“Don’t be a dick” is the solid advice dispensed to InFamous: Second Son’s hipster protagonist, Delsin Rowe, by his law-enforcement brother prior to embarking on another mission involving flambéing government drones. It’s as if Sucker Punch listened to the criticisms levied at the series in the past. This fairly simple directive echoes through the quip-laden script and the various actions the super-charged hero/villain undertakes, bringing to light a little of the studio’s personality formerly found in the Sly Cooper series.
Delsin is brash, smug and naïve to a fault and, while this doesn’t completely solve all of the problems the series faced with previous protagonist Cole McGrath (and keep an eye out for a storefront reference to InFamous’ previous lead), it does freshen up the concept substantially, bringing with it a suite of new powers that add some gratifying clout to proceedings.
Appropriately endowed with the skill to absorb other Conduits’ abilities, Delsin never has a single defining trait. Smoke and neon aren’t exactly extensions of his personality, while his penchant for graffiti only serves as a reminder that, before he became a crusading watchman, he wasn’t opposed to breaking a few laws. The Seattleite roams around his domain with a childlike exuberance, embracing his mounting strength and omnipotence, and here’s what differentiates Second Son from its predecessors: you feel like your actions have an impact on the character. Or, to put it another way, he’s not a dick unless you make him one.
It all starts once you reach Seattle, which is why it’s strange that it takes the game so long to actually get to the emerald City. Beginning with the defilement of a political billboard in an anti-establishment act of ‘tagging’ (the player having to awkwardly turn the DualShock controller and rattle its insides to ready the paint can), the opening of the game is needlessly bloated as a spiritless chase across a lake shuffles into a lengthy preamble introducing the major characters. Luckily, once Seattle is established as Delsin’s new turf, things pick-up considerably.
It clearly helps that Sucker Punch itself is based in Bellevue, one Lake Washington away from the city of Seattle itself. It’s affectionately recreated here, and there’s enough diversity among the various regions, from the flat rooftops of its civic districts to the towering skyscrapers that make-up its corporate hub, allowing plenty of breathing room for Delsin to explore the full strength of his newly-awarded powers.
Yet, while it’s by far one of the most eye- catching pieces of scenery you’ll have seen in the medium – and wait until you see the myriad of weather effects that transform the city’s streets – it lacks the defining iconography (outside of the Space Needle – which is disappointingly under-utilised) to really make it distinctive among open worlds. It’s also a little cluttered, particularly with DUP (Department of Unified Protection – sort of anti-Conduit police force) outposts, seemingly scattered randomly across the map providing a regular impasse and objective for Delsin during his free-roaming antics – demolish the DUP constructions and you’ll gradually reclaim ownership of the streets.
Delsin is well equipped for that task. The post-grunge super-person acquires a selection of powers along the way. He begins with Smoke, which unleashes cinder-like projectiles, while his chain melee attack is engulfed in smouldering flame, and there’s also a dash manoeuvre that allows Delsin to teleport via smoke vents. Although this is just the first of a handful of powers that you’ll pick-up, it sets the template for what you can expect across each of the others.
Much like the way that while all guns shoot bullets, their actual method of projection differs. Melee, projectile, grenades, dash and special all serve the same purpose across each new power, with tweaks to accuracy, power and distance depending on which flavour you’re currently possessing (smoke is absorbed from vents and flaming wreckage, whereas neon – the second acquired power – is drained from day-glo signage).
Sucker Punch has tightened up a lot of the combat mechanics. Shooting is the standout among the enhancements; the new run-and- gun model allowing for quick-fire attacks to precisely reach where the reticule is aiming (although, the option of over-the-shoulder remains). It’s a competent system and it’s clear the studio has taken a few notes from its Sony stablemates Naughty Dog when it comes to creating effective third-person combat mechanics.
Still, it does disappoint if only in its lack of ambition. Melee, much like shooting, has been somewhar refined; Delsin, for example, is now able to whip around enemies with his arm-tethered chain (charged with whichever ability is equipped at the time) in a simplistic combo. But it feels like there could be a deeper set of mechanics that fuse more cohesively, creating more empowering battle scenarios. They’re undoubtedly stunning to look at, but there’s something a little hollow that prevents the action from becoming truly thrilling.
There are also a few too many uses of the DualShock’s motion controls shoehorned into the gameplay for little other than what we would assume is some sort of Sony mandate. Fingerprint scanning and spray-can rattling do little to enliven the gameplay itself and would’ve best been left on the brainstorming board. These additions are indivative of the lack of creativity that permeates Second Son. It’s not to say that it’s a bad game – far from it – but there’s nothing that can be thought of as particularly memorable. The mission structure is so regimented that, just a few hours after completing the game, it’s hard to recall a single chapter as particularly noteworthy.
The game is divided thus: Delsin chases Conduit, gains power, hunts out a series of transistors that upgrade his new ability and then goes on a mission with the Conduit before the process repeats itself. The formula is mixed up enough by some engaging environments, enemies and powers, but there’s little in the way of surprise. Still, there’s some variation offered in the returning karma system. Once again, players get to decide whether the protagonist takes a heroic or evil path through the world he inhabits and, outside of everyday encounters with citizens and enemies, these arrive in the form of binary ‘good’ or ‘evil’ scenarios. Do you save the recovering drug-addict Conduit, Fetch, from her vengeful quest to murder drug dealers, or corrupt her into being your personal assassin? There’s nothing particularly morally grey about these decisions, so this will likely come down to the type of character you decided to play as right at the beginning of the story. It does add a bit of dynamism to the story, even if Sucker Punch can’t quite work out what constitutes as a noble deed or an evil one (if you choose to rehabilitate Fetch, the result still involves incinerating a hell of a lot of people).
InFamous: Second Son is a game that’s more than the sum of its parts. It has moments of pure wonder and excitement, as you, much like Delsin, come to understand the power that you wield and use it to carve your own path through the vividly conceptualised Seattle proxy. It’s not the most outstanding open world, but it’s one that features moments of unparalleled visual excellence. Whether a breathtaking climb up the Space Needle to absorb the full Seattle vista, or just watching the rain well and bounce neon reflections across the city streets, you can’t ignore what a huge technical achievement Second Son is. If anything, it deserves a more accomplished game to back the spectacle.
This is a marked improvement on its predecessors, both narratively and gameplay-wise, and it’s a huge amount of fun to play from start to finish. However, without trying to sound like a dick, it’s a game much like its protagonist: absorbing until you come into contact with something more appealing.