Sucker Punch’s inFAMOUS: Second Son is the first major 2014 exclusive for Sony’s PlayStation 4, the game fans have been waiting for since it was announced alongside the console early last year. The third game in the inFAMOUS series brings back the idea of super-powered individuals with a new protagonist in Delsin Rowe and a new setting in real-world Seattle, home of developer Sucker Punch Productions.
Rowe is a 24 year-old Native American who spends his time as a self-proclaimed “delinquent,” spray-painting graffiti in public spaces. Little does he know that he’s a Conduit, a person with special powers who society views as “bio-terrorist” thanks to the media and the propaganda disseminated by the Department of Unified Protection (D.U.P.), an organization tasked with rounding up Conduits and placing them in containment.
Unlike other Conduits who typically have superpowers based around a specific element (ice, electricity, etc.), Rowe has the unique ability to absorb the powers and memories of others, first discovering this when a Conduit prisoner transport crashes through town and he comes in contact with someone who can control smoke – the ability showcased in most of the marketing and trailers for inFAMOUS: Second Son. This specific event begins a journey for players that immediately takes them to Seattle – which like many cities at this time, seven years after the events of inFAMOUS 2 – is under strict surveillance and borderline Martial law as the D.U.P. employs their witch hunt against anyone and everyone suspected of carrying the Conduit gene.
It’s up to the player to scour Seattle in order to build up powers to save Rowe’s family back home, and how they do so comes down to a simple binary decision: good or evil, blue or red. The limited Karma system of the previous games returns with Second Son and the few major decisions presented to the player involve choosing either the overtly good option or the insanely evil one. There’s no in-between, just red versus blue at every juncture so players must make their choice at the beginning and stick with it to be effective. It’s a disappointing mechanic that hinders any real sense of choice and locks out abilities until a second full playthrough.
The results of your actions power a Karma meter which determines what powers can be unlocked from the ability tree. For example, players need to be several tiers down the dark side to be able to deliver more ranged attacks with whatever given ability. How far good (blue) or evil (red) Delsin is determines his Karma rank and players can boost their rank by helping out around town or by taking out enemies non-lethally or lethally for Karma points. Certain powers help players accomplish what they’re trying to do in that respect, depending on whether or not they want to murder or knock out NPCs.
The inFAMOUS series has always been known for its open-world adventuring and platforming elements and in that respect, Second Son is the same, once past the linear introductory areas. Each of the powers unlocked as players progress through the main storyline helps players traverse the downtown area and large buildings in different and creative ways. We won’t spoil what these abilities are (there are four in total) or how they smartly take advantage of all the environmental details but we can say they all include basic abilities for melee, ranged, power and area of effect attacks, just in different ways with different effects. There are also super attacks players can deliver if they fill up their Karma level and these moves essentially remove all enemies you see on screen, along with loads of environment objects.
Rowe is rather physically skilled in parkour and can climb nearly anything, even without powers, but when said platform is not a straight or 90 degrees-angled object, the game often glitches out as the player character shifts or bounces around through the environment. It’s most evident at the beginning of the game and feels out of place, considering how polished and well-rendered the rest of the game’s visuals and animations are. inFAMOUS: Second Son is up there with the best of the current-gen titles in terms of visual fidelity and that really is the most noticeable improvement for the game over its predecessors.
The story of Second Son provides a likable and interesting young character and a smartly told origin story that happens to involve and crossover with the origin stories of several other Conduits Delsin Rowe meets along the way, but how it plays out and what players must accomplish to get from point A to B are all familiar and a tad bit lacking. The structure of the game follows a familiar and common open-world design through geographic progression. Enter an area, ‘unlock’ it by taking out a compound, access quests, move to the next area and do the same all over again, all while collecting “Shards” to level up powers. The repetition is mostly washed away by how Sucker Punch successfully infused the story-based main missions into the game and built on it by not only growing the character’s powers, but by giving them new powers entirely along the way.
The game always makes the player feel strong and capable, while continually making them even stronger, finding the perfect balance in increasing the challenge the enemies offer. It’s never boring, and never too easy or difficult. The repetition in the side-quests however, is annoying. It’s so repetitive in fact, that after over a dozen drug busts, the game would have players believe that there are at least a few pounds of cocaine for every Seattle resident. Still, taking advantage of these moments, and dispatching enemies either non-lethally or lethally is key to building up Karma and accessing the highest tier powers.
Oddly enough, these drug bust instances are the only time players will see police on the streets of Seattle. No matter how many gunshots, explosions or super powers go off, there is no police force responding. There’s only the D.U.P., and they never seem to send reinforcements. These omissions aside, the streets of inFAMOUS: Second Son’s Conduit-augmented Seattle are loaded with NPCs who react in fear or joy at the sight of your powers in action. The traffic and city life look and feel real, but just aren’t as layered we we expected from a next-gen open-world title.
We should also note that since Rowe is an artist of sorts, he likes to leave his mark around town, and the DualShock 4 controller is fully taken advantage of in this respect. Not only is the touchpad on the controller used to open gates, recharge powers and interact with certain objects in game, but when spray-painting, players can hold the controller side ways – like a paint spray can – and use the trigger while moving the “can” around to actually paint the objects on screen. It’s a small part of the game, but a surprisingly fun and smart use of the PS4 controller for an exclusive title.
inFAMOUS: Second Son is essentially the best X-Men game that isn’t an X-Men game and owners of superhero properties need to take a serious look at what Sucker Punch delivers with their PlayStation 4 debut title. Second Son may not offer much newness in terms of gameplay, story or progression, but polishes what we’ve come to enjoy from the series to date, bringing players a beautiful and fun game experience that’s absolutely worth checking out. We’re already looking forward to a sequel.
inFAMOUS: Second Son releases exclusive for PS4 March 21, 2014.
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