Infamous: Second Son is the first real technical showcase for the next-generation. It looks beautiful, runs very well and would never run on the old hardware. It’s also another incredibly conservative sequel that takes very few risks and will seem instantly familiar to anyone who played a previous Infamous game. This combination makes it at once thrilling and dull, innovative and mundane, compelling and tiresome. Much like Killzone: Shadow Fall, this might be a good game in many ways, but it doesn’t do much to dispel the idea that the next-generation is all about moderate increases in graphical ability rather than new gameplay experiences, but is that such a bad thing?
Playing as a new protagonist, you spend the tutorial area of the game getting to know him. A wise-cracking native american deliquent living near Seattle and voiced by Troy Baker, Delphin is entertainig but not immediately likable. He’s going after the lovable rogue stereotype but never has the charm of more memorably characters. This isn’t in any way due to Baker’s impeccable voice acting or the surprisingly well written cut-scenes, but more to the moral ambiguity that is necessary for the game that Sucker Punch wanted to create. All the way through the game you’re given entirely binary choices like sacrifice yourself or an entire community, corrupt someone or redeem them. In gameplay that emerges as killing people or saving them, arresting or dishing out vigilante justice. There’s no room for a grey area, indeed the trophies and powers system encourages you to reach for one extreme or the other, with the most powerful skills firmly planted at the end of either karmic pole. While this might be fun as you become a saint or the devil, it means the cut-scenes that don’t change too much depending on your path need to toe a line where the main character could be a hero, but could also be capable of unimaginable cruelty. Sadly it’s never quite convincing either way.
One thing the tutorial area does get very right is impressing you with the sense of place. The rural coastal village looks amazing with a dramatic seascape and wonderfully detailed rocks and structures to climb around. Delphin’s animations are customised for little situations like getting your feet wet or accidentally putting your hand in gull droppings so everything fits together in much more convincing ways than in previous-gen open world games. This carries through to the main city where there are so many details it’s fun to explore and just look around the various buildings and landmarks of Seattle. Sadly some of the novelty wears off by the time you reach the second half of the city, and many of the building fronts are covered in blank concrete – eliminating any kind of character or interest.
The controls are very much like previous Infamous games and despite there now being four powers all of them basically do the same thing. There’s a standard projectile, a melee attack, a grenade, a missile, some kind of movement tool and a finisher for the main three powers. They each have their own strengths and can definitely be situational but for the most part they’re interchangeable and it’s a shame that the play styles weren’t mixed up more with different powers. Smoke and neon might look very different (with neon looking especially cool) but functionally they’re the same within firefights. Neon is much better for traversing the city and smoke might be a little better in firefights but generally you’ll just use whichever you have and you’ll be using it in roughly the same way. Animations are nicely done and the climbing is generally competent although some weird building geometry can throw you off at unexpected moments or cause problems while you’re using some of the faster powers.
The game throws up a reasonable challenge, particularly on the ‘expert’ difficulty mode, but it hardly ever feels like your fault if you die. If you get caught by certain grenades or abilities ( easy to lose track of in the hundreds of particle effects going on during fights) you can be stunlocked until you die, a state of affairs that seems unfair are oddly archaic for an action game. That being said we flew through the main story and completed it with 100% of collectables after what seemed like only 8-10 hours. For an open-world game that seems quite short and even then taking the last few parts of the city began to feel like a grind. On one hand it’s nice to have collectable hunts that appear on your map and don’t have too many individual things to find, there’s even variations with missions and spray-paint tasks, but they all feel inconsequential and it begs the question of why they bothered to include collectables at all if they didn’t want you to spend too long worrying about them. There’s always the chance to go back through the game to take the opposite morality path but so little changes story, plot or setting wise it’s not really worth it.
The real strength of Second Son is the presentation. Particle effects are astounding and the streets are constantly slick with rain and reflects lighting all over. It comes together to spectacular effect and with no slowdown it really shows what a powerhouse the PS4 can be. Music is used well but sparingly throughout the game and art-direction is generally strong, particularly when it comes to the abilities themselves.
Overall Infamous:Second Son feels like a promise of what’s to come. It’s beautiful and technically amazing, but in terms of gameplay it’s just more Infamous. That of course isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I’m sure they could have done so much more. Perhaps Sucker Punch had to focus on getting the most from the hardware, perhaps this is just a stepping stone to the real revolution in gameplay, but for now if you fancy an open-world action game with some superpowers, Infamous Second Son is definitely a worthwhile diversion, if you enjoyed the older games you’ll like this one just as much, if you hated them this is definitely not going to convert you. It’s all style over substance but that style is rather lovely.