Infamous: Second Son Review – 3 steps forward, 2 steps back

Infamous: Second Son makes its debut as the PS4’s showcase title, with amazing graphics, much improved gameplay over it’s predecessors, a much better lead character, and streamlined story. Unfortunately, the open world doesn’t really feel like a world and antiquated boss fight designs keep the game from being something truly amazing and makes the game merely something really good.

Delsin is a far more likable character than Cole ever was.

It’s the story, of a man named Delsin

Right off the bat, the story introduces us to Delsin Rowe, a Native American, living on a Akomish reservation just outside of Seattle, Washington, and immediately I preferred him to Cole McGrath (protagonist/antagonist of the first 2 Infamous games). As voiced and performance captured by video games’ number one leading man and vocal chameleon, Troy Baker, Delsin is likable, lighthearted, and just plain old fun to play and listen to.

The way Sucker Punch establishes Delsin plays right into the moral choices that will play out for the rest of the game. Rebellious, and anti-establishment, with a strong sense of family and community, he can easily be tipped either way and depending on which path the player will choose, both make sense. It’s smart writing that plays subtly into the good/evil (Hero/Infamous) mechanic that has been with the franchise since its inception.

Accompanying Delsin on this journey is his older, police officer brother, Reggie. Immediately we get the sense that these two brothers have a bond, but it’s strained due to their beliefs and respective views on authority. They have great chemistry and thanks to the beauty of Sucker Punch’s engine, their scenes together really are the heart of the story.

Delsin’s supporting cast is also much better this time around, albeit it could be because none of them overstay their welcome. To go further would be to spoil the story, but these supporting characters come and go with a relative quickness that left me wanting to know more about them, but at the end of the day, this is Delsin’s story and it’s a pretty good one – for the most part.

Yes, there are some caveats in terms of story and character development. As I mentioned earlier, Delsin’s supporting cast are all likable, however, they don’t leave much of an impression on Delsin and the story overall. They serve their purpose and help move Delsin’s story forward, but I never felt any real connection between the characters, besides Reggie and Delsin. There is even romance shoehorned in, though playing as Infamous, it feels more like what it really is – a hook up, and not a budding relationship. Nevermind the story threads the game introduces and just abandons.

Also, there is a lot of lip service paid to the oppression of the inhabitants of Seattle under the watching eye and crushing thumb of the Department of Unified Protection (D.U.P.). Much like the supporting characters, it’s there and serves a functional purpose but there isn’t any real connection between the characters, NPCs and the oppressive world we are told they’re living in. In short, I saw it, but I never felt it.

As everyone who enjoys comics and, well, any good hero story – anti or otherwise – needs a good villain. Infamous: Second Son has you covered with Augustine. Complex, charismatic, chilling in her resolve to capture and detain conduits at any cost, Christine Dunfords performance is top notch and worthy of Naughty Dog levels of praise.  Every confrontation between her and Delsin is tense, interesting and a whole lot of fun.

Sucker Punch knocked the visuals out of the park. Seattle looks gorgeous.

What a vision

It should surprise absolutely no one Infamous: Second Son is a gorgeous game. It is truly the first completely “next-gen” looking game on the PS4 and is a fantastic showpiece for what the system can do. The rain soaked streets of Seattle reflect light like no other game I’ve seen, making it feel like a real life place, and in all honesty, screen shots could make it look like a real life photo. Seattle is beautifully realized and colorful, with neon trimmings and store signs, smoke puffing from rooftop smokestacks and parks and concrete.

In motion it’s even more stunning. The character animations are fluid and believable, without the video game jerkiness that even some of the very best games have on offer. And those particle effects. Whew. The seamless transitions from Delsin in full form, turning into cinder and smoke as he dashes, and the way his powers illuminate the surfaces around him is breath taking.

Out of all the powers, Neon is my favourite overall.

I’ve got the power

Highlighting the gorgeous animations and graphics is the gameplay. Infamous: Second Son is easily my favourite game in the franchise in terms of mechanics, controls and above all, powers. While Smoke definitely has its advantages, the second power, Neon, really opens up the game in truly interesting ways when it comes to combat and traversal.

One of the most significant changes to the series is how Delsin acquires new powers or upgrades to his existing ones. Without spoiling the story, Delsin comes across his new abilities in a way that is not unlike that of Rogue from X-Men. He simply touches another Conduit and he can then take on their abilities only without killing them or completely draining them. They’re also not temporary.

Expanding on the abilities is done by collecting blast shards instead of traversing through wonky platform levels like the first two games. Once he has collected enough shards, and is the proper morality level, he can spend those shards on upgrades. Also depending on your moral alignment, different abilities will be either be attainable or locked off completely.  One such example is in the Neon power tree; playing as a Hero will give you access to the ability to slow down time and make more precise, non-lethal shots. Playing as an Infamous character, no such ability is available since you really don’t care to use non-lethal takedowns.

Neon has some other neat features that greatly affect the way you maneuver around the city and makes jumping up buildings a completely inadequate, cumbersome and flat-out antiquated way of getting around. I wouldn’t dare spoil this for you, because when you first discover it, it’s pretty incredible. Upgrading it fully is even better.

There are other powers in the game that I also wouldn’t dare spoil, but if you’re really interested in spoiling them for your self, there are plenty of avenues available to you on the internet. Be warned though, doing so will greatly diminish the “wow” factor when you finally get to play then.

In combat, combining different attacks and dashes will be paramount to surviving as nearly every enemy you encounter not only has super powers as well, but come bearing absurd accuracy when shooting their weapons and firing a gun in your direction. Using “grenades” to incapacitate a group of enemies, then dashing to them to take them down, of firing a projectile blast at them with devastating results works well and different enemies require different tactics. All of this keeps the frequent enemy encounters interesting and engaging.

Citizens in Second Son’s Seattle pay no mind to the constant surveillance by the D.U.P.

It’s a small world after all

Sucker Punch has clearly put a lot of detail and work into the Infamous version of Seattle in terms of aesthetics. While I have never been to the city, judging from pictures, they have done an excellent job creating a stylized version of their hometown, albeit truncated.

The main issue with this version of Seattle is that besides what Delsin is doing, living there seems awfully boring. The citizens of Seattle do very little beyond drive, walk holding coffee, or have their face in their phone. While I suppose this could be seen as a scathing commentary on modern city living, somehow I don’t think this is the case, and more of a budget and time limitation, but we live in a post-GTA V world now, and creating an open world game without much of a world isn’t going to cut it.

Side missions don’t vary much from district to district beyond the quantity of each particular activity. Thankfully all of them are incredibly brief save for taking down mobile enemy command centers which requires a lot of the aforementioned combat. My favourite activity in the game is spray painting, a sort of minigame. When you approach each new spot, you are given a choice of “good” or “bad’ with blue and red directionals on the d-pad respectively. Shaking the DualShock 4 begins the activity (shaking it while painting emits the sound of shaking a spray can from the controller’s speaker which is all kinds of neat) and using the motion control of the DualShock 4 in tandem with the R2 button sprays over a stencil. Usually you will have to do this 2-3 times and then the game will go to black for a second as it loads the final picture. The art is always good and sometimes quite amusing. I honestly never got tired of doing these and wish there were more of them.

The rest of the side activities consist of chasing down little drones that contain blast shards, finding and eliminating “secret agents,” tracking and finding audio logs and finding and destroying hidden cameras. None are incredibly taxing and offer a brief distraction which is welcome since completing these activities allows for 100% clearing of the district. The fact that they’re all really brief keeps it from getting monotonous and tedious.

Those are actual, in game graphics. This game is just stunning.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Ah, boss fights, a remnant of games spanning decades, forcing the player into an arena to contend with tells, patterns and timing. Well, if you have a soft spot for these time worn passages of gamer cred, Infamous: Second Son has got you covered. 4 times in fact. For me, while I have nothing against new games including boss fights, the way they are implemented here is jarring, at times silly, and completely antiquated when compared to the advances Sucker Punch has made with the technology and tools at their disposal. These confrontations took me completely out of the open-world environment, feel completely static and one of them is frustratingly cheap.

Filling up your Karma meter will give Delsin an enemy devastating Karma Bomb taking out anyone in its blast radius.

The son sets in the west

Infamous: Second Son, the PS4’s supposed “killer app” has finally arrived in style and beauty. The mechanics are refined, seamless, and provide a lot of variety in how the player can approach each combat scenario and confrontation and navigation has never been better and more fun. Also, Delsin Rowe and the supporting cast are the absolute strongest Sucker Punch has ever crafted. Unfortunately, the world leaves a lot to be desired, the story lacks meat on its beautiful bones, beyond a few power upgrades morality feels inconsequential and boss fights are vestiges of design decisions long past their prime. Here’s hoping that in Second Son 2, Sucker Punch takes what they have achieved here and expands that to the world surrounding our hero/villain.

Sean played played 100% of Second Son as a Hero character and 45% as an Infamous character for this review. He was not provided a copy of the game for review purposes.

8/10+ It’s gorgeous
+ Delsin is a much better character than Cole
+ Reggie and supporting cast are well acted and likable
+ Augustine is a good villain
+ The powers are awesome
+ Combat and traversal are vastly improved
+ Spray Painting minigame
-World feels empty and lifeless
-Boss fights feel antiquated and uninspired
-Story somewhat undercooked
-Morality seems inconsequential

Available on: PlayStation 4

Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4

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