written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Sure the PS4 launched late last year, but with inFamous: Second Son I can firmly state that “Next-Gen” is officially started… at least for me. This game was the main reason I bought a PS4, sure it would be four months until my shiny new console gets truly utilized, but I’ve got to say it was worth the wait.
A new city, a new setting, and a brand new protagonist; inFamous: Second Son is a direct continuation of the events from inFamous 2, in case you never played either of the preceding games, check out our recent article where we get you caught up on inFamous. Due to the events of inFamous 2, public opinion of Conduits was by large negative. John White, as the Beast, destroyed most of the Eastern seaboard starting at Empire City heading south to New Marais. While it was due to Cole McGrath’s sacrifice that millions of people survived, thousands of Conduits died when he activated the RFI, a device that would kill people who possessed the Conduit gene (whether active or latent). Even though New Marais heralded Cole as a hero and dubbed him the Patron Saint of their city, the rest of the country still feared Conduits, dubbing them Bio-Terrorists, and even enacted crazy witch hunts to prevent anything like the Empire City disaster from happening again. Seven years has passed since Cole McGrath died and the US Government created the Department of Unified Protection (the DUP), a military organization tasked with hunting down those with the Conduit gene and locking them away. Enter Delsin Rowe, a young man of the fictional Akomish Tribe. After a DUP prison transport crashes in his hometown, his latent Conduit abilities are activated after touching Hank Daughtry, a Conduit prisoner, and absorbing his powers. The DUP acts fast with their Director, Brooke Augustine, in tow. While chasing Hank, Delsin uses his new found powers in front of everyone to flush him out. Hank is caught by the DUP and Augustine, who turns out to be a Conduit, encases him in concrete. In an attempt to find out the truth about what transpired, she tortures the members of the tribe by imbedding shards of concrete in their bodies. With the members of the tribe dying, the only way to remove the shards is the same way they went it. This becomes Delsin’s primary objective, he and his brother, Sheriff Reggie Rowe, head to Seattle to find Augustine and absorb her powers.
I feel that I should address the city first, while previous inFamous games were set in fictionalized versions of New York and New Orleans, Second Son marks the first game in the series to use a real city as the template of the open world. Since Sucker Punch is a local company (headquarters are in Bellevue, WA) it’s no surprise they were able to create such an accurate slice of Seattle living. While not a block for block recreation, Second Son’s Seattle is a very faithful representation of the city. While such iconic landmarks like The Space Needle and the Pacific Science Center are faithfully recreated, other local landmarks like the Elephant Car Wash and The Crocodile (both real Seattle landmarks) are represented in their respective neighborhoods. Real life districts like Queen Anne and Bell Town make an appearance and each district (like in real life) has it’s own distinct character. This attention to detail is one of the most amazing aspects of the game, being a Seattle native I knew all these places and navigating a very familiar setting left me feeling very at home with the whole experience. The world is huge and truly utilizes the power the PS4 has to offer, it felt much bigger than New Marais but this never ends up feeling overwhelming. Some powers enable you to traverse your environment with super-speed and fast travel points (unlocked after liberating a district) help navigate this big city.
The streets felt alive; the diverse populace of Seattle is well represented with people of all walks of life populating the coffee shops and sidewalks. During my run as “evil” Delsin I actually felt pretty remorseful for some of the villainous things I did, thinking to myself, “that dude I vaporized into ash could have been someone’s father/brother/husband/boo-thang!
Speaking of the karma system, by large it’s unchanged from previous games. Commit acts of heroism to gain the support of the people or commit atrocities to selfishly take down all who get you way. Most of your karmic choices are made on the open world; you can bust drug dealers for good karma or massacre Conduit bigots for evil karma. One element I missed from inFamous 2 was karmic side missions. I remember certain missions that would task Cole to kill police officers or take down over zealous members of the militia, missions with a karmic choice were kept entirely to the main narrative. This created what I felt was a shortage on chances to test YOUR Delsin’s morality. On the plus side, once you head down a karmic path, this locks you out of the opposite choice; if you choose to redeem Fetch, you can no longer access the mission you would have done if you chose to corrupt her. There really is no middle of the road for this game, sure you can choose to play with a neutral morality but the game will actually lock you out of certain abilities that you can only access if you are either good or evil. So as a player, it works in your benefit to be truly heroic or despicably infamous.
While the performances in inFamous 2 were already superb, the fully mo-cap’d performances of Second Son’s voice actors made interactions between characters feel naturally true-to-life. Troy Baker (I call him the “Daniel-Day Lewis” of voice acting) is fantastic as Delsin Rowe while the lovely Laura Bailey lends her voice and likeness to Fetch Walker. The cast is full of veteran voice over actors creating a truly immersive experience. Cinematic moments benefit from mo-capping the most, primarily interactions between Delsin and his brother Reggie (played by Travis Willingham). Through their performances, you can really grasp the relationship Delsin has with his big bro, some of the most emotional moments of the game’s narrative involve Delsin interacting with his brother. Reggie can be hard-headed at times but you really feel how much he worries about his brother, even when Delsin is freaking out after trying to get used to his new powers Reggie just holds his brother telling him “everything is gonna be okay.” Playing this game made me want to go hug my own brother (bring it in kid!). A strong supporting cast rounds out a truly superb collection of characters, I wish the game was longer and I hope we can expect some story based DLC to follow.
Visually, this is the prettiest game I’ve seen this generation. The city is wonderfully imagined with a super long draw distance. In my playthrough, I never noticed any pop-in while traversing the city. Textures are detailed and lighting effects are wonderfully surreal, neon signs reflect off puddles and weather effects (whether day or night) are rendered beautifully believable. I was confident that with a local studio producing this game they would capture what Seattle weather is truly like… unlike movies that like to always portray the city as raining; Second Son’s Seattle features rain, overcast, foggy, and even the rare beautiful day we get as Seattle natives. One gripe I have isn’t major but does pull you out of immersion from time to time. Reflections seem to only reflect the surrounding environment, when Delsin is pressed against the glass of a skyscraper or walking along a rainy street, the character model isn’t reflected back… now while this isn’t a major gripe and given what they have already accomplished in making this game, this slight lack of polish does serve to remind you at times that you really are just playing a videogame. Lighting effects are spot on, whether night or day, rainy or overcast, the game still manages to look gorgeous; during some moments I couldn't believe that it was all in-engine graphics, Sucker Punch truly utilized the power of the PS4, which isn’t surprising since the first inFamous game was released less than three years into the lifecycle of the PS3 and arguably was one of the best looking games at the time. Characters feel truly alive, along with the impressive mo-cap animation, characters are rendered beautifully; from slight imperfections on the skin to a scene where Reggie was chewing a piece of gum, everything was rendered with impeccable care and polish.
Feeling powerful is one of the cornerstone themes of the inFamous series and with an all new hero with all new powers, the effects that come with the powers are just as important. Smoke and Neon are the only powers revealed in trailers, and in the interest of preserving your surprise with new powers I won’t mention them, but those two alone are imagined brilliantly. Light swirls of smoke surround Delsin when shooting his projectiles while a blur of neon light encompasses the entire character when running at super speeds. Like in previous infamous games, how your powers look are reflected by your karmic alignment… a hero will exhibit shades of yellow and orange in his smoke while a villain unleashes smoke with a deep red and satisfying thud!
I’ve read some reviews online and many of them judge the story more harshly than what I felt, maybe my opinions are more bias with this being a hometown adventure, but honestly this was the best (there I said it) story in the entire inFamous franchise so far. I loved Cole’s story and the plot twist at the end of the first game really did surprise me, but Delsin is such a charismatic character he adds so much to the story that you really care about his prime directive. I played trough the game both as a hero and a villain, maxing out stats and even playing a bit of the end game. While both stories were satisfying, I did have trouble truly taking the evil story as seriously. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a fantastic story to tell (and that ending… so bad ass!), but my experience with Delsin felt like all the horrible acts I committed during that playthough just didn’t fit the character. Unlike Cole, who viewed his powers more as a burden, Delsin reveled in his new-found abilities. While a cocky/over zealous nature CAN breed a villain, I honestly couldn't see him going that route. Cole, on the other hand, saw lonesomeness and despair in his power… those two emotions can be great motivators to do good, but also push a man to his brink to go berserk. Both stories in Second Son were good, but overall, I favored the heroic Delsin, it just felt more natural in my opinion.
Whenever I play a game, the most important element to me aren’t the visual or auditory aspects, not even the story (though that is a very close second). In my opinion, the most important aspect of game design is gameplay. As I stated earlier, inFamous games are about feeling powerful. Much of the game remains similar to previous entries in the inFamous series. You still use a shoulder button to shoot and aim, secondary attacks like throwing grenades and rockets are now mapped to shoulder buttons rather than face buttons, and melee attacks are still mapped to the square button. The newest inclusion involves the Dual Shock 4’s new touch pad, while some may look at the touchpad as gimmicky, Sucker Punch managed to make it work. You can swipe right to open doors or unlock cages, swipe up to lift objects, press to interact with objects in the environment and draw power from sources and blast shards/cores. I really enjoyed how effectively they incorporated the touch pad into gameplay, and I have got to say that swiping right to open doors sure as hell beats “X to [insert action]” any day.
Delsin’s multiple powers are truly unique, rather than just being a swap of Cole’s abilities, combat in Second Son is approached refreshingly different. The cover system is gone, trading tactical firefights for frantic run-and-gun gameplay, Delsin moves much faster than Cole which is a fair tradeoff for the lack of a true cover system. When battles get hairy, Delsin can zoom around the battlefield searching for a more advantageous position as opposed to searching for a barrier to hide behind. Even the shooting mechanics are tweaked for the increased speed of battles, you no longer have to “aim” to shoot, though aiming still serves the purpose of allowing you to better focus your shots, the seamless transition from traversing the environment to gunning down enemies feels much more natural that the stop-aim-shoot mechanic of previous inFamous games. Combat is more exciting and this run-and-gun approach to battles solidifies Delsin as character of his own. Melee combat is changed, gone are the combos and finishing moves that made melee combat so satisfying in inFamous 2, rather melee is treated more like a supplementary attack to Delsin’s powers. Depending on which power is currently equipped, Delsin’s melee attack differs in form and function; while using smoke his chain is treated like a whip wrapped in embers or with neon equipped his chain becomes a light sword featuring swift attacks. Delsin also comes equipped with a super attack called Karma Bomb. A Karma Bomb attack is activated the same way that Cole would activate his Ionic Storm… but prerequisite conditions differ. For good karma players, you must commit acts of heroism; healing wounded citizens and subduing enemies instead of killing them fills your Karma Bomb meter. For evil karma, you have to go on a killing spree; killing an enemy, executing a foe or citizen, and obliterating your foes to fill the same meter. While you can rack up heroic acts to fill the meter, if you slow down on your killing spree the meter will eventually reset. Both sides of the karmic coin require different tactics to unleash a Karma Bomb, which fits well with whatever karmic alignment your Delsin is leaning toward.
Though Delsin really is a powerful Conduit, that power is truly felt during frantic and challenging battles. Enemy AI is ramped up from previous games, they will move around the battlefield searching for tactical advantages and even flank Delsin from all sides. The increased challenge really makes dispatching a troop of DUP soldiers that much more satisfying. Sometimes when one final enemy is left standing, he will surrender to Delsin, this gives you the choice to either be merciful and subdue him or act on your ruthless nature and execute him. The DUP is similar to Vermaak 88 PMC Ice Conduits of inFamous 2. Much like how the Vermaak were infused with Lucy Kuo’s cryokinesis, the DUP soldiers are imbued with Augustine’s concrete powers. Enemy types are quite varied and offer a challenge when facing off against a variety of different enemy types in one skirmish. Boss encounters require different tactics to get passed, though in many respects it all comes down to how well you can manage Delsin’s powers and how effectively you make use of the skill trees.
Rather than including this when I wrote about gameplay, I wanted to devote an entire section to how Delsin used his powers. Much like how Cole was able to get pyro/cryokinesis from Nix or Kuo during inFamous 2, Delsin has a very special ability to absorb the powers of conduits he touches. While Cole could equip different abilities from one of the two new powers he gains, Delsin has the versatility to truly utilize all his powers. Draw from a smoke source to equip Smoke or find a big neon sign and draw energy from that to equip Neon. Each power set is unique and managing what powers to use during a fight can make all the difference. Delsin’s power adds variety to the series, like those variety packs of cereal you could get at Costco… why pick between Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes when you can just say “screw it, gimme both” and have it all? The other powers draw from the same concept; energy from the source is absorbed to activate the power. Each power-set has it’s own skill tree, new skills can be unlocked when you track down the required blast shards. Karma Bombs also differ depending on the power, Smoke gives you a devastating attack that levels the battlefield while Neon releases a barrage of lasers at your unfortunate foes.
Honestly, inFamous: Second Son in the best written inFamous game in my humble opinion, the story even trumps the “ermergherd” plot twist from the first entry in the series. Despite a few graphical glitches and the whole “reflection” thing. The game is highly polished with gorgeous visuals and a snappy new control scheme. I can’t sing the praises of this game any louder, it really was everything I was hoping for and then some. Thank you Sucker Punch for giving me such an awesome story to experience, and more importantly… thank you for validating my PS4 purchase. The inFamous games are all about making you feel powerful, but the series always made an indirect query, what would you do with all that power? I highly recommend playing inFamous: Second Son, whether you dream of being the hero Seattle deserves or you’d like to force Seattle cower beneath your boot, this is the PS4 game you’ve been waiting for
+ Gorgeous visuals
+ Excellent performances
+ Gameplay is pure nirvana
+ Awesome protagonist!
+ Robust arsenal
+ Excellent use of the touch pad
- The reflection "thing"
- Lack of karmic side missions