I've been waiting for Infamous: Second Son. For me, it was the first game that made me stand up and take notice of the PlayStation 4. One could safely say it was my reason to buy the console in the first place. So how does fantasy stand up to reality?
Infamous: Second Son is the best-looking game on PlayStation 4 and it feels like the real start of the next-generation of consoles.
This was a game that was made for a specific set of next-gen hardware and it shows. It just screams in all its 1080p, anti-aliased glory, with a framerate sitting at 30 FPS. Ryse on Xbox One and Killzone: Shadow Fall on PS4 have come close to what's on display, but Infamous just feels bigger than either of those offerings. In a time where fans are lambasting companies for releasing screenshots and video that don't add up to the finished products, Infamous: Second Son delivers.
Delsin's powers are the real show-stoppers here. Shadowed particles, volumetric smoke, and and an improved lighting engine power some amazing effects. Neon's Light Speed dash move is the best-looking power effect I've ever seen in any game ever, full stop. The power drain effect on Neon signs is equally awesome. Hell, I'll just say I love everything about the Neon powerset. Smoke and the other sets are cool, but Neon is the one that you'll want to show your friends or significant other when you're justifying that $399 you spent.
If the graphics let me down at all, it because the world looks so real that when it doesn't react realistically, you notice. Puddles look great in the rain, but the effect is lessened by the fact that Delsin's footfalls don't make a single splash. Mud and leaves don't react to your passing. Delsin doesn't even look wet when it's raining. Sucker Punch's technical mastery leads to its weakness: everything looks so good that you wish they had the power to go farther. But as a near-launch game for a console generation, Infamous: Second Son is a damn fine piece of artwork.
Like the jump from the dour Altiar to the charismatic Ezio in the Assassin's Creed series, Infamous: Second Son's Delsin Rowe is a big improvement over messenger-turned-messiah Cole McGrath. While Cole tried to run from his powers and the effects they had on his life, Delsin is enthusiastic about his Conduit abilities. He loves being powerful and revels in his new abilities repeatedly, while his brother Reggie acts as his grounding influence.
Troy Baker kills it as Delsin. He's enjoyable, expressive, and believable. Baker has been tearing it up as the new Nolan North, playing Joel in the Last of Us, The Joker in Batman: Arkham Origins, and Booker DeWitt in Bioshock Infinite. He's a great voice actor. Delsin on the other hand feels like Sucker Punch just called him into the studio and captured him without his knowledge. It just feels like one guy being himself and it makes Delsin pretty magnetic (not in the Conduit way). Sucker Punch's facial motion capture backed by the power of the PlayStation 4 helps deliver some real emotion here.
The rest of the supporting cast is pretty good, too. Reggie is the stoic big brother type, but Travis Willingham does the best with what he has. Department of Unified Protection (DUP) boss and Concrete-powered Conduit Brooke Augustine is the game's villain, sort of more forceful version of Infamous 2's Joseph Betrand III. She's a Conduit who hunts other Conduits for the government, with a cold mean streak. Older Akomish tribe matron Betty is a lot of fun, and the other Conduits provide an enjoyable change of pace when they appear.
The problem is they don't really appear that much. You meet a Conduit, defeat them, take their power, go through an extended mission to master their powers, do a good or evil mission with them... and then they go away. Rinse and repeat. The story content itself isn't bad, but you never forget that it's rigidly structured. Each Conduit is the focus of a specific section of the plot and outside of that, they might as well not exist. It a shame, because these are good characters when they're around and they could do with a bit more interaction outside of their slice of the game.
The good and evil moments in Infamous: Second Son, outside of one choice near the end, aren't as drastically different. They all ask the same basic question: do you give into your desires, or do you turn away from them to do the right thing? Your choices tend to not be directly related to Delsin, instead focusing on how he interacts with the other Conduits and how they in turn interact with humanity. For those wondering if the extensive physical changes for going full good or full evil have returned, they haven't. Some of his powers take on a more reddish hue in their bad karma versions and his vest shifts at each karma level, but there's no demon Delsin here.
Like Infamous 2 before it, Infamous: Second Son's power system departs from its predecessor. In Infamous 2, Cole's powers broke down into a number of different categories: Bolts, Blasts, Grenades, Rockets, etc. Players had to pick and choose between different powers in each category, customizing their Cole to their playstyle. Certain powers were locked behind Good or Evil Karma levels, but it all fed into your specific Cole, tailored to the situation or your specific playstyle.
Instead of being tied to a single powerset with some extras, Delsin is a power sponge. If he gets near a Conduit and initiates physical touch, he takes their power. Over the course of the game, Delsin gains four different Conduit powersets. Each powerset contains the same basic abilities: a melee attack, a bolt, a larger blast, a movement ability, a powerset-specific ability, and an area-clearing Karma Bomb.
Each powerset has a completely different focus. Sucker Punch and Sony have asked that we not spoil all the specifics of each powersets, and we'll abide by that. Two of them you've seen before: Smoke and Neon. Smoke is Delsin's starting powerset. It's the baseball bat, the most straightforward: the bolt is basic, the dash and hover do what they say on the tin. Neon is the scalpel, built for precision. Its super-speed is better at traversing most terrain, its bolt has a longer range, and its grenade power stops enemies in their tracks to set up the perfect shot. The third power (no spoilers, you'll get there soon enough) is based on misdirection and stealth, with invisibility and minions. You can switch powers at any time by draining the appropriate objects out in the world. The system works rather well in combat, allowing you to duck into an alley and step out as a completely different character.
Within each power, you can unlock upgrades that push the abilities in different directions. Some of them, like the upgrade that makes Neon's Light Speed last as long as you hold down the dash button, seem necessary to me. Others are for flavor, like the upgrade that lets you Smoke Dash twice in mid-air.
Oddly enough, I'm pulled into two different directions on Infamous: Second Son's power system. I love the variance between each set, but I don't feel I have as much customization within them. Of course, that's when compared to Infamous 2's extensive customization of Cole's Electric abilities, but Sucker Punch has already gone on record saying they felt that was a bit too complex for players. I could've also done with at least one more Conduit ability during the game, but that's something that could be expanded later with DLC. That said, I enjoyed all four powersets in their own way.
Finally, there's the city, Infamous: Second Son's playground. I love the city of Seattle. It's probably my favorite city in the United States, but within the context of the series, I think the New Orleans-inspired New Marais was better playground than Seattle. There's a variance from big city to slums to swampland that really worked for Infamous 2, and that variance isn't quite present in Second Son's Seattle.
It is a well-designed city though. It doesn't feel as big as New Marais, but it feels like more thought was put into traversing the city this time around. In fact, Infamous: Second Son is all about speedy traversal. The climbing mechanic is still present, but once I picked up the other powersets, actual climbing didn't factor much into my playtime. Instead, vents and other objects combined with your dash and hover abilities, make movement around the city much quicker. In fact, once you've boosted Delsin's dash abilities, you'll probably avoid climbing.
Which is good, because being an open-world game, Infamous: Second Son is full of collectibles to find, districts to free, and open-world missions. Random blast shard pickups to unlock power upgrades have been replaced with DUP drones that can be either stationary or mobile. You'll also find shards in DUP checkpoint scanners and DUP strongholds.
Non-Karma activities include taking down hidden DUP cameras, hunting down secret DUP agents amongst the populace, finding audio logs. Activities to net you good karma include healing people (how do you heal someone with Smoke and Neon?), busting drug dealers, and saving suspected conduits. Bad Karma activities seem a bit more petty: you'll break up anti-Conduit protests, take psuedo-Russian thugs down a peg, and beat up sign-twirlers. Finish enough events in a district and you gain one final mission to wrest control of the district from the DUP. These are meant to be difficult all-out wars against the DUP, but if you've saved up your Karma Bomb, they end up being pretty easy.
It's standard open-world stuff that feels pretty rote at this point. The moment-to-moment play is fun, but you'll definitely feel like you're just going through the motions when finishing the late-game side-missions. By time the credits crawled across my screen around 12 hours in, my save had a 100% next to it. Yeah, I collected every blast shard, took down every camera, and freed every district. It felt pretty quick, but there's a second playthough for the other Karma path to tide you over. Sucker Punch also has the ongoing Paper Trail missions, the pre-order only Cole's Legacy missions, and whatever DLC they decide to release otherwise.
Infamous: Second Son is a fun game set in a cool city with some awesome graphics, but it feels like this is just the beginning. I want to see more of Delsin and his supporting cast. I want to see more Conduits and more powers. Second Son is great, but it feels like the first Assassin's Creed for me and I want the "Assassin's Creed II" to blow me away. The groundwork has been laid and my fingers are just aching for more. Infamous: Second Son wasn't perfect, but I hope Sucker Punch takes Delsin and crew on to bigger and better things.
Interested in learning more about Infamous: Second Son? Take a look at the first twenty minutes of the game.
Infamous: Second Son is the first real reason to jump completely into the next-generation of consoles. If you wanted to show someone what next-gen can do, this is the game to show them, with great image quality and amazing lighting/particle effects on display. A magnificently-realized Seattle is your playground and players have a host of abilities to run, fly, and fight across it. Delsin Rowe is a charismatic protagonist and the Sucker Punch has pulled out all the stops on PlayStation 4 to make his first adventure a fun one. It's not perfect, but hopefully we see him again.