The smoke and mirrors of inFamous: Second Son

By Stace Harman, Monday, 9 September 2013 14:32 GMT

Stace Harman talks to Sucker Punch’s Nate Fox about the choices and consequences of its Sony-exclusive inFamous franchise and finds out whether or not great power comes a great deal of fun.

inFamous: Second Son

Sucker Punch Productions is a subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment that’s best known for its inFamous and Sly Cooper series but way back in 1999 it made an action-puzzler for the N64 called Rocket: Robot on Wheels.

In a recent developer diary, Sucker Punch talked about the development of inFamous: Second Son and how it utilises the additional power afforded by the PlayStation 4

Delsin’s powers were put through their paces in this E3 game play video

Troy Baker – of BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us fame – is lending his voice and performance to Second Son’s protagonist, Delsin Rowe, check him out in action in this developer diary.

inFamous: Second Son is expected in early 2014; April 1 if this Gamestop listing is to be believed.

At the end of inFamous 2 you have to make a choice that leads to two radically different outcomes. For the sake of those that intend to play through Sucker Punch’s action-adventure sequel prior to the release of inFamous: Second Son, I won’t go into the detail of that choice here but, suffice to say, one option leads to the good, altruistic ending and the other offers a grim and self-serving conclusion.

Whichever choice you make directly affects protagonist Cole MacGrath but it also impacts the world around him to such a degree that only one of these endings can be considered canon. Admittedly, the Evil Cole in me is disappointed that Sucker Punch has chosen to run with the “good” ending of inFamous 2 as the setting of its PS4-exclusive follow-up, but while it might seem like the obvious and safe choice I’m assured that it wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly.

Instead, Sucker Punch gathered the available trophy data and found that the majority of you that completed the game chose the path of the righteous. While that earns you a karmic pat on the back, it also raises the question of whether the developer would have been willing to embrace the darker narrative setting had the player data decreed it.

“I’ll be frank, I kind of wanted to make a game like that,” admits game director Nate Fox. “[One] filled with more people with powers and humanity set up to be really angry with those people. That’s an easier game [to make] but the truth is people were really high-minded and heroic.

“When you set out to make these games you’re kind of just intuiting your way through things, so if you have real hard information to help you make decisions, particularly early on in the process, then that is just a gift.”

So it is that inFamous: Second Son is set in a world where Conduits are not only shunned for the powers they wield but are branded a menace and actively hunted by the Department of Unified Protection.

Cue protagonist Delsin Rowe, a seemingly regular guy who obtains his own suite of smoke-based superpowers after rushing to aid the victims of an accident. Finding he suddenly has the means to effectively challenge the totalitarian authority that he’s railed against for years, Delsin sets about pitting his powers against the DUP to drive it out of the city, one section at a time.

It’s the powers that make the inFamous franchise and that are arguably more memorable than any of its characters. There’s something liberating about treating an entire city as your own personal playground and wielding elemental-style powers in as chaotic or ordered a fashion as you like.

What’s more, the franchises’ visual identity is heavily influenced by the nature of these powers and basing Delsin’s around smoke serves multiple purposes. Not only does it help to differentiate Delsin’s abilities from the familiar triumvirate of fire, ice and electricity, but his smoke and particle effects also happen to be an excellent way for this Sony-owned studio to show off the enhanced graphics processing power of the PS4.

“That’s an astute observation,” acknowledges Fox, when I put this last point to him. “We absolutely are looking for ways to harness the hardware to produce spectacular graphics. We chose lightning for Cole and part of that was because it was a kick-ass fireworks display every time you use a power. Smoke is no different and nor are any of the other powers that Delsin gets along the way. They absolutely are eye-candy.”

The “other powers” to which Fox is referring are obtained by Delsin’s ability to absorb those wielded by other Conduits. The game’s most recent trailer saw Deslin gaining the power to manipulate neon from fellow Conduit Abigail ‘Fetch’ Walker.

Sucker Punch is currently tight-lipped about the nature of further powers, but Fox did confirm that not all of them will be smoke-based. He also hints that there’s an opportunity to acquire any of the powers that are used against you by your enemies, albeit in a modified form in order to be “the most fun for the player”.

Gleeful destruction

Watching some gameplay, we saw Delsin go off at the deep end when he infiltrated a DUP compound and caused a gratifying amount of carnage through use of his unique abilities and a mix of ranged and melee attacks. While it certainly made for an impressive spectacle, for me it also set some alarm bells ringing. Environmental destruction is a familiar concept and where it’s jarred with me in the past is in its inconsistency of application.

Technical constraints and game play considerations have often made it necessary to restrict such destruction to certain areas or to render certain surfaces invulnerable to attack. My primary concern for Second Son – and next gen titles in general – is whether developers can ensure that this kind of managed freedom makes sense from a narrative perspective, so as not to interrupt the suspension of disbelief.

“We’re absolutely looking to let people create total havoc and we want to let people walk on the wild side, but also we don’t want to let people level the city to a flat parking lot because that’s not fun,” Fox warns.
For this reason, Fox openly admits that there are times when game-world rules have to be bent or broken in order to ensure the experience remains enjoyable, even at the expense of consistency.

“For instance, we don’t want to level a certain building, even if it might be a very rickety looking building, if levelling it means there’s nothing to climb on or no cover to hide behind,” Fox explained, and added, “In general though, our contract with the player is if they think they should be able to do something we try to let them do it, so anything you think you can climb on we let you climb on, so that we maintain trust, and if something seems to you that you should be able to destroy it we try to let you destroy it.”

Further gameplay showcases and perhaps even a hands-on will be required to see how this aim works in practice. In the meantime however, I’ll have to get used to the idea that for the world that constitutes Delsin’s playground to exist, the choices that I made as Cole MacGrath have to be considered null and void. Here’s hoping that both Sucker Punch and Delsin can more than make up for that anomaly.

inFamous: Second Son is a PlayStation 4 exclusive that’s expected to launch in early 2014

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