'InFamous: Second Son' review - smoke and mirrors

Thursday, 20 March 2014 10:00 AM Written by 

 

InfamousSecondSonBoxArt“InFamous: Second Son” marks the first blockbuster title to release for the PS4. Console sales have been off to a strong start, and a new chapter from a beloved series like “InFamous” can only help drive the PS4 forward. The development team of Sucker Punch has high expectations to reach, being the first team to truly showcase the power of the PS4. While “Second Son” is visually stunning, the gameplay lacks the originality of the previous installments.

The previous lead character Cole MacGrath is out, and newcomer Delsin Rowe takes the reigns. Delsin is a troublemaker with a penchant for graffiti art. He lives on the Akomish Reservation outside of Seattle with the rest of his family. A truck crashes on the property carrying three captured conduits, the name given to those with superpowers. When attempting to track one down, Delsin comes into contact with him and absorbs his power.

The Department of Unified Protection (DUP) is quickly on the scene to apprehend the escaped conduits. The leader of the DUP, Augustine, who is also a conduit, tortures members of Delsin’s tribe for information on the now escaped conduits. The only way for Delsin to heal his family is to travel to Seattle and steal Augustine’s power.

“Second Son” nails its ambitious production values. The virtual recreation of Seattle is vibrant with glowing neon storefront lights and a constant sheen from recent rainfall. Facial details of the main cast look lifelike, and the impeccable voice work of Troy Baker as Delsin adds to the character’s humanity. This game has all the appearances of a next-gen experience.

But it’s the gameplay that feels all too familiar, and occasionally stale. “Second Son” does little to evolve the formula of “InFamous 2.” Delsin starts with smoke projectiles and has a chain for close melee attacks. He eventually learns two new powers from different environmental elements, but combat is barely altered by these new abilities. Projectiles have a visual change, but the mechanics feel the same. After the game’s midway point, battling DUP soldiers felt like a rudimentary exercise.

Delsin can wield three powers, but they can’t be changed on the fly. First he needs to absorb the power-specific element to harness that power. Problems arise when these elements are difficult to find, especially in the middle of a battle. If a specific element is needed, Delsin will likely have to leave the area, and return fully charged after locating the element through a neon sign, smoking car, or television screen. Going on a scavenger hunt when powerless interrupts the game’s flow, and it’s more frustrating than fun.

The first “InFamous’” method of travel was groundbreaking with its building scaling, but climbing buildings feels less polished this time around. Many buildings’ roofs are nearly impossible to scale due to an obstruction at the top. Later in the game, modes of travel are unlocked to quickly zip around the map, but they eventually feel like autopilot. Players can just hold down the circle button and zip over and around buildings. What’s fun at first wears out its welcome.

 

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“Second Son” continues the series trademark of choosing good or evil in the Karma system. Choices are presented in the exactly the same fashion as “InFamous 1” and “2.” The choice between right and wrong is never a difficult one to make. Players will likely have a predetermined choice whether to travel down the good or evil path. The choices that face Delsin aren’t likely to alter that path. They’re never able to present a situation that inspires any meaningful reflection.

Power trees differ depending on Delsin’s karma path choice. The key to successful combat is charging his power attack. Each elemental power has a powerful attack that needs to be charged by doing good deeds on the good side of karma, or going on a murderous rampage on the evil side. Restraining enemies, healing citizens, and tagging buildings with positive art adds to the streak. Doing six good deeds in a row enables the power attack that obliterates everything in a decently sized radius. On the evil side, a rampage of more than six enemies needs to be achieved in a limited amount of time to unlock the same attack.

This is one instance where playing as an evil character is significantly more enjoyable than playing nice. Going on a timed rampage with a complete disregard for anyone who gets in the way can be enjoyable, and at times challenging. Delsin is always looking for the next target. On the other hand, saving up good deeds to charge the attack often ends in frustration. Delsin could restrain five enemies, but then a citizen will get hit with some shrapnel from a car explosion, and the counter resets to zero. 

I approached battles with the sole purpose of enabling these attacks. There was no reason to be tactical when you have a this monster attack at your disposal.

 

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Seattle has a high quantity of side quests to pursue, none of them are particularly exciting the first time let alone more than the 20th time. These including seeking and destroying hidden cameras, finding DUP agents that are dressed as civilians, or collecting hidden audio logs. It’s all very generic.

The side activities that do shine are the building tagging. Different buildings can be tagged with Delsin’s signature graffiti, which is in the style of Banksy. It’s neat to see what designs he comes up with.

It still feels like less than the offerings of the previous games. Completing the main story and about 80% of collectables took around 10 hours.

“Second Son” has all the appearances of a next-gen game, but its gameplay and stunted karma system appear dated. Delsin is a more sympathetic character than Cole, but the simple choices he’s faced with fail to further develop his character. This game has a gorgeous exterior, but that shimmer fades when digging deeper.

 

7.5 out of 10

 

Pros:

Gorgeous visuals
Top-notch voice acting

Cons:

Fails to set itself apart from previous installments
Generic combat
Stunted karma system

 Price   $59.99 
 Release Date   3/21/2014 
 Platform  PS4
 Rated   T for Teen

 

 

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