Comic book-style superhero adventure series Infamous has made its first next-gen appearance, amid huge expectations and interest.
The expectations have come from PlayStation 4 players eager to see if Sucker Punch’s third Infamous game could live up to the hype of being the console’s first big-name exclusive since it launched last November, expectations only heightened by the timing of its release during a rather barren spell for exciting new games.
More generally, there has been interest from gamers keen to see how well Second Son competes against Xbox One exclusive Titanfall which was released only a week or so earlier.
I can answer that question first by proclaiming Titanfall to be the winner of this particular platform v platform head-to-head, at least based on the score I’m going to give Infamous compared to the 10 out of 10 my fellow reviewer gave Respawn’s triple-A sci-fi shooter. Of course, Infamous and Titanfall are different types of games so it’s perhaps a little unfair to put the two together, but it does still appear Xbox gamers have got the slightly better deal this time around.
As far as judging Second Son on its own goes, it fares well, with the game being a very solid, slick, well constructed and enjoyable action-adventure.
Save for some dazzling visuals and neat little motion/touch controls on the Dualshock 4, it offers very little in the way of next-gen innovation, with not a lot changed in terms of gameplay from previous Infamous outings back on PS3. But it still provides most of what was expected, and hoped for, from the latest Infamous instalment.
Second Son takes place seven years after events of the previous game. The main protagonist this time is Delsin Rowe, a delinquent slacker who’s part of a Native American tribe in Washington state.
Early in the game events conspire so that Delsin discovers he can absorb powers from Conduits (humans with special abilities) - his first powers being smoke-based, allowing him to dash through obstacles and shoot fiery blasts from his hands.
Also early on he has his first painful encounter with the formidable Augustine, the woman in charge of the oppressive Department of Unified Protection which is hunting down and imprisoning Conduits (who are otherwise known as bio-terrorists).
After being rendered unconscious, Delsin wakes to discover Augustine has used her own brutal Conduit abilities involving concrete to torture his fellow tribe members, leaving them in a terrible way.
Guilty and angry, Delsin sets off with his brother Reggie (a straight-laced sheriff with no superhuman powers) for Seattle, which Augustine and her dictatorial DUP forces are controlling during their search for other Conduits.
Delsin’s aim is to take Augustine’s power and use it to reverse the deadly process she’s inflicted on his own townspeople.
The question of why Delsin didn’t just absorb the villain’s abilities in their first meeting, as he did so easily with the other Conduit called Hank who he got the smoke powers from, remains unclear as the plot unfolds into a story of revenge and redemption comprising numerous missions on the way to the big final confrontation. There is also a bunch of side quests leading Delsin to wrestle control of Seattle back from the DUP militia district by district.
As he progresses and comes across more Conduits, Delsin acquires more powers which can be upgraded, helping him move rapidly around the city and engage in frequent combat.
The game boils down to being a third-person shooter with open-world elements.
Del boy’s special abilities perform much the same role as weapons would in a more conventional shooter, with him able to fire the equivalents of bullets and missiles as well as lob grenades, perform aerial attacks and so on.
For the open-world part there are clear parallels with Saints Row’s over-the-top silliness, Just Cause 2’s sandbox experimentation and Assassin’s Creed’s verticality and parkour, although it never quite matches Grand Theft Auto V’s sense of freedom or being set in a proper living and breathing city.
Those visuals I mentioned are truly outstanding and are arguably the highlight of the whole Second Son experience.
I feel a bit like a stuck record as I’ve mentioned these things before in reviews of Killzone Shadow Fall and Tomb Raider Definitive Edition, but the attention to detail, textures, particle effects and lighting are again all really arresting from the word go – only more so.
I’m sure these qualities won’t remain so remarkable over time (I know for PC gamers such fidelity as seen here, along with the fluidity, are already the norm), but for now at least they are still noteworthy as we get used to seeing what Sony’s young console can do. One early moment when Delsin climbs the Space Needle and looks out across the city is particularly breathtaking.
The beauty of Sucker Punch’s dystopian version of Seattle, combined with the visual effects of the super powers in full effect and the chaos of destructible environments, is a real sensory treat. Cutscenes are very watchable too – not because of the so-so script or the ever-decent acting work of Troy Baker, but because the facial models and animations of the characters are so impressive.
It’s a shame developers couldn’t improve on the gameplay as much as they have the graphics, meaning Second Son is slightly held back by past-gen or current-gen (or whatever we call the PS3 now) ways.
Missions and side quests retread a lot of familiar ground, providing only infrequent divergence from the standard objectives of go to this location, chase this person, take out this cluster of enemies, knock out this surveillance equipment, destroy this base and so on. Second Son falls into generic territory at times, and gets quite repetitive too.
Although Second Son most definitely looks next-gen, it doesn’t provide what I would consider to be pure next-gen gameplay concepts – although admittedly I’m still not entirely sure what those are supposed to be.
One of the Infamous series’ hallmarks is its morality system running through the games, but this struggles to really make its mark here too.
The player is supposed to decide how good or evil Delsin is during the story, both through ethical choices that come up along the way and through general play such as in deciding whether to kill or simply stun enemies.
One problem is the moral choices are far too simplistic, offering only binary yes or no, this or that options rather than allowing players to think up their own third, greyer alternatives.
Another issue is the game seems to want the player to make Delsin be evil. During frantic parts of the play it’s much easier to be violent and destructive than careful and compassionate, plus some of the powers which unlock when following the evil path are arguably more fun than some of those which become available by being good.
It’s odd the game has this bias towards its leading man being wicked and immoral, because it goes against the character he’s seen as early on (rough round the edges but seemingly someone with a good heart) and is in contrast to the crux of his overall mission in Seattle, which is based on trying to save his tribe and help people.
As a side note, it is possible to switch from being good to evil and back again depending on your whim but for the smoothest progress it’s best to pick one side and try sticking to it.
While I think there are some shortcomings in the structure of Second Son, the mechanics at its core are very good – and so the game is still a lot of fun to play.
It’s a real thrill to blaze around the city in a trail of smoke or neon, unleashing the array of special powers on the fascist DUP forces.
Combat is a pleasure too, being fast, frantic, smooth, often spectacular and generally very satisfying. Controls are just about flawless, allowing quick movements and easy use of the abilities. The only combat-related frustration is having to keep recharging the powers in a similar way to how Booker in Bioshock Infinite (another character voiced by Baker) had to constantly replenish his vigors.
Infamous Second Son doesn’t quite hit the heights Sucker Punch presumably intended, Sony would’ve hoped for and players were wishing and waiting for. As with a few other games on PS4 already, it tantalisingly teases rather than truly delivers, and is a little safe and stunted to be considered a real next-gen trailblazer.
But as a piece of entertainment it stills works perfectly well, serving up a very good superhero adventure which provides the player with the fantastical tools and wild empowerment only a game of this kind can.
8 out of 10
Out now on PlayStation 4