SuckerPunch is by no means an amateur studio, and they have been a fan favorite among Sony fans since their charismatic thieving raccoon. Their switch to the Infamous series was one that made people question their move and wondered if they had the ability to succeed in a fairly different genre than what they were used to. It promised two stories based off your decisions, and this was before decision-making in mainstream gaming was becoming more and more the norm. With Infamous clearly being a success, people have been waiting eagerly for Infamous: Second Son since its announcement a year ago. It could be the reason someone would buy PS4 at all. Has all the hype been worth it, or has Infamous lost its spark?
As many know Second Son takes place seven years after the events in Infamous 2 and stars a new protagonist: Delsin. Conduits are now considered Bio-terrorists, and are hated by pretty much everyone. The D.U.P. (Department of Unified Protection) was created to stop all the Bio-terrorists and lock them up for good. The D.U.P. was so successful that it wasn’t needed anymore and was being disbanded. Needless to say, things go wrong, and Delsin happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Delsin gains the power of smoke, and before he can rejoice or refute his powers, we are introduced to the antagonist: Augustine. She is a ruthless woman in charge of the D.U.P. and a conduit herself out to stop all other conduits. The game picks up from there and I won’t say anything more in fear of spoiler.
The characters are introduced quickly and their characteristics are setup even quicker. Delsin is a delinquent street artist that expresses himself through various taggings. His brother Reggie is the new sheriff, and clearly a do-gooder by nature. A majority of the story revolves around the two bothers’ interactions. Their conversations are good. They provide plenty of humor and a deeper insight into who they are. More importantly, their conversations revolve around morally questionable topics. Sadly, even though some of the comradery is there, I never felt a deep connection between them. The game relies on the fact they’re brothers to really push any deeper value, but the “brothers” excuse doesn’t always sell a relationship.
On that note, the story isn’t nearly as deep or immersive as the past two Infamous titles. The reason Delsin and Reggie set out for Seattle is touching, and shows Delsin means well on the inside. The problem is Delsin doesn’t take anything seriously. This does make for some funny comments and humor-filled outcomes. When the game gets intense, you don’t feel it. When you play with good Karma, the story makes a lot more sense. However, when you play with evil karma, the dialog and character interactions don’t always line up. There were multiple times Reggie chewed out Delsin, and then continued to help him. Delsin killed a ton of cops and Reggie yelled at him, but didn’t care after that brief scolding. Reggie claimed he wasn’t going to help Delsin anymore, and then two seconds later he’s standing by his side. It doesn’t make much sense, oh wait, they’re brothers, so it must make sense.
Part of the problem for this is the poorly timed cuts in the game. There were multiple times the game would cut away before a scene even finished. It wouldn’t let you soak in that moment, or contemplate on what just happened. As I stated above, Reggie says he’s done with Delsin, but two seconds later he’s helping him again. There needed to be a break in the story, or at least a moment before Reggie immediately goes back to help Delsin, but because there is no break, all their deep conversations don’t carry very much weight. I can’t reflect and feel bad about what Reggie is accusing me of if he’s at my side again the very next moment—clearly forgiving me. Likewise, when Reggie comes back to help me, it doesn’t feel like that big of a deal, because he was always helping me. I could never feel the real weight of the story, and because of that I didn’t feel the impact when something important happened.
The story may not be anything spectacular, but the city of Seattle is amazing. The large open world is filled with people who are walking around, conversing, having coffee, and even street musicians. The city is large and well constructed, from tall skyscrapers, back alleyways, lantern districts, and even tree-filled parks. I spent hours exploring the city to see how much detail was incorporated into the game (I was happy to see a few Sly Cooper easter eggs). A well made setting will make you stop playing the actual game to explore instead, and Second Son definitely accomplished that.
Graphically this game is powerful. It is a true benchmark for the beginning of the real next gen games. The character animations and models are well crafted. The frame rate never dips, and every part of the game looked like a lot of time and care was spent making it. The music is empowering and whenever a guitar riff kicked up I felt blood rush through me for the fight I started. I think my favorite thing in Second Son is the lighting effects. Super nerdy of me to say, but it became apparent when you have a neon fight in almost complete darkness. The light hitting the buildings, the light reflecting in puddles, the sun shining through the trees, and all the effects from your different powers are remarkable. Even when it is raining in the game, the raindrops will only land on your screen if you look up, not down. It is small things like this that many people may cast aside, but if you pay attention to what makes a game, you can see the true beauty of Second Son shine.
Nothing really shines more than the gameplay, where Second Son continues to impress. The same core experience is still there from the previous two titles. It is a third-person action game that has hack-and-slash elements tied in with third person shooting styles. That’s for gamers who don’t know anything about Infamous. For those gamers that do know this title already, rest assured the game is as fun as ever with all the super-human powers you could ever want. This time there is even destructible environments to take advantage of. I never got bored with blowing apart an enemy’s bridge or tower to see the pieces crumble into a pile. It had its strategic value of course, but frankly, it just looked awesome. The problem is there were only very, very specific things that you could destroy. Incorporating a couple more destructible objects would’ve gone a long way, or at the very least, blend in the destructible ones a little better.
The controls are still smooth and fluent. There were a couple times that some stickiness prevailed. I would attack a civilian when I was trying to attack an enemy, and I ended up hanging from a light post getting filled with bullet holes when I was trying to run away. That was only a few minor circumstances and a majority of the time all the controls were perfectly smooth. I could fly and glide around the city rapidly, before slamming down on unsuspecting victims. I could melee an enemy, run up a building, hover in the air as I reined fire down, before unleashing a super move. The fighting was smooth and fun, something that every game wishes to accomplish. Second Son plays wonderfully and besides a few minor frustrations of inaccurate sickiness, there are no complaints.
There is no secret that Delsin receives different powers throughout the game, and it is fun to see the different powers in action. They have their subtle differences that you need to implement for different strategies. When there are a lot of enemies you need a stronger power but moving throughout the city you want a speedier power. This allows each gamer to have their preference, and I can easily see conversations with friends about what power they prefer. I enjoyed switching powers mid fight to change my tactics if need be, or inversely, when I was stuck with a wrong power, I would feel the pressure to make every shot count.
The real problem I have with Second Son is how similar the Heroic and Infamous story arcs are. One of the Infamous’ series main draw is the karma system. The game promises two fairly different stories, with different missions, and even different powers. Second Son felt the same both times I played it. The story doesn’t change much besides the beginning and the ending. Those scenes are certainly cool and pretty empowering both times, but I wanted more of a difference in the middle of the game. The side characters could have really brought out these differences, but they never hang around long even to highlight them. You only make a few decisions throughout the entire game, and they don’t really affect the story that much either. One instance the dialog following a decision remained the same no matter the choice. The story gave a new reason for completing a mission, but it was still the same mission I did on my first playthrough. Even how that character acted was the same, whether you redeemed him or corrupted him. I felt like I didn’t even really make a decision, which is a main draw to the Infamous series.
What really let down me down was how identical the powers felt between the two karmas. I remember in the first two games the difference between the powers were enormous, and you had to use different strategies throughout the game. For that reason, the game felt entirely different on a second playthrough. One fight was hard when I was a hero because I had to watch out for people, keep my collateral damage down, and I ran out of electricity I could drain. When I was a villain, I blew up all the cars to maximize damage, had much stronger powers, and I could drain the life from people to gain energy or health. The game felt completely different the second time I played it, and that’s what I loved about the Infamous series.
Second Son never felt like that. When I was a hero, I had a power where I could shoot the legs to subdue an enemy right away. I was expecting a new power when I was Evil, but what I got was the same power, only this time, you shoot the head instead to obliterate them instantly. It felt no different than before. Another power as a Hero was throwing a smoke bomb to subdue any enemies caught in it. As a villain, you can throw a smoke bomb, and obliterate the enemies immediately. Once again, it felt no different from being a hero. Normally being evil gives you far more destructive powers, but they didn’t feel that more powerful. Some powers did vary slightly, but not on a level to truly make a difference. On both my playthroughs I completed the missions the same way. Sure, I would subdue enemies one time and obliterate the enemies another time, but getting to that “subdueing” or “obliterating” point felt exactly the same. The powers were so similar you could use the same strategy on both playthroughs.
This is a pretty unique problem when it comes to video games. Second Son is a very fun game with great gameplay, wonderful controls, and an amazing setting. The story may not be anything remarkable, but it is enjoyable. There are moral topics involved that specially revolve around racism, and of course, the responsibility that comes with power. The characters are nothing new, but they have their refreshing moments and solid interactions. There are almost no problems when it comes to the game on a whole. However, the problems arise when you think about Second Son as an Infamous game. The severe letdown in difference between being good or bad cannot be understated. Playing the game with a different karma level doesn’t feel like a new experience, and that’s a big let down with an Infamous title. Apart from a couple very minor conversations, you wouldn’t even know it mattered what karma side you picked until the very last cut scene. I never felt the difference between being good or evil, and that was what I always loved about Infamous. That doesn’t mean Second Son is a bad game at all. On the contrary, it is still an absolute blast to play and you definitely need to pick up this title. After all, Seattle needs saving…or destroying.
This review is based off a retail copy of the PlayStation 4 version of Infamous: Second Son Developed by Sucker Punch and distributed by Sony Computer Entertainment.
- Fun Combat
- Great Environment
- Evil/Good too similar
- Story is only OK