Game Review: Infamous: Second Son

Boxart, Infamous Second SonReviewed on Playstation 4, Official Website

Rated “T” for Teen

Being a huge fan of the first two “InFamous” games (my review of “InFamous 2”), I was incredibly anxious for this. It was, in fact, the first disc-based PS4 game I purchased. I played it, I loved it, then promptly forgot about reviewing it. With the release of the first DLC for the game, inFamous First Light, I decided to rectify that.

The Story So Far

The game takes places seven years after the events of inFamous 2 (and assumes, for those that care, the “Good Cole” ending of that game). In that time, the government has labeled all super-powered conduits “bio-terrorists” and begun imprisoning them without due cause or trial. The agency created to manage this is the Department of Unified Protection, or DUP, and they make up the vast majority of the enemies that you’ll be facing.

Delsin and Reggie Rowe are brothers living on the Akomish reservation outside Seattle. Both love their community and their heritage, but they’ve chosen different ways of expressing it. Reggie by becoming chief of the local police department and Delsin by getting arrested repeatedly for defacing public property with his stencil art (see sidebar).

The Best Use of a Controller Speaker, Ever

Stencil graffiti is a significant, secondary feature of the game. There’s a large collection of stencils to discover around the city, both for “good” players and “bad” ones. The artwork is reminiscent of modern artists like Banksy, and quite impressive. It’s also, often, funny as hell and a real highlight of the game.

The actual controls for the art are simple, but insanely immersive. The Dual Shock 4 is held sideways and, when shook, rattles exactly like a spray paint can by leveraging the controller-mounted speaker. The trigger becomes the spray button and you just fill in the stencils. It’s difficult to describe but is, weirdly, intensely satisfying.

It’s bizzare that such a – let’s face it – stupid little thing would sell me completely on the utility of a controller speaker, but there you go.

When a transport carrying three imprisoned conduits crashes nearby, Delsin discovers that he can absorb the powers of any conduit that he touches. A character with such powers is, legally, required of any super-hero franchise of a certain age. It may be cliche, but it’s the law.

The first two games explored electricity, fire and ice but this one needed to be a little creative to avoid repetition. Although he can only use one at a time, and they’re doled out throughout the story, Delsin learns to harness smoke, neon and, oddly, “video”. The characters who give him these powers are all major elements of the story.

For their part, the DUP has learned how to transfer specific conduit powers, namely control of concrete, to its agents. Of course, the bad guys power-up as Delsin does and the difficultly ramps up agreeably as the story progresses. The DUP’s equipment is powered by the same Ray Sphere blast shards that you likely spent too much time collecting in the first games. By destroying equipment and claiming the shards, Delsin unlocks new powers and weakens DUP control over the city.

Welcome to the Emerald City

This time around the city isn’t a fictional analog but, strangely, the actual city of Seattle. With inFamous moving into other media, this seems an odd choice if world-building is a goal. It’s unclear whether the settings of the earlier games, Empire City and New Marais, replace the actual cities they represent or are simply shoehorned between them someplace.

To maintain reasonable boundaries, the game’s Seattle is significantly more water-bound than the actual one. That said, the power of the PS4 is put to good use: many of the most famous parts of the city are lovingly recreated in high-definition detail. Thankfully, the city is also significantly drier than rain-soaked reality would dictate. There are dozens of call outs and inside jokes in the environment. Some of my favorites are references to the developer’s other premier franchise, Sly Cooper.

Game play and combat is on par with the original games. Thankfully, the overwhelming “cinematic melee” mode from the second game has been eliminated and this one is all zapping, all the time. The powers are fun and, again thanks to the bump in hardware capability, absolutely particalicious. The focus is on fluid movement across large distances and there’s a definite thrill in running across the city as a streak of prismatic neon, or darting above as a stream of choking smoke.

The story is limited, as were the previous ones, by a continued lack of indoor locations, but the acting and motion capture has improved dramatically (especially over the often laughable cinematics of the first game). Delsin and Reggie have a warm, if predictable, relationship and both characters are likable, if not particularly deep.

The Sad State of Morality in a Modern World

The morality system that’s become a trademark of the series has taken a significant step backwards, unfortunately. Where choices in the second game resulted in significant game play differences and an entirely different end game, choices here do, essentially, squat. The powers do differ similarly, but the story is, sadly, almost entirely unaffected.

In the second game, the morality choices dramatically affected the last half of the game and completely changed the final missions. Here, there are a few relatively minor, relatively short dialog differences and… that’s about it. There are a few differences in the optional side activities and an interesting set of graffiti art, but nothing that makes the system feel necessary.

It may be a trademark of the series, but I’d rather see it dropped completely than done half-assed.

Good, Not Great

That’s it, really: this is a good entry in the franchise, but not a great one. In some ways it feels rushed and repetitive. There’s no doubt it’s a technical tour de force. It looks great and is a hell of a lot of fun to play, but feels smaller, both in scope and range, than the first two.

Still, it kept me happily entertained through two play-throughs and became my first PS4 platinum trophy. It may indeed be the worst of the three games, but it’s still pretty damn good for all that.

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