inFamous: Second Son tells a story of persecution and fear in the age of terrorism. VG247’s Dave Cook plays Sucker Punch’s final PS4 code to see if its real-world inspiration is diluted by the hands-on experience.
“Enter protagonist Delsin Rowe, a swaggering graffiti artist and overall dickhead who loves nothing more than bashing the establishment and getting arrested.”
(Note: this is an opinion piece on the final game’s opening six hours.)
A lot of eyes are on Sucker Punch Productions right now. After all, inFamous: Second Son is the first big post-launch PS4 exclusive, and will be the reason many gamers invest in Sony’s new machine. I’ll admit that I was late to the series given its vast, sandbox nature (there’s only so many hours in a day!) but I’m now some six hours into the new game and my feelings are currently mixed.
When I last spoke with Sucker Punch director Nate Fox, he informed me that Delsin’s story was inspired by what happened to our own world post-9/11. For a long time after that terrible day we were told that the enemy needn’t be a military organisation or clearly-defined force, but the person sitting next to you on the bus. Everyone became a suspect, and no one was exempt.
That’s the kind of world Sucker Punch has set up in inFamous: Second Son. It’s been years since the destructive events of New Marais, and Cole McGrath’s legacy has triggered the mass persecution of Conduits around the world. Super-powered citizens are being hauled off to shadowy prison facilities without trial or jury, while the Department of Unified Protection locks down entire cities to track down perpetrators. The world has become a police state, but ordinary people are starting to feel safe once more.
Enter protagonist Delsin Rowe; a swaggering graffiti artist and overall dickhead who loves nothing more than bashing the establishment and getting arrested by his cop brother Reggie. After coming in to contact with a Conduit fugitive, he absorbs a suite of smoke abilities and suddenly finds himself on the side of the enemy. He starts off scared and unable to control his new skills for a whole ten minutes before becoming completely fine with being a wanted ‘bio-terrorist,’ and even preaches to Reggie about why demonising Conduits is a very bad thing indeed.
It’s a little like the Lara ‘light-switch’ criticism aimed at Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider reboot. Some gamers felt that while she seemed incredibly traumatised after killing her first island-dweller, everyone after that was fair game, without a glimmer of guilt as the death toll rose. The same is true here. I felt that Delsin came round to the idea of being an outlaw a little too quickly, and although that’s not exactly game-breaking, it does make him a bit harder to side with. This aside, he’s a comedic lead with some nice quips here and there, and his phone exchanges with ever-suffering dry man Reggie are certainly worth a chuckle.
The set-up is that the Rowe brothers have just seen their tribe attacked by DUP forces, and they need to locate the organisation’s leader Augustine to extract her Conduit power. It holds the cure to saving Delsin’s people, but there’s a whole counter-terrorist army standing between him and victory, and so begins a familiar if not visually-spectacular sandbox jaunt. The opening walk to Seattle sets out an impressive stall as a grand suspension bridge cracks and falls into the sea with you still on it. It’s an enormous, show-stopping scene that’ll make players coo with amazement, but it takes a while for things to get going like that again once you hit the big city. It does though, rest-assured.
Second Son has many progression mechanics that see you levelling up Delsin’s powers, stockpiling Karma and liberating DUP-controlled districts by wiping out mobile command centres dotted around the city. The process of seeking out enemy encampments, slaughtering all hostiles in the area and then unlocking new side activities is hardly unique. I personally felt a little tired at the thought of going through it all again, after sinking crazy-time into the sandboxes of Saints Row 4 and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. That was at the outset, but now I’m chasing HUD markers and side tasks like a demon. I’m hooked.
Unhealthy collectible addiction aside, there’s still a lot of fun to be had tearing around Seattle and laying waste to soldiers with Delsin’s ever-expanding arsenal. Traversal is a riot as you shoot through vent shafts on street level, only to blast out of rooftops before dissipating through the air toward your objective. Couple that with neon-enabled wall running and lightning speed, and you have a power-cocktail that’s pleasing to quaff. I haven’t even reached these mysterious extra powers Sucker Punch has been teasing for some time now. Does fart gas count as a power?
Combat doesn’t make you feel as god-like as you’d expect from a superhero game thanks to a finite supply of power and readiness of DUP forces. Both your smoke and neon abilities can run dry if over-used, and if that happens during a mass battle you’ll be forced to flee or fall-back on Delsin’s chain whip attacks. I’d advise the former, given Second Son’s difficultly setting. It’s not stupidly hard, but it will punish players who act invincible. You may feel that games like this should offer more empowerment – something I felt Saints Row 4 did exceedingly well – but that all depends on what sort of challenge you’re looking for.
Once Delsin’s juice runs dry you’ll have to find new resources to top up your power bars. Smoke can be extracted from chimneys or ravaged vehicles, while neon comes from signs dotted around the urban playground. You’ll need all the power you can get while Conduit-infused DUP soldiers start entering the mix. To help even the field you’ll eventually unlock more explosive powers that can either kill, or simply restrain enemies depending on what sort of character you want to be. Karma plays into skill progression and combat in neat ways, but again, this is another area where the narrative stumbles.
Karma has a profound impact on the city, and there are many ways to rack up those brownie points as you go. Anything from peacefully taking out gang members and healing injured civilians, to destroying drug caches and spray-painting inspiring graffiti pieces on tag spots will convince the populace that Delsin is on their side. A slight problem is that this all seems to happen way too fast. I was only an hour in when passing pedestrians started cheering me on in first-name terms. I’m not even sure that Delsin knew what his cause was by that point.
I do like the reactivity of the streets, and it’s heart-warming to hear people shouting words of encouragement or take your picture as you fight against the game’s awkward climbing mechanic to scale the side of a building. It just felt a little unevenly paced and disjointed to begin with, and there’s also the obligatory binary choices during cut-scenes that haven’t felt too excruciating so far. Karma skills also come into play during combat, adding another layer of moral quick-thinking into gameplay that depends on whether you subdue or kill enemies during battle.
“Delsin isn’t all-powerful, he’s a flawed, borderline sociopath, who starts to lust for power once he realises he can absorb abilities from other Conduits.”
For example, take down a string of enemies non-lethally and you’ll be able to unleash the Karma Bomb. It sees Delsin fly into the air and shoot his cheeky smirk, before slamming back down to earth to restrain all enemies like some sort of pacifist smart bomb. I’ve also unlocked the neon variety, which involves levitation and a shit-load of lasers. These moves are the true money-shots, and I guess that if Delsin could do this kind of thing often they’d lose their impact. Perhaps I’m just being greedy in wanting to feel powerful all the time?
I won’t dig too much into where the plot is heading, but I’m about an hour into achieving my first set of neon powers. I’ve also adopted a sidekick who I felt warmed to me way too fast, and I’m still running around trying to rid the streets of DUP forces while unravelling the core plot. There’s also been a few light Batman Arkham-style detective scenes that require next-to-no thought, and the mandatory wealth of side distractions such as taking out security cameras and rotor drones around the city. They’re necessary filler in a game like this, sure, but they could wear thin if you’re not so inclined.
inFamous: Second Son is a decent game, and a seriously pretty one at that. While I’m not seeing much in the way of gameplay innovations here I am still having fun increasing my powers and observing the city as it changes thanks to my presence. If I had to pick, I’d say I had more fun with Saints Row 4 just because of how utterly audacious it was, but there’s enough to love here. You were also stupidly powerful in that game too. I guess the truth is that Delsin isn’t all-powerful, he’s a flawed, borderline sociopath, who starts to lust for power once he realises he can absorb abilities from other Conduits. He’s like Sylar from Heroes in a beanie hat.
There’s a degree of foreshadowing at play here that suggests even someone with pure intent like Delsin can fall if tempted with absolute power. I’m hoping the plot expands on those themes and manages to make me care about his struggle a little more as I progress, because right now he feels more like a petty thug – reckless more than someone to rally behind. He clearly wants a revolution of some kind but to what end I’m currently not sure.
Disclosure: to assist in writing this piece, Sony sent Dave a PS4 copy of inFamous: Second Son.