Game Review: Infamous Second Son

First PS4 game review! Legit-looking screenshots here I come!

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Platform:
PS4
Developer:
Sucker Punch
Rating: M
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The Delsin beanie you get with this edition is awesome.

The Delsin beanie you get with this edition of the game is awesome.

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Enjoy your powers.

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That’s the name given to the Platinum Trophy of Infamous: Second Son, as well as the mantra that allegedly guided powerhouse Sony developer Sucker Punch while they were making the game. It shows. Not only is the third Infamous title a jaw-dropping visual feast that truly flexes the PS4’s muscle, it’s just a ton of fun to play. It may not break the open world action game mould in any meaningful way, but I had an absolute blast exploring its fluid momentum system and suite of upgradeable powers. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the first disc-based PS4 exclusive for which a console purchase may be justified.

THE SET-UP

Despite taking place in a universe that Sucker Punch has developed over five years and two PS3 games, Infamous: Second Son goes out of its way to avoid as much of its predecessor’s baggage as possible. Outside of the presence of “conduits” in its universe (humans who develop superhuman powers seemingly at random), Second Son has next to no story connections with the previous two games. This is deliberate, as the PS4 is a new console designed to draw in new players. You play as Delsin, a talented graffiti artist who discovers he has the ability to absorb the powers of the conduits he meets. A bad guy appears around the same time, and you must defeat said bad guy plus minions while exploring an impressive appropriation of real-life Seattle. That’s about it.

You may share our hero’s smile before too long.

WHAT YOU DO

I never played the first two Infamous games, but I’ve been around the Playstation brand for long enough to know plenty about them. Specifically, enough to know that Second Son does not stray very far at all from the basic gameplay style for which the series is known. Aside from powers you can upgrade through the (addictive) pursuit of Blast Shards around the city, the central conceit of the Infamous games is a binary morality system, with two very different endings to boot. Completing actions determined by the game as “good”, such as disarming enemies rather than killing them, freeing captives or busting small drug rings, will add “good karma” to a meter that allows you to inch closer to a virtuous ending. Acting like a general menace around town will do the opposite. A simplistic approach to be sure, but it works well to direct gameplay towards tangible rewards.

Sweet, sweet Blast Shards are everywhere, waiting to be absorbed.

The unique features of the PS4’s much-lauded Dualshock 4 controller are well utilised in Second Son, without overstaying their welcome. The central touchpad is used in place of button inputs for a few context-sensitive actions, the vast majority of which feel like natural, instantly responsive improvements on traditional quicktime events. The controller’s LED light bar glows a steadily darker shade of blue/red as you progress down the good or evil karma routes and the odd graffiti sequence will have you turning the controller on its side and using it like a spraycan. These are cool features, but they are superficial at best. The biggest actual gameplay change from previous Infamous games is the expanded range of creative powers at your disposal.

Neon is my personal favourite power set, mostly because of this.

The first two powers, smoke and neon, were the only ones the public knew about before the game launched, so I won’t spoil what the others are. Yet rest assured that there is something for every combat taste present here, from defensive moves to ranged attacks to stealthy techniques to agility boosters and beyond. The powers start out looking very similar, which is a bit disappointing, but diversify quickly with both upgrades and karma levels. Augmenting your favourite powers to suit your preferences is simple once you’ve done a little exploring, which in turn is easy with the game’s power-enhanced parkour system. Because every power set is drawn from resources you can find everywhere in a modern city, recharging and switching powers on the fly is just as fluid.

WHAT YOU SEE

Infamous: Second Son is arguably the prettiest game yet to hit the PS4. Considering that the game takes place in an open world setting, it’s astounding to see what SP has been able to achieve with individual sections of Seattle. The famous Space Needle stands tall and reflects light believably off its shiny surfaces, while puddles show up suspiciously often to show off the game’s lighting techniques. Parks look gorgeous during the day, while lights of every hue paint the night in Technicolor glory. The sheer volume of particle effects that emanate from Delsin’s body when he uses just one superpower dwarf what entire scenes in the PS3 days could achieve. The game runs smoothly for the most part as well, with only the occasional framerate stutter during massive firefights. Second Son is the first Sucker Punch game to utilise performance capture for its actors, which means the visual splendour continues into the game’s mightily impressive cutscenes.

The particle effects are a true sight to behold.

WHAT YOU HEAR

Speaking of cutscenes, that performance capture is paired with some pretty tidy writing to deliver an enjoyable, if brief and disjointed, story. The ever-present Troy Baker relishes the carefree title role, showcasing two sides of the old “power and responsibility” superpower cliches, while the equally busy Laura Bailey cuts a memorable figure as drug addict Fetch. The banter between Delsin and his brother Reggie (played by Travis Willingham) provides some light-hearted entertainment but most attempts at serious drama end up feeling stilted and flat as a result. The two-extremes approach of the game’s moral choices hardly gels with the main thrust of the narrative either. Considering the tonal gravity that the first two Infamous games pulled off so well, it’s ultimately a bit disappointing to see such impressive performance tech and stellar voice acting failing to amount to much. There isn’t much to be said about the rest of the sound offering – it’s rock solid and suits the colourful on-screen action.

Travis Willingham and Troy Baker share a moment by the docks.

WILL YOU GO BACK?

Much like previous Infamous games, Second Son isn’t really designed to be played just once. Sure, you can give it one run-through and be done with it, but you may find its 7-10 hour play time a little lacking for a full-priced game if you do, especially if you have no interest in discovering all the hidden goodies that Seattle holds. Though there is understandably some overlap, the good and evil playthroughs do offer enough differences in gameplay and aesthetics to warrant playing the game twice. Indeed, Infamous: Second Son is almost begging to be played with one eye on its Platinum Trophy, as if you aim to see everything there is to see in both the good and evil storylines you will be essentially 90% of the way there. Regardless, exploration stays rewarding throughout. If you aim to completely clean up the town you’ll be triangulating signals, picking out secret agents, locating hidden cameras, spraypainting walls and fighting a whole heap of enemies. There’s just enough variety here to entice a thorough approach and I’d argue that the game’s value lives and dies by this fact.

Delsin’s graffiti skills manifest in gameplay with entertaining results.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Gorgeous to look at, fun & unique powers, a collect-a-holic’s dream
Bad:
Short if you play just once, disjointed story
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515/110A M A Z I N G

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