by Matthew Thompson (All images are from the Second Son page found here)
Infamous: Second Son couldn’t come soon enough for early adopters of the PlayStation 4. As much as I’ve enjoyed my PS4, it has been a little light on big new game releases so far. Second Son acts as a great way to spend time on Sony’s latest console whether you were already an Infamous fan or not. While SS takes place in the same universe as the first two games in the series, its link to the earlier titles is tenuous which means those unfamiliar with Sucker Punch’s superhero saga can jump in and have a blast all the same while series vets get another very good entry in what has been a very consistent series so far.
Second Son puts you into the shoes of Delsin Rowe, a graffiti artist in the Seattle area, who has just gained super powers. Events at the game’s start put his Native American family in a troubling situation, so Delsin, with the help of his brother Reggie, heads into Seattle to try to gain the abilities necessary to set things right. Delsin is an entertaining character, voiced by the talented Troy Baker (The Last of Us, Bioshock: Infinite… and a million other games) and I liked his brother as well. Their interactions are fun and I found them to be more capable leads that those of the original Infamous games. I also preferred this game’s supporting cast, in particular a couple of fellow conduits (the series’ term for those with super powers), but they really don’t get enough screen time to make the kind of impact I’d have liked. The plotting isn’t all that compelling. Too much of it feels like Delsin just tracking down new powers. The game once again allows you to be a hero or a villain. The morality choices are as subtle as ever, which is to say they aren’t subtle at all. The two different endings also lack the punch of the first game’s twist ending or the memorable and wildly different finishes to the second game.
While Second Son’s narrative won’t win it too many accolades that isn’t a big deal because where it truly shines is in the nuts and bolts of its gameplay and the pure fun it provides. While climbing isn’t as smooth as before, the new traversal powers you gain make that a non-issue. Your smoke abilities allow you to zoom through vents which send Delsin hurtling into the air above rooftops where you can throw yourself into a glide or dash from vent to vent. This is nothing compared to the dash ability of your neon power set which lets you sprint around at super speeds right up the sides of buildings and even hopping around similar to last gen’s Crackdown. It is right up there with Gravity Rush’s traversal methods as one of the most fun ways to get around an open-world environment. And this says nothing about the latter two power sets (that I will leave players to discover for themselves) which provide their own unique ways of exploring Second Son’s digital Seattle.
Your combat powers aren’t quite as unique. All the power sets are filled with various rapid fire beams, grenades and missiles that wouldn’t have felt out-of-place in the earlier games. There are some standouts though. I loved the ability to snipe enemies weak points in slow motion with neon blasts when taking the heroic path. One of the later abilities gives you a way to turn invisible and sneak up on baddies for an instant kill. I did appreciate how much easier it was to minimize collateral damage when leaning to the good side of the morality system. You could even subdue enemies similar to Batman instead of killing them. What helps the combat take steps forward from its predecessors, are the improved controls. All your projectile powers are moved to the shoulder buttons now making aiming easier and combat generally tighter. When combined with the superior movement abilities, Second Son provides a much smoother gameplay experience filled with fun enemy encounters and the simple joy of navigating Seattle’s narrow alleyways and towering downtown skyscrapers with ease.
While Second Son has taken big forward strides from a mechanical standpoint, I can’t say the same for the mission designs. I still miss the linear levels that tasked you with more challenging platforming and let you explore areas not typically open to you in the sandbox that have become less prominent since the first game. These always stood out a bit more to me and added a nice change of pace from the standard “Go here, kill some enemies, repeat” style-objectives that make up so much of the series. The side missions are really lacking in quality as well. I enjoyed the ones that had you ridding different districts of the DUP presence (think an anti-super hero police force) since the combat is just so fun and there are so many options on how to approach them. I also thought the spray paint ones were a neat concept in theory. But when the same missions are copied and pasted ad nauseam throughout the map, even the best of them can get a bit tiring. I’d have loved a side mission that tasked you to use the Delsin’s unique traversal skills in creative ways as well, but there was nothing of the sort to be found. I must also mention that while Seattle is a fun enough sandbox to play around in, it lacks the variety in locations of the best open-world environments. Infamous 2 for example featured a much more diverse set of locations from busy downtown areas to murky swamplands to abandoned flooded areas filled with watery hazards. Second Sons‘ two islands just don’t compare favorably.
While playing Infamous: Second Son, you can’t help but marvel at the visuals. You’ll be hard pressed to find a prettier game on consoles especially when you start looking into the open-world genre. Impressive facial animations help make the characters come to life. Top-notch image quality makes everything look sharp and allows the details to shine through. And the effects that accompany your myriad of super-powered abilities means that combat is as dazzling in appearance as it is deadly in effect. I can’t help but be impressed with how far developer Sucker Punch has come on the technical side of development going from the messy graphics of Infamous 1 to the visual splendor of Second Son. Even when taking into account the generational leap and differing release windows, their latest effort shows a leap forward in technical expertise that just wasn’t present back in their PS3 debut.
I also came away impressed by the game’s score which is probably underused at times. The piece that plays as your make your way through the final mission is one that stands out as particularly memorable, but the soundtrack as a whole is definitely a winner.
I certainly mentioned quite a few issues throughout this review, but I think overall Second Son is the best Infamous game to date if only by a bit. While the game is a little lacking in overall content (it is the shortest of the series’ mainline games) and some things like the mission design leave quite a bit to be desired, I think these negatives are far outweighed by the polished combat and traversal mechanics and just how fun it is to zoom around blasting DUPs and generally wreaking havoc with Delsin’s wide array of super powers in Sucker Punch’s digital representation of their hometown of Seattle. Second Son has done nothing to dispel me of the notion that the Infamous series remains a rung below the A-tier gaming franchises out there, but that isn’t such a bad thing especially when it is so consistent in its quality. Infamous: Second Son is a blast and I’d recommend it to new players and series’ veterans alike.