High expectations have been swimming around Infamous: Second Son as the PS4 exclusive launch titles Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall, if we are being honest, were a little lacklustre. With a console dedicated to the gamers, Sony’s flagship title really needed to deliver, but amidst all the hype and media coverage could the new Infamous win over a new set of PS4 fans?
If you are a little unfamiliar with the history of Infamous as a series, don’t fret. Infamous: Second Son doesn’t require you to have played previous Infamous games to fathom what’s going. The plot could be found in just about any X-Men comic, as the world of Infamous is full of ‘Conduits‘ who are gifted with extraordinary abilities. However, the world soon fears them and brands anyone who is a Conduit as a ‘Bio-Terrorist.’
The government responds and sets up the D.U.P (Department of Unified Protection) who are entrusted with rounding up all Bio-Terrorists. At the head of the D.U.P is Brooke Augustine who is the gaming equivalent of Nurse Ratched from the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. She is the epitome of evil and you just want to wipe that smug, condescending, control freak grin off her face. Luckily, players take on the role of Delsin Rowe who has just the very opportunity to do that.
Delsin Rowe lives in a small Akomish village on the outskirts of Seattle and spends the best part of his day graffiting the village, shirking responsibilty, much to the dismay of his older brother Reggie, who happens to be a cop. During an argument between Delsin and Reggie a D.U.P van crashes and several conduits escape. As Reggie chases the fleeing convicts Delsin hears that someone (Hank) is trapped in the van and proceeds to help him out. Once Delsin comes into direct contact with this conduit Delsin absorbs Hank’s powers, which happen to be aptly named ‘smoke’ – more on that later. Delsin seemingly was previously unaware that he was a conduit himself, with the ability to steal other conduit’s powers.
The D.U.P eventually respond to the crash and show up along with Augustine. A traitor to her kind, Augustine is an extremely powerful conduit herself and uses her abilities to help round up all the other conduits. She arrests Hank and with a series of events Delsin is forced to follow her to Seattle.
Once in Seattle you have pretty much free roam of the city and what a beautiful city it is. Every inch of Seattle looks beautiful through the eyes of Delsin. In fact every visual facet of Infamous: Second Son is done with care. The characters themselves, particularly our two brotherly heroes Delsin and Reggie, are so detailed they feel almost real. Infamous is one of those games where just staring at it blows you away.
The characterisation is also well scripted. Delsin and Reggie’s tentative brotherhood draws you in instantly. Even though they are on opposite ends of the scale in terms of beliefs, their hatred for Augustine unifies them. You feel a lot of love for both characters as they look out for each other and even though the game is met by several bit part characters, they also feel very fleshed out. Their introductions don’t feel like the one dimensional introductions of typical action games. Just by looking at them you can tell they are three dimensional characters, with a past, even if we only see a glimpse of certain aspects of their personality.
The gameplay is incredibly fun too and this is all down to the powers that Delsin acquires. Without spoiling too much there are four power types that Delsin steals from other conduits. Each relatively unique from the next. What’s great about each power type is that they have several things in which they can do. These abilities are unlocked throughout story mode but by finding shards dotted about the map you can upgrade them. By spending your points you either unlock new abilities or increase the strength of those abilities.
Power types like ‘Smoke’ are often used in an aggressive way as they have the capability of obliterating everything in sight. In contrast, ‘Neon’ encapsulated you in a swirl of pinks and purples as you become an unmeasureable speed freak, you can even scale buildings just by running up them.
With each power being crazier than the last you can really hammer those buttons firing a tirade of devastation upon your foes. Before you know it you’ve drained your power bar and you’re running on empty. However, whenever you run out of juice for your powers who can look at your mini map for power sources. Depending which power source you absorb, such as smoke from a burnt out car, determines what ability you’ll currently equip. Swapping powers about to overcome certain obstacles is fun but is perhaps not exploited enough. Sometimes it would have been interesting to have been forced to switch powers several times to combat a difficult enemy or traverse through a particular mission. But as I say the powers are fun and reflect Delsin’s rebellious and slightly angst ridden nature. You often feel like him whenever acquiring a new power. You just want to scream “hell yeah this is my power and you can’t take it away from me.”
However, despite all of these great positives Infamous: Second Son in certain areas really lets itself down. The city is huge but actually has little to do in it. If you’re expecting GTA V with tons of random encounters and side quests, this will disappoint you. In fact side quests are practically non-existent. The closest we come to a side quest is liberating the many districts from D.U.P control.
Every district has a percentage meter, which indicates how much the D.U.P are in control of that area. To rid the district of these fascists you must do several repetitive tasks. You can locate the secret agents hidden amongst the crowd and force him out of the district. There are also several camera’s or hand scanners that highlight conduits that you have to disable. You can graffiti or collect audio logs, before inevitably having a final showdown with the D.U.P to finally force them out of that particular district. When you hear that it sounds like there is a lot to do and there is, although technically optional you have to do this for every single district and there is no variation. I acknowledge that in reality most games are repetitive but Infamous: Second son effectively draws attention to it. By freeing the area you are rewarded with fast travel and a slightly decreased D.U.P presence. The rewards really should be unlocking a story driven side mission. But besides the main story missions and the liberating of the districts there is nothing else to do within the game. This will be a huge problem for fans of free roam games as discovery and quests are usually a given.
Finally this brings me to one of the integral parts of the game, or is it? Just like previous Infamous games you have a karma decision to make. Shall I, in this moment, choose to be good or bad? Great, I love that, but the decisions are too black and white with no real grey area. In the first Infamous you played as Cole and had decisions like this to make; you could attack the authorities from the crowd meaning you’d endanger them but give yourself an advantage by being difficult to spot or you could be good by standing separate from the crowd but being in no mans land. Each decisions presented a pro and a con. Infamous: Second Son doesn’t do that.
In the Twinstickgaming office we debated the reasons for this. Was the game lacking ambition or was there a more rational explanation. In Infamous 1 and 2 you play as Cole who is a gruff, rough around the edges anti-hero archetype. Yet his characterisation was somewhat hollow. This was down to the player to fill this vacuum by choosing whatever decisions they felt best at the time, therefore creating a personality for Cole. In contrast Delsin, due to the fabulous scripting, is a fully formed person. You just have to determine whether that person is the the bad boy rebel or someone seeking purpose by saving his tribes people. This decision comes about very early in the game when Augustine is trying to extract information from you and the townsfolk. You can either offer yourself up to protect them or say ‘to hell with it.’ Either way you feel compelled to keep making either good or bad choices based on that initial decision. Perhaps the game would have benefitted by not making it so obvious whether each decision was purely good or bad. Removing the Karma meter during these moments might have made players choose from their instincts, rather than being guided.
Whilst Infamous: Second Son’sgraphics, scripting and superpower combat mechanics sit firmly in next gen territory it’s overall gameplay and lack of variation sit firmly in previous gen. Despite all that though I still love this game and the series as a whole. Infamous: Second Son is certainly a step up from the previous games but that step isn’t quite big enough for this game to be considered a masterpiece, but it is still Sony’s best exclusive by a long way. Definitely worth a play.