Among Sony’s highly regarded portfolio of intellectual property lies a slightly under appreciated comic book inspired game, Infamous. Despite previous entries in the series Infamous has never earned the critical acclaim it perhaps deserves. Always facing competition from arguably less compelling but more power-infused titles such as Crackdown and Prototype whom offer underdeveloped story concepts, alongside undeniably enjoyable power-fueled gameplay. Infamous has always contrasted these titles by offering a significantly more grounded super-hero in both a figurative and literal sense, with a strong focus on crafting a compelling, believable environment and plot. The resulting games, Infamous and Infamous 2 have perhaps fell slightly short of expectations, whilst narrative and plot has always been solid, previous titles can be boiled down to a little more than a third person shooter, where you fire lightening from your hands rather than bullets from your gun.
As enjoyable as this might sound, it doesn’t take long for players to become aware of the parallels between prior Infamous games and a relatively generic third person shooter. This in particular is where Infamous Second Son comes in. Second Son takes a different approach, incorporating its powers as much more than a special effect emitted from your hands, but as a tool which fundamentally changes the manner in which you approach combat situations. In particular Sucker Punch have added a mobility button, its functionality varies from power to power but at its core it enables you to get places, quickly. In combat however this produces a significantly distinct experience to anything else I’ve played. Blending your offensive and mobility tools together creates fast paced and fluid gameplay where you control the pacing and momentum rather than the enemy, this instills a sense of liberation and power within the player that Infamous hasn’t previously been able to achieve, and the game manages to do so without sacrificing its rich environments and narrative that fans have come to expect.
Second Son is an absolute pleasure to play, and Seattle a pleasure to explore. Delsin is able to cut through the city as efficiently as he is able to run through enemies, a master of his environment. Each power individually is crafted to enable you to feel like superior, not only in relation to those who oppose you but to the city itself, you’ll dominate the city in a way that’s almost indescribable due to its comparative absence in other titles. You can whiz through the city with neon, saying no to obstacles no matter how small or large as you circumvent gravity, luminously propelling yourself across vertical surfaces, up one side and down the other. All the while without losing control, you can rush through the environment at 60 mph in a manner that might appear chaotic and uncontrollable, but then stop in a mere fraction of a second to engage an enemy or begin mission. In combat this enables you to analyse the field, and select the most efficient way of dispatching your foes, gunners on the rooftops giving you trouble? Half a second later and you can be plunging your neon blade into them.
The environment equally worthy of attention, whilst not a direct recreation of the city the game is based on, Sucker Punches’ Seattle is beautifully crafted. Never have I played a game featuring such meticulous attention to detail within an open-world city-scape environment. Sucker punch went above and beyond typical expectations with the addition of detail such as pedestrians modelled off of real Seattlelians, stores based off of real stores in Seattle, as well as various environmental aspects crafted specifically for the game. As you traverse the city you’ll constantly see something new, even the building architecture differs radically on a building by building basis. It all comes together to create a real, believable city, which is initially easy to feel somewhat overwhelmed by but the presence of a few key landmarks help you grasp an orientation relatively quickly and as Delsin garners more and more power the city generally becomes easier and easier to traverse with speed.
As a character Delsin is similar to Cole in one particular regard and this is that he’s not one of universal charm. Delsin is a relatively arrogant adolesent who initially offers little more to society than his stencil based graffiti art which he liberally ‘tags’ wherever he so pleases. Beyond this we get to know very little about Delsin’s personality prior to his acquisition of powers, and they appear to do little to change his attitude. Delsin makes snide and sarcastic remarks at every available opportunity, and your own personality and sense of humour are liable to influence your feelings about him as a character. Personally I enjoyed Delsin’s personality and sense of humour, but it’s possibly a reflection of my own personality and how much I enjoy sarcasm in particular. However even if you find it difficult to relate Deslin is an undeniably well-written character, and the stellar voice work and writing holds true for the rest of the cast too. Each character is unique and believable, and Sucker Punch do a good job providing insights into their character beyond their direct interactions with Delsin. The characters you interact with, and in particular other bio-terrorists don’t simply sit at home waiting for Delsin to call them up for a mission, they have lives and activities of their own, this greatly aids Sucker Punch to craft a grounded, believable narrative.
Perhaps least significantly the game serves as a phenomenal tour-de-force of the Playstation 4s visual heft, Seattle is gorgeous. Everything has been modeled and textured with a phenomenal level of attention and detail. No single back alley looks dull, even the underside of cars have had a substantial amount of consideration. Most striking of all perhaps are Delsins powers themselves, consistently illuminating the screen with literally thousand of particle effects, the game is the definitive visual showcase on the PS4, and one that goes far above and beyond anything that was available in the console generation prior. This is the first of a new breed of open-world games where almost limitless RAM enables developers to keep large scale, open world environments a consistent spectacle rather than a pop-in infested eyesore. Second Son sets benchmarks in open world graphical fidelity that games like Watchdogs will hope to surpass, but at time of writing is the definitive graphical experience on next gen systems.
However it’s not all roses, whilst the games narrative is generally of a high quality, it’s relatively short and somewhat underdeveloped and if you so desired, you could easily complete the game under the 6 hour mark. Furthermore the Evil ‘moral’ decisions are somewhat far-fetched. Often involving murdering innocents for no particular reason, it generally feels more anarchistic than evil. When civilians are downed you can either revive them, or execute them, if you choose to do the latter you’ll earn evil karma and get to watch a civilian explode into dust as you kick them across a carpark, but these moral actions aren’t reflected in the games dialogue. Whilst your brother guides you through most of the games missions, he rarely makes a comment on your behaviour beyond very specific predefined instances. There’s very little that suggests your brother (who is a cop himself) would even allow you to murder civilians and cops, but he generally refrains from remarking on the behavior. While specific decisions do reflect consequence immediately, once the specific predefined consequential cutscene, is over, dialogue basically returns to its origin as if nothing different has happened. The diverging moral choices are not so much diverging but simply offer alternative ways to respond in a cutscene, and beyond changing the games ending there’s little substantial affect.
The game also falls a little short in regards enemy variety, you meet most of the enemy variations within the first 20 minutes of gameplay, and whilst there are infrequent cinamatic boss fights and unique encounters these offer little to write home about. Sucker Punch clearly misstook amping up difficulty with increasing the numbers, be that the amount of health a boss has, or the sheer number of grunt enemies on screen at one time, the games AI fails to evolve in any meaningful way throughout the 12 hour experience. However that’s isn’t to say destroying a DUP base, full of enemies you’ve encountered before isn’t enjoyable, or consistently challenging. The number of tools at Delsins disposal makes even the simplest of actions such as traversal enjoyable, so of course any opportunity to exercise this power offensively is almost always fun rather than tedious. But it would have been nice to see more engaging enemies that forced players to adapt different strategies going from one battle to another, as opposed to the almost artificial increases in difficulty presented by increasing enemy numbers.
Second Son isn’t without its blemishes. Whilst the game revels in drawing you into a sublime superhero power-fest, it’s arguably lacking in substance thanks to neglected development of artificial intelligence and plot. Fortunately however Infamous really plays to its strengths and where it falls short really doesn’t influence the overall experience as much as the explosively enjoyable gameplay. Infamous is a carefully crafted experience which does a fantastic job pulling you into a believable, and enjoyable superhero experience. The games narrative is excellent, Delsin and co are truly well written characters and perhaps formost the game does a fantastic job at making you feel powerful whilst keeping you grounded in an almost believable plot. It’s unfortunate that Second Son is a game that will most likely leave you wanting more, but it’s fortuitous that this is for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.
Bad Overall Second Son is a phenominal ‘next-gen’ experience. Offering fantastic, fluid, fast paced gameplay whilst showcasing the graphical heft of the PS4. Characters are well written but controversial, its largest failing comes in the form of an underdeveloped plot, particularly when playing the games ‘evil’ route which makes little sense when taken in context of the games characters.
Overall Second Son is a phenominal ‘next-gen’ experience. Offering fantastic, fluid, fast paced gameplay whilst showcasing the graphical heft of the PS4. Characters are well written but controversial, its largest failing comes in the form of an underdeveloped plot, particularly when playing the games ‘evil’ route which makes little sense when taken in context of the games characters.