As Lao Tzu once said, “Love is of all passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart and the senses.”
That quote has nothing to do with this review, I just like it.
For those unfamiliar with the inFamous franchise, its best summed up as a game where powers are accidentally granted to an everyday person. One day they are delivering packages or spray painting billboards, and the next they are saving an entire city from the clutches of some super-powered mecha-dictator (or searing a civilian’s eyes out with fire powers). The choice is yours, and as the old saying goes, “with great power, teach a man to fish for life.”
The choices you make in the world organically shift your player towards the light side or dark side. If you, say, punt a civilian that’s dying on the ground, you may get some evil karma. If you are shooting in the general direction of a bad guy, and by accident obliterate a mother of four into ash, people will frown. On the other hand, releasing wrongfully convicted citizens denied habeas corpus will make many smile with delight. While these slowly shape your character, big, plot changing (kind of) decisions pop up a few times in the game and heavily affect your alignment. Do you teach someone to use their powers to heal and protect, or to strike fear into weaker mortals?
All this decision-making is wrapped up in a nice little superhero(villain?) blanket that allows you to fly, climb, rescue, obliterate, enslave, and much more with your given powers. In the first inFAMOUS, the hero was only able to use one power, lightning. In Second Son, you get three new powers. But wait there’s more! There actually isn’t more, I just wanted to use that cliche. Using these powers and your hero’s impressive parkour skills, you navigate the city and shape the hero/villain you want. Pure Lao Tzu style.
The Characters and Story
Voiced by the prolific (and rather dapper) Troy Baker, Delsin Rowe takes center stage as our hero/villain. The voice acting is superb on all fronts, but the dialog between Delsin and his brother, Reggie, takes the cake. The already turbulent relationship between brothers is exacerbated by Reggie’s job as tribe sheriff, and Delsin’s role as tribe knucklehead. It makes for an interesting relationship dynamic that is acted believably and emotionally throughout. But is Delsin likable? To that I say, depends.
If you can identify with a bored/somewhat troubled youth who has grown too large for his cage, then I’d say yes. If you’re tired of the entitled and bratty masses of mischievous millennials, then perhaps not. Delsin is young at heart, and his immaturity shows itself many a time. I myself found it endearing and personable, and Troy Baker finds the perfect balance between obnoxious and lovable. Despite this, there are some disconnects.
If you play Delsin as a Hero, it is an engaging and believable tale of a mischief-maker who gains powers and turns his life around, becoming the mature and lovable Hero of Seattle. If you play Delsin as a Villain, he is the gentle-at-heart mischief-maker who gains some powers and decides to annihilate a city, destroying everything in his wake and killing anyone who calls him “Banner Man.” Not enough work is done to paint Delsin as someone who can be potentially dangerous, so shooting flaming balls at citizens feels very unnatural. While the logic behind rationalizing the killing is made clearer by Delsin preaching to main characters, it would have been nice for him to have a darker past, or at least a fist-fight in the start of the game. Instead, we are left with a sort of awkward “Hey, I can shoot flames?… DIIIEEEEEE! BUURRNN HAHAHA!” sort of narrative dissonance.
The supporting cast is vibrant but not developed enough. Delsin meets three other “conduits”, people with super abilities, in his romp through Seattle. The first gives him his smoke powers, and from here he meets and absorbs the second and third’s powers as the story progresses. I won’t go into detail on each one; discovering them and building your own opinions is half the magic of the story. They are very well developed characters, each with an interesting path that could justify them being good or evil, but not enough time is spent with them. You meet them, become friends, and thats that. They fight by your side a good amount, but your relationships never really grow, they just stagnate. At the end you beat the game and never know what becomes of them.
The plot itself is engaging, but does lull a few times. The Department of Unified Protection, or D.U.P (or “Dupes”, for those of you who are tired of their oppressive regime) have taken control over Seattle as panic spreads following rumors of escaped conduits. The D.U.P is headed by evil badass Brooke Augustine, who with the power of cement rules with an iron fist… Stone fist? The Dupes put Seattle in a total lockdown, destroying every bridge and avenue into the city to keep the conduits contained until they can hunt them down. Augustine visits Delsin’s small Native American village, and in true villain fashion wounds nearly the entire tribe. Delsin must journey to this broken Seattle in an attempt to exact revenge and to find a way to heal his people. Its not an Oscar winning script, but for a superhero narrative it definitely isn’t bad either.
Ho, ho – getting to the bread and butter. There is one thing inFAMOUS does damn-near perfectly, and that’s the gameplay itself. While character development woes tarnish the game a bit, it is all made right as you leap around the city with your superpowers. While relying on parkour in the beginning, Delsin quickly gets powers that let him dash, glide, and traverse across the city with ease (and awesomeness). This movement coupled with the over-the-shoulder power slinging signature of the inFAMOUS series make for delightful enemy encounters. While clumsy at first as any new hero is, you as a player will quickly become comfortable with Delsin’s ever increasing abilities; making for some spectacular fights where you stop and high-five yourself (or friends if you have those) in amazement.
Dotting the city are drones and trailers that contain shards that Delsin uses to level up his abilities. The power-up system is a fairly standard RPG skill tree, so nothing new there. The drones are all shown on the map after destroying radar jammers, so those of you who don’t enjoy toiling for hours trying to find elusive collector items are in luck. I personally don’t find using a guide on the internet to hunt down tiny objects in an open-world game fun. But as they say, “one man’s trash is another man’s great responsibility.”
As mentioned before, there are organic events that randomly pop up in the world for you to complete. Hero’s can save someone getting bullied, free suspected conduits from holding pens, or stop drug dealers from being all angsty. You know, things Walker, Texas Ranger would do. Villains on the other hand can burn Russian gang members, shoot at street musicians, and silence anti-conduit protesters. You know, things Justin Beiber would do.
The skills that Delsin receives all have their own unique skill trees, and they all play differently. The balance is impressive, and I never found myself favoring one over the other the entire game. Some are better for travel, some are better for crowd control, some for sniping long range or precise targets. Powers are swapped by walking up to various sources and draining their energy, and while this is a neat incentive for climbing and exploration, I found myself wishing that I could swap powers on the fly. Executing combos that blended the various powers would have been awesome to behold. Despite this, both melee and ranged combat incredibly satisfying and weighty – you really feel like you’re packing a punch to those suckers that cross your path.
Something should also be said for the clever use of the Dualshock 4 controller features. Sucker Punch finds several uses for the PS4’s touch screen, but its not quite enough to keep it from feeling like a gimmick. You swipe upwards to pick things up, swipe sideways to tear doors of hinges, and use them for other non-essential sequences. The controller also cleverly becomes a spray can when you turn it sideways. Be sure to shake the controller during the entertaining graffiti sequences as well, as it produces a satisfying spray can clink from within the Dualshock speaker.
Now, I’ve never been to Seattle, but if the Sucker Punch developers did their homework I’d venture to say that it’s a city. Large skyscrapers give way to suburbs, and its all for you to use as your sandbox. Sucker Punch avoided doing a full recreation of Seattle, and instead aimed to capture the feeling of the city. Several landmarks have been reproduced; during the story you are able to climb to the top of the Seattle space needle, and the view from up there is unsurprisingly awesome. Unfortunately, once you hop down you never get to go back up; which was a strange choice if you ask me. Citizens line the sidewalk and cars create traffic in satisfying numbers, giving life to a carefully and well crafted city. Police patrol the streets, drug violence runs rampant, and street musicians add some ambiance to the chaos. It does feel a bit generic at times, but whenever you stop to admire the view its almost always stunning. The soundtrack chosen is a nice one; simple bass riffs with the occasional guitar interlude. The sound of the world itself is also very impressive. You can hear the rain on Delsin’s jacket, people converse with one another in low murmurs, distant car horns and shouts can be heard constantly. All of this ties in well, and while the world itself may not be as entertaining as a satirical Grand Theft Auto world, the Seattle Sucker Punch has built is perfect for Delsin’s story. You feel the tension in the air from the enacted martial law, and the dreariness and depression that has swept the city since the D.U.P take over.
While inFAMOUS Second Son has some inherent weaknesses, they are easily overlooked as you leap through a well-realized city being an utter badass. The characters are lovable, if not brief, the dialogue flows impressively and emotionally, and the gameplay is stellar. Great sound and visual design wrap the package up nicely, and this is an absolute must-have for the PS4.