Infamous: First Light

Ok, so I’m not that wild about the Infamous series – it’s been a ride of mostly fine, not exceptional, action games. So, why bother to play First Light? Well, if there’s one thing that the franchise gets right in my eyes, it’s the standalone expansions. Infamous 2 gave us the slightly zany and definitely neat Festival of Blood, a vampire-themed romp around New Marais, so it seemed worth it to give First Light a shot. Here we go.

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Infamous: First Light (PS4)

Released Aug 2014 | Developed: Sucker Punch | Published: Sony

Not long after arriving in Seattle in Infamous: Second Son, Delsin comes across Fetch, a girl with the power of Neon who waged a murderous revenge-driven war against the city’s drug dealers and gangs over the death of her brother Brent. This expansion takes us into Fetch’s backstory to see the path she took that led her to become a vicious killer of those she considered unjust.

Cleverly, the plot is split across two timelines. Much of it is narrated by Fetch while in captivity in Curdun Cay, the sprawling prison complex in which Conduits are interred by the DUP’s stone-hearted leader Brooke Augustine. This is set just before the beginning of Second Son as Fetch is forced to recount her past to Augustine, prompting the main bulk of First Light which takes place 2 years earlier in Seattle. Fetch and her brother are in deep with the city’s criminals, running errands for cash and hoping to leave the city and their life behind. When a job goes wrong, Brent is kidnapped by a local gang; the dealer he is in debt to, Shane, enlists Fetch and her powers to widen his own criminal empire in exchange for getting him back. That we know how the story must end actually works to its benefit, crafting a necessarily tragic narrative in which things rapidly hurtle out of Fetch’s control and slowly push her to the edge of reason, smartly setting up the character we know from Second Son.

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Naturally we get to make extensive use of Fetch’s Neon powers; there might have been the temptation to take a lazy route and recycle the Neon powers that Delsin drains from her but happily that’s not the case. Fetch’s signature super speed looks and feels distinctively different – I love the detail of Fetch phasing through obstacles as she runs, which helps to keep the flow of movement rapid. This also has the added benefit of making First Light run far more smoothly than Second Son, and getting around Seattle is a genuine joy; in fact, it’s even better with the upgraded air dashes that make Fetch launch around the rooftops with wild and free abandon. It’s this ease of movement that was missing in part from the previous game – open worlds are often only as good as how easy it is to get about after all, and Delsin had the tendency to get bogged down on scenery. Fetch, thankfully, has none of those issues.

Other powers also differ from Delsin’s, though often in small but important ways. Fetch’s zoom shot now highlights weak points which eliminate enemies instantly, the mastery of which is a key skill to turning First Light’s larger gangs of baddies into more manageable chunks. She can rapid-fire Neon to take down enemies without expending too much energy, and she can even chuck barrages of homing laser missiles later on in the game to wipe out heavier foes. It all feels like a refinement and positive tweaking of Neon from ISS, all reworked to feel faster and more fluid. The melee combat has also been tweaked, with a greater focus on enabling Fetch to go toe-to-toe with her attackers. She attacks much faster than Delsin, and can chain together strikes in more free-flowing combos; she also gets access to a special finishing move to knock an enemy out immediately, and later on she can stack multiple triggers of this to zip through a group with ease.

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Seattle is still filled with guff to do though – even in this narratively tighter experience, room has been made for the same faffing about and liberating districts rigmarole as in Second Son. Fetch gets her own graffiti activity, though it feels less intuitive than Delsin’s as she just lasers stuff into walls rather than getting the player to hold the controller like a spray can. It’s a concise list of activities, given it’s a smaller game, but it includes races around the city, shooting down police drones, and rescuing hostages. To be honest I did literally none of them outside of what the game mandates you do (well, I did do the graffiti because they’re still decent fun);  I just cannot be drawn into doing mindless busywork in Infamous, though First Light gets a small reprieve due to its brevity.

Collectible “Lumens” are also scattered across the city; these puffs of Neon are often hanging about in hard to reach places and require some creative platforming to reach. Like all the activities in First Light, they result in Skill Points which are used to upgrade Fetch’s abilities. These are presented in linear paths, unlike Delsin’s sprawling map of skills. Later upgrades need some serious points, but I found that the game wasn’t so tough that I needed to upgrade everything much – I just pooled some points into stuff here and there and I muddled through without too much effort.

You really do want the upgrades though for completing the optional challenges and the special combat rooms in Curdun Cay. You can leap back to the present day and take on challenge rooms in the prison against waves of enemies thrown at Fetch to force her to train her powers. The ones you do in the story aren’t too bad, but others which you can unlock are fiendish. They are mostly there for completionists, which it should be clear I am not, but having the option is good and First Light is good enough that I can easily see people going back to take on the challenge rooms. If you have a save file from Second Son, you can also take on these as Delsin, which is a cool touch.

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Infamous: First Light was, in all honesty, a far better experience than Second Son. Having a tightly built Infamous game crammed into a brief package (it took me maybe 4 hours to play through, with some minor bits of wandering about the city zapping designs into walls) is far better in my eyes; Second Son might have been 3 times the length and size, but it still felt limp and going back to it after this mainly serves to make it feel bloated. In a few short hours Fetch got more effective character development than Delsin, which was aided immensely by the decision to take away the wishy-washy moral choice elements of the franchise and lock you into a predecided, tragic, and darker storyline. First Light might not be a great game on its own – it’s hard to imagine anyone just dropping into it without prior knowledge of the series – but I’d still recommend it nonetheless.

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.

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