inFAMOUS: Second Son Review: Welcome to next-gen
It's no secret that open world games where players can let loose with a plethora of super-human abilities are a whole lot of fun. Spider-Man 2 taught us this in 2004, and numerous games have integrated this formula ever since. Has Sucker Punch refined the formula to perfection, or is it just a whole lot of smoke & mirrors?
The original inFAMOUS introduced us to Cole McGrath, a man partly responsible for turning select individuals in super-powered Conduits that were able to manipulate various matter. "With great power, comes great responsibility." As cringeworthy as that quote is, it applied perfectly to the inFAMOUS games; where players could choose how they wanted to utilize their powers, be it for good or for evil.
inFAMOUS Second Son follows the path of its two predecessors, but this time, it's set in a non-fictional US city. It also takes place several years after the aftermath of the second game. That puts us in the shoes of Native American Delsin Rowe, a rebellious youth who spends his days defying authority and expressing his artistic passion through graffiti. His brother Reggie on the other hand, is a cop who is quite fed up with Delsin's lack of respect for authority, and wants nothing more than to see him wise up and do something with his life.
It's a good thing that Delsin happened to be in the right place at the right time. Due to an unexpected prison break-out, Delsin comes in contact with an inmate who just so happens to be a Conduit, and is able to soak up his powers. After his tribe suffers at the hand of a cement weilding Conduit, it becomes Delsin's mission to take revenge and save his tribe in one fell swoop.
Thrust into a world where Conduits are referred to as Bio-Terrorists, Delsin becomes hunted by the ironically named Department of Unified Protection. Where Reggie feels that Delsin should lay low and stay out of trouble, Delsin just wants to unleash his newfound powers. In this way Delsin feels extremely relatable. It's of course impossible to put yourself into the shoes of a misunderstood delinquent who just so happens to have newfound super powers, but when put into context of a video game, you want nothing more, as a player, than to get out into the streets of Seattle and start blasting D.U.P. forces left and right.
In terms of gameplay, Second Son doesn't deviate much, if at all, from the tried and true mechanics solidified in inFAMOUS 2. There is a city that needs liberating, citizens that require assistance, super-powered soldiers that need to be shut down, and shards that need collecting so that Delsin can expand his moveset. Add in some karmic choices, and that's Second Son in a nutshell.
Where most games go for bigger is better, Sucker Punch cleverly went for quality over quantity with Second Son. See, Seattle isn't a gigantic city, even by current-gen standards. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in density. It's genuinely fun to explore the streets and rooftops of Seattle, looking for shards, rescuing imprisoned citizens, busting up drug deals or even crashing a protester rally. The various districts also have a unique and distinct look from one another. While Sucker Punch takes some liberties with the recreation of Seattle, there are a few iconic spots like the Space Needle and Denny Park that players can visit.
The city is practically littered with things to do right from the get go. From destroying D.U.P. security cams, to collecting Audio Logs, taking down secret agents or completely shutting down a D.U.P. mobile command, you'll have plenty to do in each district. However, where Second Son falters is its repetition. This is an unfortunate side-effect of open world games. Seattle is divided into two maps, each with its own set of districts. By the time I completely finished off the first map, I was so fatigued from the repetition that I didn't really feel like I wanted to do it all again, and found myself running past a lot of the secondary objectives.
The one thing I did keep coming back to, despite its overly gimmicky premise, was Tagging. You can tag various parts of the city, which require you to hold the DualShock 4 sideways (like a paint can) and then squeeze the trigger to spray. I honestly, should have enjoyed this way less than I did, but these sections are quick, and the tags themselves always have something to do with the area they're in. For example, an empty wall in a park had some fish ornaments decorated to the left and right of it, and the tag was a kitten trying to catch one of them.
Second Son is spectacularly next-gen in its visuals. Sucker Punch gave even the smallest of details their full attention. Seattle is gorgeous, whether it's dawn and the sun blankets the street in an orange glow, or night time, when lights illuminate the streets, and neon signs shine far as you can see.
The city even looks gorgeous in Seattle's signature rain, with reflective puddles and individual drops of rain clearly visible. Second Son also has some impressive face animations, surpassing L.A. Noire's face capture technology. Seriously, these characters look so real, it's almost scary. One of Delsin's Native American friends, Betty, has wrinkles that actually stretch as she talks. It's mindblowing.
Moving through Seattle becomes progressively more fun as you unlock more powers. When Delsin starts out with Smoke, he can shoot himself up to rooftops and then glide around the city, but with Neon, he can literally run up buildings and zip through the city in super-speed. And if you thought that was cool, Video power essentially gives Delsin wings. Yeah, it's as awesome as it sounds.
These powers also translate into Delsin's offensive capabilities. Smoke allows him to hurl destructive fireballs or more powerful Cinder Missiles, while Neon is slightly more tactical, giving Delsin almost sniper-like abilities. Neon shots can slow down time to a crawl so players can carefuly aim at enemies' legs or head, or can trap them in a stasis bubble so they can be dispatched without much opposition.
As cool as Delsin's powers are, combat in the game can also be tedious when overrun by a lot of enemies at once. Delsin can't really take a lot of hits, which means you'll need to dish out some hits, run away, attack some more, run away, and keep repeating this process until all enemies are defeated. Given how awesome you feel with Delsin's powers, running away each time to heal back up is almost counterintuitive.
Second Son's biggest shortcoming lies in its choices, for two big reasons. The first lies with Delsin. Despite his rebellious nature, he's clearly not a bad guy. His whole reason for revenge is to cure the members of his tribe out of the goodness of his heart. Even the very first karmic choice is completely uncharacteristic of him, and I was able to recognize that with just under an hour with Delsin.
The second problem, which I think is the bigger issue, is that the choices are extremely cookie cutter, and they're always clearly defined as either 'good' or 'evil.' I still remember the incredibly tough decision of the first game, where I had to choose to save the life of one, or the lives of the many. While it seems like it's an easy decision, especially if you haven't played the game, that was one of the toughest, most eye opening moments of the game. Sadly, none of that is present here.
inFamous: Second Son might not be leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors in gameplay, as it never really strays from the core inFAMOUS mechanics, and doesn't take any heavy risks with storytelling. However, it's undeniable that beating up bad guys with various super-powers in a seemingly living and breathing city is a perfect combination for a hell of a good time.