PlayStation 4-owning superhero fanatics now have something to cheer about, thanks to the launch of Sucker Punch Productions’ inFAMOUS: Second Son. Then again, the sandbox action title’s release is a welcomed sight for all of the new fangled console’s early adopters, because the device has severely lacked exclusive retail titles since its November debut. Though one game won’t solve that problem, this one will definitely help Sony’s cause, thanks to its series’ popularity. its own much-anticipated status and its jaw-dropping visuals.
Second Son marks the morality-based inFAMOUS franchise’s third full retail release, and is the first one to lack Cole McGrath and his explosive electrical powers. Taking his place this time around is one Delsin Rowe, a twenty-something native, who brings a more whimsical personality to the forefront. A slacker with a penchant for causing mischief, he’s certainly different from what we’ve become used to, and that may not sit well with some gamers.
This somewhat short campaign begins on an average day in the northwestern American state of Washington. There, we’re introduced to Delsin as he’s about to partake in one of his favourite past-time activities: stencil art graffiti. You see, our new protagonist likes to stir up some trouble during his downtime, and has no qualms about defacing billboards; even ones that bear the image of his brother, the reservation’s law-enforcing sheriff.
Acting as some sort of mind reader — or at least someone who happens to have impeccable timing — Reggie Rowe drives into a nearby parking lot just as his brother is about to finish up his paint-based defamation. His flashing sirens and their instantly recognizable sound lead to both surprise and worry for his lawbreaking younger brother, who does his best to get away before eventually being captured. Jail time doesn’t follow, though, because a chain of life-changing events is set into motion mere moments later. It all begins with the crash of a truck containing three conduits (or bio-terrorists as the fiction’s shadowy D.U.P. organization calls them), which leads to Delsin becoming a conduit himself as a result of contact with an escapee bearing smoke-based superpowers.
The majority of the game takes place in a beautifully-crafted and incredibly detailed rendition of Seattle, and has Delsin attempting to overthrow the D.U.P. and its female leader, Augustine. His primary goal isn’t to bring them to justice for their detention and poor treatment of many captured conduits, but to find a cure for his fellow tribesmen who were injured in a confrontation with the organization which followed the unexpected car crash. The noted injuries aren’t presented as normal things like broken legs and other human afflictions, and are instead the result of Augustine and her ability to use concrete-based shards to her advantage during combat engagements. Their cure? The same power utilized in reverse.
As you’ve surely determined, the storyline found within inFAMOUS: Second Son is incredibly campy. Not only that, but it also borrows heavily from other famous comic book narratives. As such, I caution you to go in with an open mind and tempered expectations. Also go in knowing that the writing isn’t exceptional and the overall narrative is simply decent, which is partially due to its lack of originality. It’s certainly far from unforgettable, but serves its purpose pretty well in what is, in the end, a game about human beings with special powers that get their origins from things like smoke, concrete, and neon.
Gameplay-wise, this third inFAMOUS title is much like its predecessors, albeit more refined and slightly altered. At its core, Second Son plays like a mixture of Assassin’s Creed, a generalized third-person shooter and a typical superhero game. You’re essentially tasked with running, floating, dashing and climbing through the city in order to complete story-related missions or one of several different side activities (stencil art graffiti, surveillance camera destruction, civilian assistance, disguised enemy detection and regional takeovers).
With the side operations, the general idea is that you’re attempting to do anything you can to drive the evil D.U.P. and its armored forces out of Seattle, one region at a time. You complete three to five-minute-long tasks to lower their hold on each area, then instigate an all-out final conflict to dismantle the leftover grunts.
Delsin’s progression is aided by one of his longest-serving allies, his brother Reggie. However, as players make their way through this several hour-long quest line (which is elongated by side missions), they will meet new friends and gain new abilities from them. As a result, Delsin’s starting smoke power — which includes projectile pellets, concrete-destroying bombs, paralyzing sulfur and the ability to dash through gates and vents — ends up being added to with three other types. Unfortunately, the last one you receive can only be used for the final boss, and then for whatever clean-up you have remaining. Thankfully, that isn’t the case with the other two — neon and video — which factor heavily into the campaign itself.
Each player will develop his or her own favourite, but the truth is that you’ll need to utilize each power properly if you wish to see the end credits, as this isn’t an easy game and Delsin is a tad on the weak side. While smoke is great when you’re on the offensive, it’s not great as a defensive power. Neon is better, because, in addition to its beam shots and stun shots, it also offers an insanely fast dash move that can get you out of trouble effectively. Video, on the other hand, is based around angels and demons, and that means you’ll be shooting out homing swords, have the ability to use angel wings for limited flight and get to turn invisible to stealth attack foes. Each one has its own special melee weapon, too, such as a set of chains and a badass digitized sword.
Neon’s motion-blurring sprint ability is helpful for getting to the top of buildings quickly, and so are the angel wings that come with video. Both options will quickly become your go-to techniques over traditional wall-climbing. That’s because, although Second Son does its best to emulate the seamless climbing that Assassin’s Creed made famous, its fluidity is lacking in comparison. For the most part, the mechanic works well, but Delsin can’t climb on everything. That led to some frustration whenever I’d go to scale something that looked climbable, but wouldn’t get any results.
How you use your powers will predominantly be up to you, but, as mentioned above, they each have their pros and cons depending on where you are and what you need to do. Also, whether you use them to kill your D.U.P. foes, or simply disable them, is up to you. Avoiding murder and helping the people of Seattle will give you good (blue) karma points, while being bad earns red karma points. Your alignment isn’t just a visual identifier, though, because it determines which power-ups will become available to you as you level-up.
In my play-through, I chose to be a good guy, which is what I always tend to do in morality-based games. However, I’ll likely go through again as a bad guy. It’ll be interesting to see what Evil Delsin is like, because I liked the good version, apart from some of his overly cheesy dialogue. On top of that, I also disliked the fact that there wasn’t a button for switching powers,which would’ve made things a lot easier. Instead, you have to find a source item (a smokey vent, a neon sign or a satellite antenna) to refill your meters.
The main issue with inFAMOUS: Second Son, though, is that it feels a bit dated. It looks fantastic, but hasn’t evolved in the interactive content department. That’s not a huge issue, because the first two games were so much fun, but I expected more from the series’ PS4 debut. In the end, it’s still a fun experience; it’s just that its wow factors predominantly come from its visual department.
In all honesty, this might be the best-looking game I’ve ever played, and that’s saying a lot considering that it’s an open-world sandbox title. The main characters’ models all look lifelike, and emote in a nearly flawless way. However, it’s the city of Seattle that is the star of the show, especially on clear days and rainy nights. The amount of detail in the environments is staggering, and the lighting is unbelievably realistic. You really need to see this thing for yourself, because it’ll blow you away the first time you set eyes on it. When you get a chance to see stores’ neon signs reflect in puddles of leftover rain water, you’ll be hard-pressed to find words.
The game’s audio elements are also impressive, and only come with one minor flaw. That is, the fact that some of the dialogue — which is delivered by quality voice actors — can be a bit hard to hear at times. The sound effects were always boisterous, though, so what I experienced may have been a slight sound mixing issue.
While inFAMOUS: Second Son may not be the phenomenally entertaining next-gen masterpiece that we were all hoping for, it’s still a very solid game overall. On top of that, it is quite possibly the best-looking title ever crafted, and that’s saying a lot. If you’re a fan of the series, and/or the genre itself, you should definitely give it a chance.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 exclusive, which we were provided with.
inFAMOUS: Second Son is a visceral treat to behold and a fun game overall, but it's on the short side and features slightly dated gameplay designs.