inFamous: Second Son Review
There are times when I wish I could simply issue a one-word review. In the case of inFamous: Second Son, that word is obvious from the get-go; it’s a word that permeates every last nook and cranny of the game, every particle effect of every prodigious power, and every step your character takes. It’s a word fans of the series know well because above all else, inFamous is – and hopefully will always be – fun. Yeah, I can’t stand the main character. The story has too many predictable “oppression of a certain group” clichés. But you know what I’m very often doing when playing?
Part of the reason for that smile is the splendid environment, which, despite being too dark and foreboding for my tastes, is beautifully constructed and immensely immersive. The city of Seattle is brimming with activity and atmosphere, two traits that make any virtual world well worth visiting. Second Son is indeed a great example of what the PlayStation 4 is capable of, especially in regards to performance. This is a game that runs perfectly nearly one hundred percent of the time, and you can tell Sucker Punch took advantage of the PS4’s power. From the fantastic character design to the meticulous detail seen in our surroundings, this is a graphical tour de force.
The sound isn’t quite as impressive, just because I sense some minor technical difficulties. The balancing is off (again, something I continue to complain about with next-gen software) and the soundtrack, while quite fitting, could’ve been even more insistent than it is. That being said, there’s no denying the extremely high quality of every audio aspect, from the effects to the music to the voice performances. The latter really are great, as top-notch performances from accomplished actors like Troy Baker (Joel, The Last Of Us) add style and professionalism to the narrative.
Mutants are being hunted because everyone is afraid of their capabilities. This very “X-Men”-like premise places the protagonist, a conduit named Delsin Rowe, in the midst of an ongoing manhunt. After all, he can absorb the powers of others so he’s automatically a societal pariah. Unfortunately, the military presence and fascist regime in the city of Seattle creates an oppressive environment. And why should Delsin fight to protect those who despise him? Why not just exact revenge against an intolerant government? You could be the bigger man and fight for virtue and goodness, I suppose, but…
The moral choices you’re allowed to make in the game aren’t developed enough, but then again, I expected that. If you go too far down that path, the fun factor quickly begins to diminish. Besides, the game is designed in a way that makes you more interested in taking out baddies at every turn, as opposed to chipping away at the deeply entrenched problems in the city. The only small downside is that early on, the pacing seems off, as you have to watch a series of cut-scenes that actually detract from our enjoyment. See, I love cut-scenes; always have. I always defend them. But in certain cases, they just feel superfluous.
And I’m not saying these cut-scenes were useless, because they really did establish the fiction and back story for the game. However, it seems like Sucker Punch started down a more story-heavy road at the start of development, and then ultimately decided to let the open-world aspect dominate. Maybe that’s why the pacing seems screwy at first. Either way, once you’ve worked your way past the first few hours, and you find the sprawling, heavily compromised city of Seattle at your feet, it’s time to employ those very special abilities in the destruction of those who wish to stop you. Delsin’s awesome powers are tons ‘o fun to use!
The best part is that Sucker Punch’s talented team always gives you ample opportunity to experiment with your new-found abilities. If you’re observant and you approach battles with some tact, you’ll notice that many of your enemies are advantageously placed…advantageous, I mean, for you. As the environment is more destructible than ever, you can often use your surroundings to great effect. It takes some of the strain off you in terms of survival, and adds a sense of dynamic action to the game. You’re not merely looking to directly eliminate your foes; you’re also seeking ways to indirectly take ‘em out.
I’m still not sure if I like the new way of handling health. Like so many other games these days, you can restore lost health simply by steering clear of damage. In past inFamous games, you needed to draw power (aka health) from the environment in order to stay alive. Removing that mechanic in favor of the more popular health method makes some sense, but I think I preferred the old way. In the latter instance, you tend to approach situations with a bit more caution, and you’re always examining your surroundings for structures that will restore your health. This new mechanic just means you can throw caution to the wind more often.
Even so, you still have to be careful. A modern-day superhero you may be, but your enemies have plenty of firepower. So, I don’t mean to imply that Second Son is easier, per se. It can feel a little on the light side, though, just because those moral choices we have to make aren’t all that compelling. It’s not difficult to see what’s “good” and “evil,” and the decision basically relies upon your mood: If you want to be good, you need to break out the smoke handcuffs for your foes; if you want to go nuts, just clear out everything in sight. However, you have to do it as quickly as possible so as to keep your multiplier up.
I’m not the biggest fan of the multiplier idea, either. Such a mechanic is simply designed to speed up the pace of the game and with inFamous, that’s just not necessary. With such a frenetic style of gameplay, things go plenty fast enough. But you always feel as if you’re in complete and total control, and besting your enemies just takes a bit of coordination and concentration. The combat is absolutely superb and given the stellar atmosphere, you’re always ready and willing to throw down. It’s one of those games that’s just so difficult to stop playing, especially when you start to earn some of the heavier powers. The bottom line is that fighting is always thrilling, and it never loses its heady appeal.
Sucker Punch does employ some alternative control mechanics via motion sensing (spreading graffiti on buildings) and the Dual Shock 4 touch pad (swipe to open a door, for example). The good news is that none of this feels gimmicky or tacked-on, and each mechanic is implemented quite well. I never had a problem with the control, which is always quick and responsive overall. If you’re stuck in a tight situation, you can always count on your simple mastery of the controls; it’s easy to learn, relatively easy to execute, but sometimes challenging to succeed on every possible level. In short, it feels like just the right amount of difficulty blended with player empowerment.
inFamous: Second Son is a blast. It shoots from the hip and revels in its spontaneous, visceral display of power vs. power. Like I said, I’m not a fan of the annoying protagonist and the story could’ve been better, but the gameplay keeps you coming back for more. You’re always riveted to the action and you never feel shortchanged or stymied. The environment welcomes your insanity and the game rewards those who love to play games with reckless abandon. At the same time, it also rewards the virtuous and tactful, just in a different way. Result: If you’re not having any fun with this game, I’m not sure you like video games.
The Good: Extremely immersive, highly detailed atmosphere. Great voice performances. Combat is accessible and hugely entertaining. Control is rock solid, and that includes alternative control. Challenge and balance is just about right. Fun factor is through the roof.
The Bad: Irritating protagonist. Morality decisions are simplistic. Didn’t need multipliers.
The Ugly: “It’s just too gleeful to be ugly.”
3/25/2014 Ben Dutka