Infamous: Second Son Review (PlayStation 4)
Announced alongside the PlayStation 4 last year, the wait for the third game in Sony's and Sucker Punch's Infamous series has been a long one. After two successful entries on the PlayStation 3, the story was finished off quite nicely for the original protagonist. With Infamous: Second Son, the storyline jumps ahead seven years to see how the world has reacted to more people with superpowers living among them. Though the story never quite hits all the notes it ambitiously aims for, Infamous: Second Son brings a wonderfully rendered world bursting with color to life beautifully. It's also pretty darn fun to play, too.
In the world of Infamous, people with powers are known as conduits or bio-terrorists depending on who you ask. After the tumultuous events of Infamous and Infamous 2, being imbued with powers has made those conduits wanted men and women. In the seven years since the events in New Marais, a government agency known as the Department of Unified Protection (D.U.P. ) has been established to capture and contain conduits. Of course, this invasion of rights by the government has the minority population up in arms, while the general public supports the plan based on past experience.
Like earlier Infamous games, Second Son has aspirations of making a deeper statement than it actually ends up making. Protagonist Delsin Rowe finds himself on the wrong side of the D.U.P. early in the story, and it's up to the player to decide how Delsin will react. Will you be a conduit that shows there is good in the world, or will you completely abandon positivity, and rage against the machine? There are situations which will put these morals to the test, but Sucker Punch still hasn't offered more than a surface level change with its choices. With so many other games (The Walking Dead; Papers, Please) presenting legitimate dilemmas of conscience, Infamous' choices of heal injured people or finish them off, or fight police or fight drug dealers, seem trite by comparison. The major choices you make for Delsin also don't tax you too much, and we still found ourselves picking sides based on the powers we'd unlock versus the society impact. For what it's worth, playing as a bad guy is infinitely more fun.
Now, about those powers. Second Son's greatest strengths come from the abilities you gain over the course of the game. Things start off with smoke and branch out to neon, and two additional powers come much, much later. It's obvious what they are when you are first making the trip to Seattle, but finally earning the powers is a great treat we won't spoil. In addition to providing you with some offensive firepower/defensive specialties, each of the abilities comes with its own method of traversal as well. Throughout Seattle, the world has been filled with vents to speed through when in smoke form. Neon's lightspeed requires no port of call to activate, but the others do have their own signature methods, too. For what it's worth, of all the abilities, neon's lightspeed running is the most impressive visually.
That's saying something, as the powers and abilities you earn are truly outstanding to witness in action. We've been seeing small tweaks to the lighting and particle effects on games available across generations, but in Second Son, those effects take center stage. The smoke lives and breathes in ways we've never seen before in a game, and looks more alive than just a standard cloud or fog. Neon is even more impressive, and the vibrant light bursts with life. Even after unlocking all the abilities, we found ourselves returning to neon over and over simply for the eye-popping visuals. In action, the powers explode in unique ways, despite how similar the uses might be. As you unlock more skills, the impressive array of effects continues to grow, and using them never stops ceasing to be a spectacle, even when close to finishing the story.
As visually arresting as Delsin's powers are, the world of Seattle is actually a bit disappointing. The landscape is appropriately dense and the architecture is rather inspiring. There's no denying how well the virtual Seattle is put together. However, for as terrifically as the Northwest city is recreated, it's surprisingly lacking in life. Sure, there are people and cars populating the streets and sidewalks and parks, but it sure doesn't sound like Seattle is alive by any means. When the audio cues (or lack thereof) don't match up with what's being represented visually, there's a bit of a disconnect between the game and the player. For all the ways in which you can adjust the audio mix, Second Son's Seattle never comes alive. It makes the entire experience feel unauthentic, and the illusion of immersion is ruined. Fortunately, Infamous still plays well enough that it's easy to look past this omission. That said, we expected more from one of the first exclusively next-gen open world action games.
Beyond the core story, you'll have plenty to do to keep you busy. Overtaking D.U.P. forces in neighborhoods across Seattle is a major part of building up Delsin's abilities, and the dozen or so different districts all have special side-missions to help you run the D.U.P. out of town. Eliminating hidden cameras or tracking down undercover agents is a fine way to break up the story missions. Taking down D.U.P. mobile command units is also vitally important to uncovering the location of blast shards, which you need to collect in order to strengthen your powers. Instead of being just stuck into walls all over the city as in previous entries in the series, shards can be found powering D.U.P. drones all over the city. With the command unit destroyed, you can instantly see their locations all over the map. You might stumble upon a few beforehand, but knowing where they are makes leveling Delsin up way easier.
There are also a few different side-quests that make use of the PlayStation 4's unique controller. Tagging missions let you paint a clever mural on a wall by flipping the DualShock 4 vertically, and aiming it like a spray can. It sounds gimmicky, but in execution is one of the more fun and enjoyable aspects of Infamous. Seeing Delsin's creations come to life thanks to your deft hand is definitely worth a few chuckles, too. The touchpad is used from time to time as well, letting you swipe to open cage doors, dismantle turrets or lift power supplies from mobile command units. These controls are never invasive, and certainly add more than just tapping feverishly on a button to accomplish the same goal.
Even though Sucker Punch still hasn't evolved the moral narrative of the Infamous series, Second Son is thoroughly enjoyable game. The abilities are awe-inspiring, the combat is easy to understand and master, but most of all, it's fun to play. Whether you choose to enjoy Infamous: Second Son as the hero or the villain, Sucker Punch once again shows just how great it is at developing exciting superhero adventures. We can only hope that next time around, we actually feel the weight of our decisions, and are compelled to choose by more than carrots at the ends of ropes.
This review was completed with a purchased retail copy of Infamous: Second Son for the PlayStation 4.