I admit to not being a great fan of the original Infamous. I found it relatively stodgy to play, with restrictive and sludgy movement and lifeless combat. On top of that, the narrative and character writing were both clunky and didn’t do much to create an emotional investment for the player. It’s a very average game at best in my opinion though it does have a neat idea at its core.
The second game is much improved. The movement was far smoother, with a greater sense of flow. The combat was definitely better, and, crucially, there’s much more engaging character writing. Though it’s not a perfect sequel, it’s certainly a better time. Second Son then has been on my radar for a little while, so let’s give it a spin.
Infamous: Second Son (PS4)
Released Mar 2014 | Developed: Sucker Punch | Published: Sony
It’s been 7 years since the events of Infamous 2 which saw conduits across the world awaken to their powers. In the US, a government office called the DUP has rebranded them as bio-terrorists and turned the country against them, deploying to places and seizing control to contain and capture free conduits. When 3 escape in a sleepy Akomish village, the DUP, under the command of the fierce and concrete-controlling Brooke Augustine, lay waste to it. In the midst of all of it, our hero and local small town mischief-maker Delsin Rowe discovers he is a Prime Conduit and can absorb powers from others by simply touching them. He gains smoke powers and vows revenge against the DUP for the damage done to his people.
There’s a little more focus on the story and characterisation than in previous games, which is worth it to see to be honest. The relationship between Delsin and his brother Reggie is decently formed – it’s a little more antagonistic than Cole and Zeke, and probably the only main source of interesting writing in the game. Everything else comes straight from the standard action game playbook; that’s not a bad thing, sometimes that’s all you need or want, but it’s not invigorating or stimulating.
The main cast are all basic tropes; in fact they’re mostly one basic trope. They’re a bunch of rough around the edges but potentially good if you play it that way types: Delsin is a graffiti delinquent, Fetch is a spunky girl who takes on Seattle’s drug dealers, and Eugene is your by-the-numbers awkward game nerd stereotype. Main baddie Augustine is as cold and harsh as her concrete powers; chuck in some very occasional big moral choices that put you on the same saviour or mass murderer path as every Infamous game and that’s your lot.
Delsin’s powers are a little more varied than Cole’s electric powers – or at least in theory. Delsin begins by controlling Smoke, but this expands to an arsenal that includes Neon and Video, which are funkier, more modern powers. It’s regrettable then that they kind of all initially resemble Cole’s basic power set – this is really an endemic problem with Infamous, as Cole’s original core set of powers were all deeply dull, being just lightning themed rehashes of standard 3rd-person shooter weapons, so of course Delsin’s all fit that mould as well. That said, each power functions slightly differently to one another. Smoke lets Delsin phase through small spaces and he can launch through vents to rapidly ascend buildings, and its offensive powers are more direct and explodey; Neon can see Delsin run up and over walls at lightning (well, neon) speed and rewards precision in attacks, but lacks any kind of aerial presence, and Video is the most off-the-wall power set, with stealth options and limited flight, though it’s weaker in general combat.
Like most very basic open world games, players are presented with a big city splattered across which are repeating tasks and a vague goal of taking back control district-by-district. It’s very familiar and like the narrative and writing, inspires little interest but does at least offer a distraction for Infamous: Second Son’s 10-15 hours. It’s kind of tough going back to games like this after having experienced others that nail giving players meaningful content in an open world; Second Son is much more about plodding through districts doing the same thing each time – taking down an enemy base by blowing up the same central core, spray painting walls, shooting out hidden cameras, finding audio logs, and assassinating secret agents. It blurs together in one homogenous mess, never broken up by any interesting or meaningful sidequests or activities. Like a Hollywood action film, it’s palatable but unstimulating.
Second Son does something I really hate: when a game shoves a gimmick down your throat. It opens by making you do some awful spray-painting shit by rattling your controller and waving it around while our protagonist Delsin does some art. Happily I actually ended up really liking this and the graffiti art missions that showed up as part of wresting control of the city away from DUP became the thing I would immediately make a beeline for whenever they appeared.
It’s hard to get excited about a game like Second Son, but it’s also tough to deny that what it does, it does capably. It entertains you for long enough, and it’s not so lengthy that booting it up is a chore. It does try and convince you to play it through a second time to see the alternative playthrough where you choose all the moral options that you didn’t pick the first time around but I struggle to recommend doing that. It almost feels like very little was learned from or improved on from Infamous 2 – the powers are flashy and look gorgeous at least, but it’s fundamentally the same game. If you’re after a filler game then you can do a lot worse than Infamous: Second Son, but I’d be surprised to see it ever return to my screen.
4/7 – GOOD. Sure, maybe something doesn’t quite work but at least it has heart, or a spark of excitement that makes it worthwhile despite the faults. Definitely worth a go if you can at least find it on sale.