation. Sadly, the once-expansive amount of side missions is now gone. This means you’ll have a lot less to do than before, and the user-generated content and mission feature of Infamous 2 is gone.
While much of the game does feel a bit samey, there are some new Dual Shock 4-specific mechanics that help freshen things up a bit. Swiping on the touchpad can allow you to free captured conduits, get some juice for your powers, or lift up giant voltage things to punch them. The first two sections work out really well, but the last one is a bit clunky. Similarly, the spray paint mechanic requiring you to hold the controller sideways isn’t really comfortable. Luckily, it winds up being pretty fun thanks to some perfect sound effect work with the spraying and especially the can rattle coming from the controller speaker.
Despite some excellent flourishes with the Dual Shock 4, the gameplay just doesn’t quite feel like you would imagine a next-gen entry in a sandbox series to feel. There’s a lot of clipping through parts of the environment, and it’s possible to get stuck in the environment as well. This happened to me at a point requiring me to redo part of a mission. Luckily, it only took me a minute to get back to where I was since it had just begun, but it’s still not something you expect from a next-gen game. Sure, patching can fix that issue, but nothing beyond the graphics has really been taken to the next level.
Speaking of which, the graphics are gorgeous on the whole, but do have some notable flaws. Like prior entries, flashy lighting effects result in some stunning sights at every point in the game. Early on, you’ll be impressed by the sun and water reflections. Later, the neon will grab your attention alongside the rain puddles that accumulate and glisten during a night time storm. The end result is a dazzling game whether it’s day time or night, but flaws dampen the overall beauty. After seeing what the tail end of the PS3’s lifespan was able to produce with faces in Beyond and The Last of Us, it’s only natural to hold next-gen games to a standard that a least meets that. Sadly, Second Son falls short in that regard.
Every face has a smoothed-over look that prevents them from looking as distinct as they should. The devs chose to face-map the cast, which was good in the sense that everyone looks realistic in a way, but the end result still has an uncanny valley effect with eyes and the faces overall. The old woman Betty was the first character I noticed this problem with because in theory, all of the lines should look good and add a sense of experience to her face. While wrinkles are there, they don’t make much sense because there’s a smattering of them and the rest of her skin is just perfect – she looks unrealistic. Similarly, every male has a smoothed-over face with either a generic haircut or their hair is covered up like Delsin’s. Fetch’s hair is a bit more advanced, but winds up looking as unrealistic as Lara Croft’s hair in the last-gen versions of the Tomb Raider reboot. Similarly, the foliage doesn’t look as hot as you would expect. The game begins with an immediate shot of some iffy-looking trees, and things like shrubs and other greenery can get in the way of the camera.
The sound design impressed me quite a bit. The subdued soundtrack was a surprise, but a welcome one. Most games beat you over the head with pure noise, but this one lets you relax. It’s fitting that it’s set in a coffee house-filled area, because the laid back vibe makes it a less stressful experience. Death seems less irritating here than in other sandbox games, and that’s a very good thing. There is music and it is pretty rocking, but beyond getting your blood pumped for battles, it’s not likely to stick with you after a play session. The cast features a lot of veteran talent, including Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, and her husband Travis Willingham – who would be quite familiar to modern-day anime fans. They all do a fine job, but their characters aren’t given enough depth to really do much with. As mentioned before, the sound effects for tagging are incredible, and the effect work for everything is impressive. Zooming through the world sounds like it should, and every attack is satisfying.
Despite not quite looking or feeling like a fully next-gen game, Infamous: Second Son still delivers a well-crafted experience. The storyline is compelling enough to justify going through it, and while the loss of side mission hurts the quantity of content, there’s a lot of variety in the main missions. Delsin controls like a dream and I hope his second adventure winds up being like Cole’s – a dramatic improvement over the first. Second Son is a very good game overall, but is definitely lacking in content and as a result, it falls short of the second installment. With that said, if you wanted more of the same kind of experience and enjoyed prior entries, this will scratch your itch for the series nicely. Casual fans would get the most out of a rental, while die-hards will definitely be able to get their money’s worth out of the game at full price.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
This review is based on a retail copy of inFAMOUS: Second Son for the PlayStation 4 provided by Sony Computer Entertainment.