Arguably the biggest PlayStation 4 exclusive to date, Sucker Punch Productions’ inFAMOUS: Second Son is an incredibly important release for the platform, particularly given the fact that the Xbox One’s biggest hitter to date, Titanfall launched earlier this month. Like its predecessors, it’s an open world action game featuring super powers, a huge map and a karma system that’ll determine how your character, Delsin Rowe, evolves as you play. It certainly looks the part, with truly next-gen visuals impressing throughout, but has Sucker Punch managed to progress the gameplay enough to make the game stand out from other titles in the genre?
The answer to that is both yes and no. On one hand, the sheer scope of the game would likely be impossible to recreate on previous generations, but at its core the game remains a familiar experience, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The game takes place seven years after the end of inFAMOUS 2, where previous hero Cole McGrath’s exploits have been blamed for the devastation that was wrought upon the USA to such an extent that the government has formed a group, the Department of Unified Protection (DUP), to tackle the threat of “bio-terrorists”, the name bestowed upon conduits able to channel powers.
It’s the DUP’s job to round up and detain these so-called bio-terrorists, preventing them from causing death and destruction within the civilian population, but the DUP’s leader, Brooke Augustine, has become a law unto herself, taking countless liberties in the pursuit of conduits. A conduit herself with the power to manipulate concrete, Augustine uses her power to soup up the DUP forces, giving each of them a small taste of her power to make them a real force to be reckoned with.
When a DUP prisoner convoy runs into problems and prisoners escape near Delsin’s home just outside Seattle, he is touched by a conduit which activates his own latent powers, and drawing the focus of the DUP upon himself and his brother Reggie, the local sheriff. In his first run in with Augustine, the DUP leader suspects Deslin is hiding something from her and attempts to torture him with her powers. Having no success, she moves onto other members of his Akomish tribe, sending shards of concrete through their bodies in a bid to make them talk. With nobody willing to betray Delsin, Augustine leaves the area, but not before wounding many of the tribe terminally – and unless Delsin can take her power for himself and undo her work, it’s unlikely any of them will survive.
Just like the previous games in the series, the first part of Second Son is spent teaching players how best to utilize Delsin’s initial abilities. Following his run-in with the first conduit escapee, he’s now able to dash through objects as smoke and wreak havoc with a chain used as his melee weapon, but as play progresses players will unlock additional abilities and powers by finding and absorbing blast shards, while encounters with other key conduits will increase Delsin’s armoury even further.
Initially, it’s difficult to like Troy Baker’s Delsin. He’s a smartass vandal who’s had countless run-ins with the law, most notably with his own brother, but as the story progresses and the player is able to make their own choices as to whether he becomes a good guy, out to fight for the people, or a genuinely nasty piece of work fuelled by revenge and hell-bent on destruction, his interaction with Reggie and the others he encounters within the world help to show off his personality, and ensures players grow to like him – although perhaps not quite as much as Sucker Punch would have liked.
He’s certainly no Cole McGrath, but there’s a definite charm to Delsin. From his politically motivated graffiti (which makes interesting use of the gyroscopic functionality of the Dual Shock 4 controller) to his quips and one-liners, he’s a solid protagonist, and certainly one that’ll help players push forward into the game’s narrative.
One problem that many open world action games fall afoul of is a lack of direction and clarity. In many it tends to be all too easy to simply forget about the main story and run around causing mayhem – but since that’s what many players want to do, developers have to be clever in the way they gradually nudge players along the storyline, and that’s something that Second Son manages particularly well.
There’s a huge amount to see and do here, and it’s very easy to abandon the story for a half an hour or so and simply explore the game world, spray painting your way to additional karma, weakening the DUP grip on different areas throughout the game world and looking out for some of the neat fan-service Easter eggs the developers have dropped in (the randomly placed C. McGrath Electronics store, for example).
Once you’ve had your fill of exploration and decided to get back onto the story, you’ll find that it all progresses a touch too easily. While some of the missions offer reasonable challenge, most are relatively straightforward – and that goes for the various narrative arcs found throughout too. Any opportunity to take the road less travelled and try something truly unique in terms of story has sadly been passed up, but that in itself allows the game to build Delsin up to be more powerful than you would typically expect from this kind of game, and it works.
The previous two inFAMOUS titles were at their best from about midway through, when Cole had finally started to figure out his abilities. Traversing city blocks in seconds by grinding power lines or levitating over huge distances was awe-inspiring, and with Second Son Sucker Punch has ramped that up a notch. Delsin is incredibly powerful, able to scale buildings at blistering pace, launch missiles, dash through obstacles and even fly around courtesy of angel wings later on. Getting from A to B has never been as much fun in the genre, and it sure does beat the tried and tested “steal a car and drive to point x” formula that has prevailed for so many years.
The combat, too, can be awe-inspiring when you’ve figured out how best to tackle each of the different types of enemy. Basic grunts can be dispatched however you choose, but others will require a little more thought and, occasionally, the foresight to make a quick exit in one direction before circling back outside enemy view to attack again from behind (which also has the added bonus of allowing your health to regenerate if you’ve taken a little too much damage in your efforts). Occasionally, more protracted battles can begin to grate as you attempt to memorize the patterns necessary to keep you out of danger and able to dole out maximum damage when the opportunity arises, but thankfully these occurrences aren’t all that regular.
The more battles you win, and the further you drive back DUP lines within each district, the more blast shards you’ll find (destroying mobile command centres will prove to be particularly useful for their collection, while drones can be found flying around the city randomly, just begging to be shot down and harvested for their power), and the more blast shards you’ve got the more improvements you’ll be able to make to Delsin via Second Son’s very generous skill tree.
With a huge amount of branches to follow, you’ll be able to customize Delsin to play exactly how you want him, and with certain powers only available depending on which end of the karma scale you find yourself, there’s plenty of reason to come back and play through again (interestingly, most players opt to play as a good guy, with just 35% choosing to take a more sinister route through the game). While many of the upgrades are more for convenience than anything else, such as speeding how quickly you can repower your abilities or increasing your overall power for any given skill, some unlock more powerful attacks which will certainly come in handy.
The only thing here that genuinely disappoints is the game’s karma system which, like the first two titles, is far too black and white to make any real impact. Although it’s undoubtedly fun to be an ass, there’s no real reason to do it. Nothing about Delsin or the game’s narrative suggests it’s in any way necessary to go out of your way to be nasty to people. Cop killing, harming innocent bystanders and wanton destruction of property is completely at odds with your character, and it just doesn’t feel right. Further to this, the game lacks any real head-scratchers that force a good player to be bad, or a bad player to be good, if even for a fleeting moment in an attempt to shake things up. It’s all too vanilla, rewarding increasingly extreme actions one way or the other with more and more karma, and it all feels incredibly out of date given the rest of the game.
That said, the fact that that’s about the only thing worth complaining about in Second Son bodes incredibly well for the game. Sucker Punch looks to have made itself right at home on the new hardware, showcasing some nifty techniques, graphical flourishes and design choices that definitely make us feel very positive about the future of the PS4, as well as the inFAMOUS series.
As might perhaps be expected for a game coming this early in a new generation, there’s plenty of familiarity to Second Son, far more treading of old ground than new, but it’s the execution that really shines, and it’s definitely a worthwhile pick up PlayStation 4 owners everywhere.