The Infamous series hasn’t been around for the longest time, but it’s been one that I have been a huge fan of for quite a while. The games did so many things so well that I’ve been extremely eager for Sucker Punch to take their first step into the new generation. Second Son is that attempt.
Moving forward 7 years after the end of Infamous 2, starring a new protagonist, and only featuring a few touches that hearken back to the original stories… in a way, it’s more of a reboot than a sequel – a good decision to avoid alienating people unfortunate enough to have missed the first games. Second Son follows Delsin, a young man with more than his fair share of rebelliousness and his brother Reggie, who is the local Sheriff. The game opens in a tutorial section set in a rural town home to the fictional Akomish tribe which introduces you to the characters and gives you a bit of insight into the world as it is in Second Son.
Infamous: Second Son is a fantastic showing of the graphical prowess of the new console generation. The game simply looks gorgeous. Once you start playing, it’s the first thing you’ll notice. The rural hometown of our hero has been lovingly crafted to show you just the slightest taste of what you’re in for visually speaking. The scenery is stunning, which I suppose is to be expected – Washington State isn’t exactly hard on the eyes in general. But we’ve had beautiful scenery before, that’s nothing new – just look at The Last of Us.
What’s so special, then? The visual effects, most notably the water effects and the particle effects. The way water behaves in this game is impressive. Rain will cause puddles to form, you’ll see droplets, the light will reflect and refract off wet surfaces… it’s quite amazing. But even more noteworthy are the powers. The effects associated with each of these powers look perfect. There’s no other way to describe them… they just look incredible.
Unlike previous Infamous games, you’re not limited to only one set of powers in Second Son. Delsin’s power is the ability to absorb the powers from other Conduits – Infamous’ name for people with superpowers – which is both the primary catalyst for the story and also how they explain Delsin’s growing arsenal. Each power set has its own complete set of abilities that all follow the same basic pattern, but in different ways. Where the Smoke powerset has a high damage rocket, the Neon powers give you a large single target laser. Each type of ability works basically the same way, offering you a wide variety of options to cater to whatever style of play you’re interested in. Additionally, the upgrades you have available to you differ based off of whether you have chosen to play as a villain or hero – as is expected of an Infamous game. As you become more good, you’ll get access to abilities that help you avoid collateral damage and deal with enemies in a less lethal way. On the other hand, becoming more evil causes the opposite: more deaths, explosions, and even the ability to make enemies disintegrate. Unfortunately, these effects are less pronounced than I’d like and, outside of visual differences, really don’t have a huge impact. That isn’t to say you play the same regardless of alignment, of course that isn’t the case. The new abilities you get serve more of a role of accentuating the playstyle you have to adopt based off of the alignment rather than altering it.
Using your abilities just feels good. This sounds like it should be obvious… but it’s so very important. You get suitable impact out of using your whip, shooting is responsive and reliable, the mobility abilities on all of your power sets feel awesome, and the karmic abilities – Second Son’s super abilities unlocked by performing either good or evil actions – make you feel like a god. I found that, in general, the neon ability is far better than the other options… but they’re all powerful and very satisfying.
Saint or Satan
One of the things I’m always of mixed opinion on in the Infamous games is the morality compass. In Infamous, you can either be an ultimate paragon of virtue – saving the helpless, apprehending your foes, and ridding the streets of drugs – or a depraved serial killer – slaughtering the public, silencing protestors, street musicians, and really anyone you feel like. There is no middle ground. While it is sometimes nice to have a clear and uncompromising gauge of what to do, it does make things a little oversimplified. Compounding the issue is the fact that outside of a few missions and minor story events, the game doesn’t change based off of your alignment. It simply feels the same. I mean, if you’re good people will cheer for you and they’ll insult you if you’re evil… but there’s not really any sense of it being a different path that previous entries in the series gave. Of course, the end is going to be the same regardless, but what matters in a game like this is not the destination but the journey. And in this case they just didn’t offer enough variation in the routes taken to really make a second playthrough satisfying.
The Good, The Bland, and the Awkward
In Superhero games, so often the character is allowed to be incredibly flat. Often they’re more caricatures than characters… Spiderman, Superman, etc. It’s very rare that they get much personality in the games. I found Cole in the first Infamous to be very well-developed. He wasn’t always likeable, but he was an interesting character nonetheless. Delsin never resonated with me. The motivation for the story is ostensibly for Delsin to help his tribe but in the game he really makes it feel like that’s just an excuse for him. His real motivation always feels selfish. Regardless of whether you go the good route or pick evil, it always comes across as ‘Delsin wants more powers’. That’s supposed to be secondary to his attempts to help his tribe, but it never really works. Additionally, Reggie just never feels like an appropriate foil for him. Sidekicks in these games are supposed to define the character and help to make the alignment clear. Reggie doesn’t, he just annoys Delsin and the player. The other characters you interact with are a bit better, most notably Fetch and Eugene. Both of whom actually develop over the course of the story – Fetch more than Eugene – and help to establish Delsin’s alignment. Based off of whether you choose good or evil, your interactions with them are different and Delsin rubs off on them. One of the few story facets of the game that truly impressed me came from this. There was a moment where you’re following Fetch and based off of the alignment decision you made you’ll see her methods begin to change… it just creates an element of connection to the story that no other moment really manages within the game.
It’s unfortunate that the story doesn’t really live up to the franchise, but the gameplay is so solid and so satisfying that it is still one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in a long time. Between the incredible visuals and the near-perfect gameplay, it’s one of those experiences that overcomes its flaws and becomes memorable despite them rather than failing as a result of them.