The coarse smoke, the pulsing neon, the glistening moonlight, the grin on Delsin’s face. InFamous: Second Son is the first hallmark title of the PlayStation 4 since launch and had some lofty standards to hit. If you have seen anything before release then you’d know that the game looks absolutely stunning, but until you get your hands on it you’ll never quite understand just how utterly gorgeous it is.
It is, without a doubt, the best looking game I’ve ever seen. Technically its producing some incredibly results but it’s the combination of this with a delightful artistic style that results in such an impressive visual output. The way the light shines off of puddles on the floor, the vistas from atop of skyscrapers, each and every wisp of smoke or jolt of neon looks utterly wonderful. Character animations, facial expressions, building fidelity, particles, destructible environments, fire, rain, night, day, sunrise, sunset; it’s all just so alluring.
A Clean Slate
Dropping the numerical iteration, Second Son is a clear reboot for the franchise with a shift in design, tone and protagonist. Cole McGrath, the Conduit (a human with a rare mutation allowing them to harness superhuman abilities) that started it all from the PlayStation 3’s InFamous and InFamous 2, is nowhere to be seen with his story ending in the franchise’s second outing. Replaced with Delsin Rowe, an unsuspecting Conduit who finds himself embroiled in the middle of a world refusing to change, Second Son embarks on a new adventure.
Knowledge of the events from the first two InFamous games aren’t required but do help to get a better feel for the universe at hand. Much like the newly subtitled Killzone for the PlayStation 4, Second Son manages to contain itself and will allow those new to the PlayStation platform a chance to enter the series without feeling particularly lost or confounded.
Unlike Cole whose primary power was electricity, Delsin is a power sponge, soaking up another Conduit’s power when he comes in contact with them. As a result there’s a variety of powers you’ll unlock – but I won’t spoil them beyond the two announce pre-release: smoke and neon. Each power offers a starkly contrasting play style and, although you’ll likely settle on your favourite, switching between them continues to be both extremely useful and immensely enjoyable.
Though they all have their own stunning visual styles, each of the powers plays in a similar fashion. There are variations to the attacks but the mapping of the controls is expertly done so that you never give it a second thought; whether it’s a projectile attack, a mobility ability or a special something you’ll always know what to press in the heat of battle. I’m being deliberately vague on specifics as it really is better when discovered for yourself.
Each power also has – once you’ve unlocked it – a special ability that does an exceptional amount of damage. Such power is earned rather than gifted though, which you do by aligning yourself with your chosen karma path – which I’ll go into more in a bit. Went down the path of righteousness? Then subdue enemies rather than execute them, accept their surrender and help out those in need. If you chose the dark side however, then cause as much death and destruction as you can. Do enough of these tasks (around eight or so) and you’ll fully power up the ability, but do something from the other side and it’ll drain the power completely. It’s an imperfect model but acts as a suitable way to keep you on your chosen path.
Black & White
The single biggest disappointment is the binary nature of the morality system. Not that this is new to the series, but I was hoping for something with a touch more grey – as opposed to the clear ‘good’ and ‘evil’ choices. Ultimately you either play as good or evil – in order to get the best powers in the end – and all your choices are affected by this meaning they have next to no impact. A more granular system where you where unsure of the impact of your choices would have been preferable, as would more karma destination: such as someone who is willing to sacrifice people, but for the greater good.
Whether you choose to go the route of good or evil has effects on the game outside of your power choices. Citizens in the street will either cheer you and try to take a photograph, or they’ll flee you in fear; you’ll focus on different side-elements within the city; the markings on your jacket alter with your karma – as does the light on the DualShock 4; plus there’s colour variants to attacks as well.
Traversing the city of Seattle, the locale for Second Son, is infinitely more enjoyable and easier than previous InFamous titles – especially once you unlock neon which allows you to speed up the sides of buildings. As for the city itself, though not an exact replica of the real deal, Second Son’s Seattle is a joy to explore. There’s enough citizens on the streets to give it a sense of life without feeling as though they hinder your movements, whilst the verticality provides fantastic battle scenarios.
A Brother’s Tale
Events from the opening few scenes have sent Delsin and his brother Reggie to Seattle in order to track down the Brooke Augustine, head of the Department of Unified Protection (D.U.P) – a government agency created to arrest or kill all Conduits to try to ensure that the events of the original two InFamous’ are not repeated. Conduits have been relabelled by the D.U.P as “bioterrorists” in an effort to criminalise them in the eyes of the public.
The relationship between the two brothers is excellent, as is between Delsin and any of the characters – in part thanks to the wonderful portrayal by Troy Baker, but too many of the interesting personalities feel underused. Although it’s far from the most gripping of plots, not all games require such gravitas, thus Second Son manages to find this balance well.
Surveillance is corrupting, propaganda is rife, total authority is a mistake, citizens are malleable, drugs are bad; there are plenty of deeper themes running throughout that you’d do well to miss. Outside of the main narrative, there’s optional side missions to locate and complete, including: spray painting via the best use of the DualShock 4 to date, finding secret agents, hunting down drones and clearing the tyrannous D.U.P forces from the streets.
Although the combat is simply fantastic, additional gameplay segments – side missions, etc – may become a bit monotonous for some, though the diversity of the powers should provide enough of a reason to continue in the playground developers Sucker Punch have crafted. It would be remiss of me to fail to mention the terrific boss fights, something I feel are too often poorly executed. That is not the case here though as they are both spectacular in appearance and satisfying to become victorious.
InFamous: Second Son is a graphical masterpiece, with gorgeous effects, stunning lighting and environments that will take your breath away. It’s not just a pretty face though for underneath the dazzling beauty is an amazing action-adventure title that brings both tremendous gameplay and an entertaining story.
Rarely to games pose me with the nagging insistence to dive straight back in upon completion but Second Son does just that. There’s more of Seattle to see, more picking up of my jaw, more excitement and enjoyment to be head.