While Killzone Shadow Fall stepped away from the series’ traditional formula, inFamous Second Son has much more in common with its predecessors. It’s unmistakably a sequel, unbelievably fun and undoubtedly another great exclusive for Sony.
Delsin, the protagonist and titular second son, is quite a bit different from Cole. His general demeanour and energy makes him seem much less mature, and he’s not quite as grounded as his electric precursor. It’s quite fitting that the game starts with a subdued introduction, nowhere near as explosive as inFamous 2. It takes the form of an odd motion control sequence, but introduces Delsin in a suitable way.
He’s clearly the catalyst for the direction Sucker Punch have been wanting to take the series. He’s arrogant yet funny, and this comes from a fantastic performance by Troy Baker, who provides both the voice and face for our hero. You may remember how they infamously redesigned Cole before the second game to be less grumpy and more street smart, but flipped the switch in the other direction after feedback – people wanted Cole, but the development team needed to let him go.
And now, that’s what they’ve managed. It’s seven years after the events of inFamous 2 and – with the good ending canon – you’ll meet a world surprisingly devoid of Conduits. Brooke Augustine and her dystopian Department of Unified Protections (D.U.P.) have systematically captured any and all rogue Bio-terrorists – that’s their propaganda driven buzzword for Conduit – with their own powers of concrete, allowing them to control areas and strike fear into citizens.
It’s a new world and a good set up, which leads to Delsin discovering that he can absorb powers when he meets one of these so called Bio-terrorists. While he’ll find it hard to control them at first, you’ll soon be back in full swing of upgrading, using and gaining new abilities as you go. It’s very much the same template as the previous games, but the introduction of a new power in every quarter makes the pacing much tighter and keeps the gameplay fresh.
Really, inFamous is all about powers. Obviously, there are Delsin’s powers, which start off with cool smoke-based abilities, before he gains a stunning set of neon-based powers. A couple of other elements come into play later in the game too, but we’ll save those as surprises for you to find out yourself.
But there are also other powers at work – the power struggle between good and evil plays a major part in the game, for example, and from the get go you’ll want to choose a path, be it blue or red, and stick with that throughout the game. That doesn’t only represent different story choices, but entirely different missions, abilities and even visual changes as Delsin’s smoke glows even more red or his neon hue shifts along from traditional purple to magenta, as the evil red invades.
This is displayed through the DualShock 4’s lightbar to great effect, which edges from a neutral white ever closer to your chosen side. Delsin’s attire changes too, but the biggest change comes with the powers he utilises.
An ashy, light grey trail of smoke will follow if you’re good, though blood red fiery ash will rain down if you’ve chosen the evil path. Either way, it looks stunning. Delsin breaks up into thousands of particles with a single press of the circle button, his body separating into pieces of ash and then returning to his humanoid form in a matter of seconds during a smoke dash. Beyond that, there are traditional shooting mechanics, heavy hitting blasts or huge special attacks, which require a karmic streak to unlock.
While the smoke powers will keep you content for the first few hours, it really takes things up a notch when the neon comes out to play. Once again, there will be differences here depending on your morality – light blue-purple for good, and magenta for evil – but it always looks stunning.
Delsin’s neon powers might be the best and most well-realised effects used in superhero fiction yet. They really give off a sense of otherworldly abilities as they brighten up the sky. Pressing circle is much more impressive with these powers – Delsin will sprint, followed by particle representations of his last actions, creating a line of human figures glowing purple. It’s beautiful in every single aspect, and the devastating karmic streak attack is truly wonderful.
To change between powers, you’ll click the touchpad to absorb that element. That means either smoke from chimneys or destroyed cars, and neon from, well… neon signs and lights. Whether it’s a massive glowing sign, or just a bar of neon light, the way Delsin absorbs these powers is simply gorgeous. The lights fade as they turn into ribbons and particles, filtering down into Delsin’s hand. Open signs disappear to black as the reds and yellows turn to purple as they reach their destination. It doesn’t get much better, and we’re only at the beginning of a long generation.
Sucker Punch have clearly poured a lot of time into these effects, but thankfully haven’t forgotten about the gameplay. It really makes you feel superpowered as you destroy the occupying D.U.P. forces. The interplay of the powers is brilliant, and abilities varied enough to make this extremely enjoyable, while the destructible environments add a further sense of power to the mix.
The morality system once again rears its head here, giving the option in-combat to subdue or execute enemies. It’s a smart decision, and one that pays off, adding anther dynamic to the gameplay.
Much of the game is based around taking out their mobile command units, by first silencing the foes around the base before taking out the unit itself, powering Delsin up and unlocking the area, with further side missions getting it down to 0% D.U.P. control.
It seems pretty standard for an open world game, and the side missions are short and sweet enough that they don’t become too repetitive. There’s spray painting, secret agent hunting, voice recorder finding and more, with things such as destroying security cameras or finding blast shards – which are now in drones, and upgrade your powers – also bringing that number down. Once you’re below 30% control, you’ll be able to engage in a big final battle to rid that area of D.U.P. agents once and for all.
Naturally, aside from these standard open world mechanics, there are story missions. These are higher-octane and much more varied than the side missions, offering some detective work as Delsin tries to find other Conduits, as well as more action-based missions. You’ll even have a few boss battles, though there often isn’t enough variety in these match-ups. Morality changes things here too, with certain missions taking completely different paths depending on whether you’re fighting the good cause or just fighting back.
Despite the extraordinary circumstances, Second Son tells a rather straightforward tale. There’s nothing quite as crazy as any of Cole’s adventures, and that combined with Seattle makes it a much more realistic venture, where Delsin has been afflicted with these powers. It’s through his brother Reggie that you’ll see how the government has twisted what Conduits stand for, coining the term Bio-terrorist, as he hopes to cure Delsin of what he sees as a curse. Reggie just thinks that he’s doing right, and whether Delsin does right or not is ultimately your choice.
The story hurtles forward at an alarming rate, which might lower the feeling of freedom even though it is always there. It’s a good narrative though, and can either be a tale of redemption or destruction depending on your choices.
While the visuals are absolutely sublime, as mentioned before, there are some strange design choices which perhaps show limitations in development. There’s no dynamic cycle, for example, with the weather and time of day changing at pre-determined sections of story progress. This does make way for some incredibly stunning vistas, such as sunsets which set the tone perfectly, or night time sections which makes the neon power even more majestic. The use of lighting in particular throughout the Seattle environment is another high point.
It’s also only running at 30 frames per second. This really isn’t an issue for Second Son, as the sense of speed is still captured well and the effects still look excellent. There’s also an impressive array of sounds for all of Delsin’s powers, with tone-setting music employed to make battles feel even more incredible. Voice acting fits in perfectly with the almost photo-realistic facial animations, which actually step out of uncanny valley at certain points.
So saying that limitations might’ve hindered Second Son is probably wrong. Sucker Punch have done everything they can to make the best looking game possible, and in that regard they’ve succeeded, as they have with many other aspects of the game.
Second Son is very much an inFamous game. It doesn’t stray off the series’ beaten path too much, but there are enhancements in terms of gameplay and some stunning effects put to good use to create the PS4’s most fun and best looking game yet.
While the narrative might not have the same impact as previous games, it’s somewhat more of a down-to-earth tale of an ordinary man with extraordinary powers, and that’s an exciting new direction for the series to take.