I was a little worried about Infamous: Second Son. I had faith in Sucker Punch to deliver a quality product, but the last time they delivered a third game in a series (Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves), I thought they had stretched themselves to thin, loosing the core of the game behind a slew of new characters and ways to play in the world. It wasn't bad, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't the Sly experience that I wanted.
Skip forward a few years, and again we are met with the third game in a series, this time with the main characters replaced completely. Beyond the concept of Infamous, a third person, open world game where the player's character has super powers, everything else was up in the air. Add to that the pressure of producing a tent pole PS4 game, the first real next gen release past launch, and I found myself, not doubting my faith in the product per se, but questioning where it was going to end up compared to the first two.
Picking up 7 years after the “good” ending of Infamous 2, in which perennial Christian Bale Batman voiced Cole MacGrath sacrificed his life and those of his fellow Conduits to rid the normal human population of a plague, Second Son introduces us to Delsin Rowe, an American Indian post-teen/pre-adult who consistently finds himself on the wrong side of Misdemeanor Lane. Always one step behind is Reggie, Delsin's brother and the local sheriff, who, in the process of arresting his brother for defacing a public billboard with graffiti (it also just happens to feature his brother as said Sheriff), becomes a witness to a Bio-Terrorist escape.
That sounds a lot scarier then it actually is. See, a Bio-Terrorist is simply government propaganda code for Conduit, and in the years since Cole's death, Conduits, both those that survived and those who have come into their powers since, have been rounded up by the Department of Unified Protection (or DUP) and it's director, the no-nonsense, Nick Fury-esque Brooke Augustine.
When Delsin's own latent Conduit ability, a type of power absorption that gives him the abilities of Conduit's he's touched, awakens after interacting with a Smoke Conduit named Hank, events come to a head, and Mr. Rowe is forced to make his first karma choice. From there the story moves at a brisk pace, covering ground fast as Delsin takes the fight to the DUP while also searching Seattle, the first real city to be used in the series, for the other escaped Conduits to up his powers. As much as it can for a game about people that throw concrete grenades and transform into smoke, Second Son's feels more grounded. Unlike Kessler and Bertrand, who both seemed more caricature then character, Augustine is manipulative and malevolent, working towards her goal of capturing Conduits with a tyrant's surety of purpose, completely convinced of the fact that her way is the ONLY way.
This grounded nature also carries through to the game's karmic moments. Coming up fewer times then the previous games, each choice sticks to the binary structure that has become an Infamous hallmark. While the picks are plainly either good or evil, the voice acting and phenomenal look and feel of the motion capture animation add an extra weight to each choice. It also helps that there is context to each choice. I, a natural proponent of the good path, found myself understanding why someone would take some of the evil options, especially when it comes to the game's later choices.
With fewer large choices, Second Son's trip up or down it's karmic path leans heavily on Delsin's actions as he runs around the city. As with the second game, random karmic moments, like taking out drug dealers or torturing street musicians, appear as you travel through the city. How, when, and even if you deal with these is completely up to you; I found myself engaging with them whenever they showed up at the beginning, but as my karmic standing grew, and I cleared enough to pick up the trophies, I found myself ignoring them for the most part.
Sadly this “I really don't need to do this” attitude spread to the majority Second Son's side missions. With Seattle split into districts, each with its own level of DUP presence, the side missions serve to clear the area of increased enemy presence. While cleared areas are still subject to the random DUP drive by, reducing the frequency of encounters makes traveling around the city a lot easier. It's unfortunate, with the necessity of clearing out these areas, that the side missions are not more diverse.
One type, Delsin's spray paint missions, where you turn your Dual Shock 4 on it's side and pretend it's a spray can, was pretty neat. Watching a super hero summon spray cans of varying colors and stencils like a cartoon character pulling a giant hammer out of his pocket is hilarious because of its absurdity, and the pictures, also split between good and evil, are an enlightening look inside of Delsin's head. The controller itself, with its internal gyroscopes and on board speaker, make you feel like you are at least taking part in absurdity, and while the silliness of it can't be ignored, it's nice to see a developer using the extra functionality of the DS4 in creative ways.
The rest of the side mission types were all pretty mundane, but I took the most exception to the dead drop missions. In the previous games, the dead drop audio logs not only added to the overall experience, but they were interesting to discover, as Cole's power allowed him to hone in on their power sources. In Second Son, Delsin uses his cell phone to follow a signal. While the overall action is fine, removing the discovery experience of having them out in the world, and reducing the overall amount of logs to only a handful, was disappointing. Had the quality of information delivered by the logs been good, it would have gone a long way to relieving the feeling, but the fact that they are read by a character with no real involvement in the main story, and don't shed any real light on anything that matters, mark them as largely unnecessary.
While the side missions proved to be a bit of a downer, I am happy to say that the main crux of Second Son, Delsin and his ability to absorb the powers of other Conduits, is well executed and a tremendous amount of fun. Though none of the powers ever reach the level of focus that Cole's electricity power received, all of them are a blast to use. Each serves to lend itself to a different play style; Smoke is a balanced mix of speed and power, and Neon functions much like Cole's Precision strike, slowing the world down and allowing you to pick your shots. There are two other powers that eventually come into play, and I don't plan on spoiling them, but I will say that they also manage to carve out their own niche.
In fact, I would really like to take a moment and give some real kudos to whomever was involved with the power designs. With each being built on the same basic structure, a ranged attack, a melee attack, a heavy missile, and a travel power, the fact that each feels different and useful is a testament to the quality of design. I was especially impressed with each of the travel powers, as I was concerned that nothing would equal the traversal power of Cole's power line slide. The moment I picked up the Neon power set and started running up walls, those concerns went flying right off a rooftop.
That being said, there is a serious lack of diversity in the enemy types. Where both previous games offered a number of different enemies each requiring strategies to counter their strengths, the entirety of Second Son is all DUP, all the time, with the only occasional hiccup being the random drug dealer, which is just another armed human minus the annoying ability to throw concrete. Hit them at range, run in when they separate, duck out when they group back up. Rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
I don't think I can close this out though without talking about just how beautiful Second Son is. The character animations, the power effects, the city itself, every little thing just feels so vibrant and alive. Seattle itself, the first real city used in the series, doesn't have quite as much character as New Marais, but it manages to match the cut off from the world feeling of Empire City, without doubling down on the former's lack of hope. Even the areas that have been terraformed by the DUPs collective ability to control concrete can't manage to dampen the cityscape.
Infamous: Second Son continues Sucker Punch's super hero/karmic choice formula well. While areas like enemies and missions show a lack of variety, the grounded story melds well enough with the amazing powers and “next gen” visuals to form a very solid experience from beginning to end. I can't help but wonder where the inevitable sequel with try and take us, but for now, I am more then happy to continue powering through this worthy installment.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!