Infamous: Second Son (Review)

infamous-second-son-box-artThe first massive exclusive on the PS4 since launch day’s Killzone: Shadow Fall is finally here. The adventures of the lightning-powered Cole in the first two games were well received by PlayStation gamers, so it’s fair to say the pressure’s on for Sucker Punch’s debut PS4 game.

The story is set in a world that’s been reeling since Conduits -people with super powers – started appearing seven years earlier, causing widespread destruction and paranoia across America. Since the events of Infamous 2, Conduits have been branded Bio Terrorists and rounded up by the DUP -the Department of Unified Protection. The DUP is run by a sadistic turncoat Conduit Brooke Augustine, who has an ability to create concrete structures or painful torture spikes at will. This earned her a feared reputation amongst both Conduits and regular citizens. There are dark shades of McCarthyism and the similarities to the early X-Men movies or TV’s Heroes are plain to see.

The game’s star Delsin Rowe, is a member of the Native American Indian Akomish tribe. He’s also a local vandal with a penchant for graffiti with a ‘sticking it to the man’ (and his older cop brother) mentality. If that doesn’t have you rolling your eyes, his hipster punk clothing certainly will. The denim vest, skinny jeans and beanie combo is there to stay for the duration. Thankfully, the infinitely more likable Troy Baker (The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite) is on fine voiceover form to warm us to him.

Delsin only realises he’s a Conduit when he encounters an escaped Bio Terrorist. It turns out he’s something of a power sponge, meaning he absorbs the ability of any Conduit he touches. This results in his tribe being tortured by the corrupt DUP leader, forming the incentive for him and his brother to travel to Seattle to settle things. While initially terrified of his newfound conduit status, it isn’t long before Delsin realises that it’s actually the coolest thing he could have ever hoped for.

We’d have to agree. He begins with the smoke ability, allowing him to shoot fireballs, engulf a chain in fire for melee attacks, gliding and being able to turn into a fiery cloud to speed dash or travel through vents to reach a rooftop almost instantly. Combat in these early stages feels very limited. The melee moves have a loose auto targeting to them, but they still feel wild and lack any serious weight. Instead, you may find working on your ranged attacks to be more rewarding.

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As you make your way around the Seattle, you need to climb buildings via window ledges and brickwork outcrops. The thing is, after playing so much of Assassin’s Creed IV in the last few months, Delsin climbs like he’s wearing boxing gloves. He’s slow, his jump animation is overly floaty and many ledges require multiple hops before you’ll attach.

I was getting seriously concerned to be honest, but thankfully, later abilities get around the horrible climbing by making it obsolete. Sucker Punch have gone to great lengths to only talk about two of Delsin’s powers, so I’ll do the same and not spoil the other one. Yeah, there’s only one more. It would seem that Seattle’s Conduit population is a bit sparse.

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I’m delighted to tell you about Neon though. After about three hours, you manage to hunt down this new colourful skill. The ranged attack is faster and decidedly more accurate and the neon melee blade feels so much more focussed than the chain. More important though is the way neon allows you to move.

When playing as someone with super powers in games, I’ve always found that how you move around the world to be the most important part. Spiderman 2 on PS2 nailed web-slinging and Prototype was enormous fun when leaping over entire buildings. Conversely, those of you that endured the tiresome flying or super sprinting in DC Universe Online will understand how integral movement is to the sandbox super hero experience.

Thankfully, Infamous eventually nails some seriously empowering landscape traversal skills. With the neon ability, Delsin can run faster and straight up walls as he morphs into a pink and blue neon vapour trail, dashing around like a living Vegas casino sign. It gets even better as you level up and the third ability is even better. No spoilers though.

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In a sensible world, we would be allowed to change between Smoke and Neon powers with the touch of a button. Sadly, Delsin must find a smoking chimney or a neon sign to both top up his ‘ammo’ for ranged attacks and switch powers. While Seattle’s map is well populated with opportunities to switch, it feels like a chore and adds an unwelcome rigidity to the combat. On the other hand, you’ll want to leave Smoke behind as soon as possible once you get hold of Neon and the last power.

It wouldn’t be an Infamous game without the morality system. Will you steer Delsin towards becoming the saviour of Seattle, or its biggest threat? At numerous points, you’re given the chance to be the good guy or take a darker path. Most of these choices relate to what you do with fellow Conduits when you catch them. Do you manipulate them to become violent and vengeful or to use their powers for good? Will you have them knock out the drug dealers and destroy their stash or just murder them all?

Truth be told, I’ve played through the game’s story twice and the choices have little impact. Typically, there are only slight variations on cutscenes. With choices in games like Fallout 3 or Telltale’s The Walking Dead sending shockwaves through their games, Second Son’s feel dated and disappointing.

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That said, Infamous: Second Son IS worth playing through twice thanks to the combat skill-tree unlocks that are unique to your karma status. There’s no room for conflicting morality though, you’ll need to fully invest in being a hero or villain as your karma level has multiple stages to level up and some skills only unlock at the furthest branches of good/evil.

For my first playthrough, I went all in on being an utter bastard. See an injured citizen, run on over and give them a boot. Beat up street musicians. Kill enemies, even surrendering ones. Waste protesters. All of these things earn you evil karma, which go towards levelling Delsin up. The longer you play, the easier it becomes to earn these points for killing anything in sight. All this carnage also goes towards earning a special clearing move that destroys everything around you.

However, playing the game as a hero requires a bit more finesse. That special screen-clearing move for example, must be earned by efficiently fighting the DUP and being mindful of the innocent folk of Seattle. You need to rack up a series of non-lethal takedowns or hero karma points (destroy drug dealer stashes, free innocent detainees etc) in order to earn an attack. Accidentally kill a citizen and it’s reset.

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As you level up though, this becomes easier to do. For example, an advanced Neon ranged attack gives you the option of shooting enemies’ feet to take them out of the fight peacefully. Firing a smoke blast to the face as a hero will daze an opponent allowing you to dash over and knock them out. Grenade-like attacks go from lethal (as evil Delsin) to dazing attacks.

The lack of consequence when playing as a bad guy can make the action feel a bit button-bashy. But play as a hero and you’ll carefully consider each move and the game feels much better for it, albeit a tougher challenge as you attempt more accurate shots while under fire from large numbers of DUP soldiers.

At a distance, DUP soldiers are alarmingly accurate with their guns and the concrete-powered ones can leap around buildings and attach to any wall to get a clear shot at you. This forces you to stay on your toes throughout as it doesn’t take much for Delsin to be killed and it’s hard work finding a quiet corner to recover.

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With this being a platform exclusive, I was keen to see how it stacks up visually. It’s a notable improvement over the PS2 games, but it isn’t a massive departure from the excellent visuals offered by something like The Last of Us, but this is early days for the PS4 and Naughty Dog’s game raised the bar on a console that they mastered like nobody else.

However, Seattle looks extremely realistic and the lighting especially is often jaw dropping. The use of an in-game sun produces some gorgeous scenes on the always-wet streets. Look at the detail on the roads or the views from atop the Space Needle you’ll marvel at the clarity of it all. When the sun goes down though, Seattle is a very dark city, with only the neon lights brightening the rainy streets. Infamous’s biggest disadvantage though is a general fatigue for open-world cities. Sure, this is probably the best-looking one yet, but at the end of the day, it’s just another city with apartment buildings and a few skyscrapers. Compare it to the rich open worlds of Far Cry 3 or Assassin’s Creed IV and Seattle rarely inspires beyond a technical achievement perspective.

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On the plus side, you’re not forced to spend 40 hours there to finish it -let’s face it, GTA V was too long. You can earn enough XP to max out most skills and finish the game in around ten hours for each playthrough. However, there are extra hours available if you enjoy hunting down collectibles -sorry Sucker Punch, you can’t call them ‘side missions.’

Small drones containing Blast Shards (currency for upgrades) can be shot down, audio logs can be tracked down on your phone, DUP secret agents need to be hunted and tiny spy cameras are to be destroyed. DUP bases can be cleared to force them out of each district too. The best distractions though are the stencil graffiti minigames that see you holding the DualShock 4 like a spray can. In a neat touch, the controller’s speaker is used to replicate the spray can’s rattling sound.

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The minimap is packed with these distractions and provides a moreish experience to keep the game going after the end credits or inbetween missions. Missions that unsurprisingly follow the open world format of go from A-B, clear out the enemies, chase someone or blow something up. But with lots of Trophies available for you completionists, you’ll find many reasons to stick around Seattle.

If you’re hoping Infamous: Second Son shakes up the open-world or super hero genre, then you’re going to be left feeling a little disappointed as this is arguably just a prettier take on the last two games. The morality system has a minimal impact on the story and missions, but it does at least offer enough combat variations to warrant two playthroughs. The ten-hour running time for a basic playthrough is just right though and the game hands out new powers and exciting traversal skills at a suitable pace to keep the action feeling fresh with the promise of something even better being just around the corner throughout.

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Positives

  • Some excellent super-powered travelling skills
  • Unique Hero/Villain skills ensure two playthroughs
  • Frequently gorgeous
  • Voice acting is solid

Negatives

  • Manual climbing is awful
  • Seattle is just another open world city
  • Smoke skills are lame in comparison to others
  • Moral choices barely affect story

8/10

All images are author’s own, captured on the PS4.

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