A Sony mainstay, Sucker Punch are known for injecting a sense of fun accessibility into their games, and the Playstation 3’s inFamous titles were solidly above average open world superhero fantasies that thrived on a sense of immediacy in their playability,engendering a sense of empowerment. Modestly successful and seized upon as being a firm icon for the brand, Sony have, for their new console, demanded that the series require a new direction, changing place, and changing hero. The dour and serious Cole McGrath has been jettisoned (the events of the last game help this somewhat) and the setting has moved from the fictional cities of Empire City and New Marais to the real-world location of Seattle.
Following on from the previous two games, the raft of super powered beings referred to as conduits in the original (now media-spun as ‘bioterrorists by the government) have been rounded up and controlled by an aggressive paramilitary organization called the Department of Unified Protection (DUP)The hero this time around is one Delsin Rowe, a brash, mouthy, anti-establishment type whose anarchic expression extends to going around his native American (it’s not made clear in the marketing and it isn’t in the game) community spraying graffiti. This is a huge embarrassment to his older brother, Reggie, the local sheriff, who accosts his younger sibling and gives him a dressing down, cut short by the arrival of a sabotaged DUP convoy and the subsequent escape of some bioterrorists.
These early cutscenes give quick and clear an indication of the leap in quality of the facial animation capture and the voice acting in concert with the graphics as a whole. The first thing you notice is how amazing the game looks. The next thing you notice is how slow and sluggish the game feels based on your memories of the previous games – admittedly negative if this is your first foray into the inFamous world. The opening moments leave you craving to quickly amass powers as traversal seems slow and lacking in the stickiness that some found annoying, but I found reassuring. As if sensing the players concerns, after a confrontation between Delsin and one of these escaped conduits, our snarky protagonist soon learns that he himself is a conduit, and has the power to absorb the abilities of others. Very quickly, Delsin is flinging fireballs and dashing through walls, and the player is given a taste of the power fantasy to come.
After meeting the entertainingly menacing antagonist, the head of the DUP, the story soon takes you into Seattle centre, albeit a condensed approximation of the city. The place looks stunning (have I mentioned that yet), and really feels next generation and start to justify that financial outlay. Rotating the camera around to position for optimum use of the share button is a must, and is often more entertaining than the gameplay itself, because at it’s heart, inFamous: Second Son has very little to differentiate itself from it’s PS3 brethren other than it’s astounding visuals.
Anyone who has played the previous games will feel familiar with the rhythms and cadences of the game. Enter an area, unlock missions bit by bit, do the campaign mission, move on to the next small area. Patrols of DUP, repeated encounters with whom can becoming very annoying, can be eradicated by destroying the central DUP unit in each area, and completing an area’s missions reduces their presence, sending a force of DUP after Delsin. Clear the area and the area is free from the oppressors. These missions are varied, and the series desire to keep the player occupied continues here. Whether it is finding a enemy conduit in a crowd to chase and defeat, collecting shards to increase your skillset, or – my favourite of all – finding and destroying security cameras, there is plenty to do, without it feeling overwhelming. There are also the obligatory justification of the PS4 controller, such as the spraying graffiti mini game which has you turning the controller on it’s side and pointing the light bar at the PS4, accompanied by spraying with the right trigger to mimic the thoroughly subversive act of illegal urban art. It is, fortunately, not as annoying and intrusive as you might first think.
Delsin’s powers are visually varied and differentiated just enough to make you feel that switching in an out from them is justifiable – starting with the smoke powers stolen from the first escaped conduit, which deals in strong attacks that stun, and soon moving onto to neon powers, which are lighter, but more precise and have the ability to incapacitate instead of kill. This latter powers looks absolutely stunning in motion, as Delsin flings bars of bright light across the screen and shimmers as he runs across the floor and up the sides of building. Later powers, which I wont spoil here, are subtly different in terms of traversal, and how you engage the different enemies; not hugely , but enough to make you both want to and feel the need to swap them out depending on you encounter or need.
Changing these powers is a matter of finding a source, a smoke vent, a neon signs and draining them with a click of the R3 button, a vampiric act whose animation and sound effects never gets old. It would have been easy for Sucker Punch to allow the player to swap the new powers out via the D-pad, but the need to drain them and only be able to use on at a time keeps you on your toes.
It also suffers from the previous games habit of ensuring that all enemies are expert marksman of the highest class, and often difficult to trace, leaving you in situations where the only option is to turn and run, regenerate your health and powers and head back into the fray. Luckily, dispatching enemies is satisfying, and melee hits feel a little heftier than the previous games, though the feeling of being overwhelmed, and that unfortunate habit of videogames to empower the player character only to scale enemies and therefore negate the feeling of strength, persist. Another way the game feels decidedly unimaginative is in it’s boss fights. I’ve made clear in my previous writing my disdain for boss fights and this game contains one particular example that feels like it belongs in the PS2 era. All I will say is ‘lava pit’, and leave it at that, but it is very emblematic of the overall design of the game: stuck in the past mechanically despite the beauty of it’s next gen visuals.
Traversal is much more satisfying (said boss gives you one of the best powers for this) and even though the use of tramlines from the previous games is gone and sadly absent, racing up the sides of buildings and swooping through the air is huge fun. This makes traveling from place to place to mop up tasks on your map always enjoyable, and even if you are not one for collectibles, but something about inFamous always generated the compulsion to want to do everything there is to do. Maybe its the way the map feels condensed, that everything on the map feels within reach, and that many of the side stuff isn’t a huge drain on your time, but this is the first game since Tomb Raider where I’ve felt like collecting everything.
And to do so isn’t especially difficult, or especially long, taking about eight to ten hours for the main story and a few more to mop up collectibles. InFamous is, well, infamous for the binary nature of the choices it gives you and the decision to go good or exemplify evil has more skill based consequences than narrative ones; there is of course the option to play again in the other half of the binary playthrough, but this has always felt superfluous and despite the continued practice of locking good and evil karma powers, I felt no compulsion to play again.
Ultimately, Infamous: Second Son is an enjoyable open world adventure whose stunning visual leap masks it’s familiar nature. With one foot in a very standard past and one arm clearly reaching into a possible future, Sucker Punch’s efforts hint at what is to come whilst also highlighting how far there still is to go.
MLG Rating: 7/10 Format: PS4 Release Date: 21/03/2014
Disclosure: Staff Writer Craig Hallam purchased a copy of Infamous: Second Son for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 5 days on a PlayStation 4. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.