When the PlayStation 4 was first announced, the third instalment of inFamous was to be one of the platform’s premier launch titles. Excited fans of the franchise aside, the game would be the kind of release that would not only provide the player with a great experience, but would also showcase the new Sony console’s impressive power. And inFamous: Second Son has managed to live up to many of those expectations, providing the player with an impressive and immersive game set in a massive playground. But while developers Sucker Punch were concentrating on aiming for technical brilliance, it seems that their focus on other important aspects of the title waned just a little.
Second Son introduces the player to Delsin Rowe, a young Native American with a rebellious streak. After his tribe (the Akomish) end up in a bit of trouble stemming from his sudden development of Conduit powers, Delsin travels to Seattle to try and set things right.
The game hits a lot of great notes in its premise; a draconian organisation has labelled Conduits as “bio-terrorists” and is rounding them up, and it is up to Delsin to fight for the freedom of not only the Akomish, but also that of his newly-discovered supernatural-power-wielding brethren. And, as has always been the case in inFamous games, he can choose to tread the path of good or evil.
This is where Second Son makes its first misstep. The morality system doesn’t seem to have a massive impact on the overall experience, at least not in the ways it could have. Sure, Delsin develops different powers on the different paths (prompting the opportunity for at least one more play-through) and the population of Seattle react differently to him according to his choices, either cheering him as a hero or maligning him as a villain. But aside from a few changes in cut scenes and a different ending, the morality system of the game doesn’t seem to have a massive impact. In addition, the choices are generally rather black and white, while previous inFamous games actually had the player wringing their hands over tough decisions. It seems as though this system is a little tacked on, even though it does form an important part of the experience.
Delsin will ultimately develop four powers, with Smoke and Neon being the ones that were revealed before the game’s release. The four different power sets (and we won’t spoil the list here) each allow for various attacks and special abilities, which are purchased using a rather neat and easy to navigate skill tree system. Using resources gathered up in the city, the player can easily max out all powers, if they are thorough.
Among these powers are traversal methods, which make moving around Seattle quite easy. Initially, Delsin needs to rely on parkour-style climbing skills, but before long the player will be running super-fast (even up walls), dashing all over the place and soaring above the beautifully virtual version of Seattle.
And it really is impressive. The city is lively and vibrant, with distinctive districts to explore and a large population to save or terrorise. The real stars of the show here are the lighting and special effects. Puddles show believable reflections. Explosions emit thick, choking smoke. Slanting sun rays cast long shadows and play across glass and concrete surfaces. In this way, Second Son becomes a visual feast, presenting the player with visuals that are, quite often, jaw-dropping.
Injected into this detailed, complex and impressive setting are characters that are beautifully animated and modelled. There is a ton of detail introduced with each character, allowing the good standard of voice acting to be supported by characters that are believable and convincing. Small details – like skin deformation accompanying facial expressions – add to the visual magic that makes up Second Son’s presentation, and the voice acting by the likes of Troy Baker (who provides Delsin’s dialogue) combines with this to create a cast of memorable characters.
Sadly the script writing doesn’t really support this. While Delsin has interesting relationships with characters like his brother, the characters feel sort-of flat for the most part. They are fairly stereotypical and predictable. And other characters are simply not explored enough – characters like Fetch and Eugene, who could have been major players in the title, are simply not given enough attention by the narrative. In addition, the plot is rather predictable and lacks a lot of depth… a seriously blown opportunity at elevating Second Son to even higher heights.
While the main missions drive the story along, there is a lot for players to do around Seattle. The main missions tend to be protracted affairs, but only completing them will mean that the player cannot improve Delsin’s arsenal of powers. To do this, and to free the city of the influence of the antagonistic Department of United Protection, the player will need to undertake what Second Son offers as “side quests”; destroying DUP equipment and interfering with their operations. Each district will have audio logs to collect, drones to hunt, undercover operatives to put a stop to and graffiti to create. Doing so removes the DUP influence, and gives Delsin access to blast cores, which can be spent to improve his abilities.
Although Second Son does have a few weaker points, it is still a great game. It features a fluid play-style that allows players to tackle problems in numerous ways. The four powers, for example, allow for varied approaches to even main missions, and there are very few times when the player will feel like they are being directed in specific directions. The setting allows for a ton of exploration and goofing off, with lots to see or do.
Perhaps the biggest difference here is the fact that, unlike the previous two inFamous titles, Second Son feels more real. The move towards this realism may be a little jarring for fans initially, but it won’t be long before the immersive game dynamics and stunning presentation suck them entirely into Delsin Rowe’s crazy world. Turning peaceful city streets into super-powered battlegrounds is easy and fun, and the level of mayhem caused is entirely up to the player. Even switching between power sets is simple, allowing for a fluid and organic feel that enhances the experience, allowing the player to make the experience their own – even if it feels like some of their decisions don’t carry enough weight.
Most of all, Second Son stands as a testament to the PlayStation 4’s awesome power. If a game like this can be created so early in the console’s lifespan, the mind boggles at what may be possible in future. It is a powerful experience, even if its message isn’t all that impactful, and it serves as a great piece of interactive entertainment. Although it would have been great if some of the rougher edges had been knocked off, inFamous: Second Son is still a great way to experience what the PS4 is capable of, and it provides the player with a thrilling, sometimes even tense, video gaming experience.
Although it misses a few beats, Second Son is a thoroughly enjoyable game, and a great way to experience what the PS4 is capable of.
Developer: Sucker Punch
Distributer: Ster Kinekor