Infamous: Second Son Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4
Put simply, Infamous: Second Son has an awful lot riding on it. Literally millions of PS4s have been shipped since the rather huge launch back in November and fanboys the world over have been heralding this as the new dawn of gaming - native 1080p, 60fps, amazing particle effects and so on, the sky’s the limit. Sadly though for all the fanfare and internet forum shouting nothing in the PS4 line-up has shone; Killzone was gorgeous yet hugely underwhelming to play and the other big release, Knack, was just flat out poor. As a result there are now an awful lot of PS4 owners out in the world wondering why they forked out £350 on launch and here is where Infamous Second Son steps up into the limelight. Billed as a fresh start for the Infamous franchise with a gradually increasing buzz surrounding it, could this be the exclusive title that really shows off their shiny (potentially now a bit dusty) new console?
You play as Delsin Rowe, a not-so-loveable rogue who stumbles upon his ability to absorb the powers of other conduits; think Rogue from X-Men. Our adventure starts off slowly, introducing the player to the characters and the gameplay mechanics but soon escalates as a prison bus turns over spilling out some nasty conduits, coincidentally near where Delsin and his brother were chatting about Delsin’s behaviour. Upon assisting them, one of the conduits power is transferred and things take a slightly superpowers turn for our hero.
Naturally though conduits are portrayed as bad bad people, freaks of nature if you will and the people have rallied against their kind. The DUP were formed to control the “problem” and their lead Brooke Augustine is a grey-suit wearing, stern faced, vindictive so and so (with her own conduit powers) whose sole purpose is to find and imprison all conduits. So set on her goals is she that she will do pretty much anything to anyone to get to the conduits - sadly for Delsin this means that she might hurt some of his friends to get to him now he’s acquired his new abilities. This is a step too far for young Delsin and a tale of outright revenge begins complete with smoke, neon, video and concrete powers, all of which are spectacularly rendered on screen.
One of the core issues with the story is the lead character, whilst voiced impeccably by the always reliable Troy Baker, he really isn't likeable. If he’s changing the world one random piece of graffiti at a time (an embarrassment of a mini-game) or abusing the DUP’s emergency conduit hotline he’s usually doing it with an attitude or a swagger which in no way warms you to the character or his plight - he really seems to come off the opposite of what the team appear to have been going for.
The minute to minute gameplay is standard fare for an action hero open world game (think Prototype) which unfortunately towards the end leans too heavily on the gameplay tropes that are built into the game, for example find three of these things to gain more superpowers, then go and take on the big baddy. It’s a videogame so this sort of thing is to be expected but by the time you’ve seen it a third time in the course of your first playthrough then you find yourself rolling your eyes slightly and wishing for something just a little bit more. That’s not to say that anything is particularly bad per se it’s just devoid of new ideas and for want of a better, less used phrase, playing it safe.
Oddly, for a game of this nature, the core campaign is surprisingly short - a mix of new power acquiring, running after people, killing people in multi-opponent matchups or one on one boss fights. It just doesn’t seem right that the core story is so short especially when you consider the quite dull side missions that are there to fill your time. They range from drawing some graffiti, finding audio logs, seeking out undercover agents; all ultimately leading to Far Cry style outpost (territory) takeovers. The side missions really do disappoint and only really seem to serve as chores which increase your Karma rank. The side missions are in fact so dull it’s likely that only completionist gamers will have the mental toughness required to liberate the entire map.
For a game of this type it’s also quite tough, especially early on and it is very easy to plunge head first into a battle only to find yourself chopped down and reset to a checkpoint very quickly indeed. And whilst some of these experiences can feel a little cheap at times, for example one enemy can spam you with the same devastating attack and if they catch you once you cannot get away, instances like that are few and far between. What usually happens in this scenario is that you quickly learn from the mistake and instead of instantly dying the second time, you rinse the entire area code leaving no-one alive except a group of pigeons. Therefore it’s best described as tough but manageable early on. Naturally later on in the game you become Superman-like with multiple abilities and unlocked increasing the fun ten-fold.
Karma returns and is as out of place as ever, adding little or nothing really to the game’s narrative. Decisions and choice are continually pushed by games developers but usually when it comes to it all that is put forth is a good choice vs. bad choice scenario - what people don’t seem to fully grasp is that it’s the moral grey areas that are the most interesting. See Telltale’s Walking Dead for example, the emotional responses generated from an ambiguous set of choices is what gets people hooked, not good vs. evil, we are past that now. As you rank up you unlock certain weapons which are locked based on the choices you make throughout the game, which the open minded will see as making sense and the cynical amongst us will see as forcing replay value. Key moments in the game do play out differently based on your choices but the end result is much the same so replay value wise it’s there if you are really enjoying it.
Finally our old friend collectibles gets involved in the form of shards which are littered across the quite large map - these are used to upgrade your four distinct powers, once they are unlocked.
Much has been said about the graphics in Infamous: Second Son and it absolutely does not disappoint. Some scenes are best described as astonishing and easily the best looking ever produced on any console to date. It’s a disappointment that the world you inhabit is sparse and a little lifeless which really feels like a missed opportunity but the “Superman” feeling you get once you have some of the powers under your belt is up there with other titles in the genre. Everything from the vistas, to the city, the enemies, their powers, your powers, it’s all absolutely beautiful and sort of what everyone has been banging on about when we first started talking about “next gen” a year or two ago. It looks that good and is a huge credit to the team at Sucker Punch.
There are some other neat little touches which utilise some PS4 specific features, particularly around the pad itself. Sucking in powers dynamically directs the sound from the TV and into the pad, to give you that feeling of drawing power into your hands and said powers are triggered by touching the touch pad. Now whilst you might think these things are really small, they work and and whilst yes they are small they add that tiny bit of immersion to the experience.
A lot of the above paints a fairly negative view of the game as a whole but there will be a moment for anyone who plays it where it clicks. The sumptuous graphics are enough to keep you playing even if the missions have bored you and the combat whilst tricky initially really sours when you have acquired a few of the obtainable powers. It’s genuinely fun once you hit that sweet spot and shows off the PS4’s potential in a big way, it’s just a shame that it plays it very very safe throughout. Here’s hoping the next Infamous game pushes the boat out that little bit further in terms of world and gameplay.