We go hands-on with Suckerpunch’s latest, and find it a faster, more streamlined and morally interesting sequel.
“These abilities provide a dramatically heightened sense of comic-book indulgence to Rowe, and to the world as a whole, giving him a presence that is lacking in his personality.”
In comparison to its genre peers Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, Sucker Punch’s InFamous series has struggled to craft itself a strong personality. Its story of a society struggling to accept a set of humans, known as Conduits, who possess supernatural abilities is not a new one to the world of sci-fi, resulting in unflattering comparisons to other franchises (both in and outside of video games) that cover similar themes in a more engaging fashion.
A big part of that identity problem has come as a result of having the utterly dull, charisma-devoid Cole MacGrath in the role of lead protagonist. If you ever want to craft a story that nobody cares about, make your character feel robotic, predictable and more vacuous than a Hoover. Make your character like Cole.
No surprise, then, that for InFamous: Second Son, the series’ first offering on PS4, Cole has been dropped. He’s been replaced by Delsin Rowe – a surly hipster with a taste for terrible jackets and worse beanies.
Unfortunately, Rowe is Cole’s equal in intrigue, his every waking moment seemingly spent moaning and cursing his very existence – he’s not someone easy to cheer on. His lack of persona and his wholly offensively inoffensive wardrobe speaking to a creation likely defined by endless focus-testing and character-sapping surveys.
Thankfully, oh so thankfully, once you get to control Rowe much of this is forgotten because he has some indisputably engaging tricks and skills hidden up his too-cool-for-school sleeves.
Split into ‘Neon’ and ‘Smoke’, these two completely separate sets of superpowers allow him to fight enemies and traverse his environment in a way that is fluid, instinctual and beyond anything Cole could hope to achieve. Best of all, Neon and Smoke give you the option of approaching the same encounters in different ways.
Neon is concerned predominantly with attacks at range, Rowe able to shoot pink/blue lasers from his hands without risking his life by getting up close. If you do find yourself face-to-face with the enemy, either by choice or accident, a Neon pulse grenade-type-thing suspends and paralyses anyone within its blast radius for a short amount of time – giving you the chance to either escape or finish them off with a pink sword of Neon energy.
Smoke is the counter to Neon, devastating at short range but having almost no function at distance. A God of War-esque chain of fire is Rowe’s most effective Smoke attack, complimented by a destructive fire grenade. You can switch between Neon and Smoke powers as and when you like, so combining them together is a realistic option; you needn’t worry about being locked into being a hand-to-hand warrior or a sniper, for instance.
When traversing the various streets, buildings and vehicles that make up Second Son’s reimagining of Seattle, Neon and Smoke speed up the entire process by allowing you to bypass the usual formula of looking for nooks to grab and ledges to shimmy. Rowe can literally mutate himself into a blast of pure Neon energy, allowing you to speed up buildings and across gaps. It’s a talent that’s useful not only for getting from point A to point B, but also for evading the attentions of those opponents you probably shouldn’t have gotten into conflict with.
Furthermore, he can disappear in a puff of smoke through air vents stationed on the side of buildings, emerging from a building’s opposite side as if by magic. No longer do you have to go either around or over four-storey obstacles – now you can simply go straight through.
These abilities provide a dramatically heightened sense of comic-book indulgence to Rowe, and to the world as a whole, giving him a presence that is lacking in his personality. Whether or not his abilities remain as engaging after 10 hours plus in control of him is another matter, but it’s difficult to argue against the extent that they provide an interesting and diverse means of initial engagement.
“The move towards faster and more streamlined action seems to put some much needed distance and differentiation between InFamous: Second Son and its peers.”
Longer-term engagement is likely to be derived from Second Son’s morality system, which sees you choose between trying to cooperate with the suspicious and fearful human population, or destroy anyone that speaks ill of Conduits.
At the start of our demo we’re tasked with choosing to either redeem or corrupt a young Conduit named ‘Fetch’. The decision determines which mission is undertaken next, the rejected option seemingly lost forever and adding a potentially significant level of narrative personalisation.
The redeem option sees you guiding Fetch into the light and attempting to show the Conduit-hating contingent of humans that your kind is one to be treasured rather than ostracized and hunted. To achieve this you take it upon yourselves to destroy a drug ring operating in the city by burning down the set of houses they’re using to store their narcotics.
Rowe takes care of the legwork, getting in close and marking the storage buildings with a graffiti tag while fighting his way through a surprisingly well-manned and well-armed party of aggressive enemies. Neon abilities are your best friend here given that the drug dealers tend to be equipped with shorter-ranged automatic weapons that can become a problem if you get surrounded. Once all of the relevant buildings are marked, Fetch uses laser powers of her own to destroy them from range.
Go down the opposite route, corrupting Fetch, and your task changes to one involving the destruction of anti-Conduit protest groups demonstrating around the city, followed by investigating and silencing whoever it is that organises them. Demonstration points are marked on your map, devolving the search into a simple task of taking the most direct route to the protests by using Neon and Smoke to launch yourself across and through the scenery.
Before we get a chance to kill the leader of the protests the demo ends in a shower of dramatic light and smoke, followed by the Second Son logo bounding onto the screen and all eventually fading to black. The fact that Sony and Sucker Punch are so intent on guarding the game’s more interesting moments is probably a good thing as it certainly rouses our interest, but it is undeniably frustrating to be left wanting in such a way.
The fact that we did feel like we wanted to play more after the fade out signifies the clear potential Second Son has. In terms of interaction, at least, the move towards faster and more streamlined action seems to be a positive change and should put some much needed distance and differentiation between this game and its peers mentioned at the top of this article.
More of a challenge will be convincing us that Rowe is a protagonist capable of holding our attentions once his abilities become second nature and lose their initial exhilaration. Genuinely, here’s hoping that he does just that and provides us with that rarest of phenomenon – a video game character with an actual character.