on September 12, 2014
Another entry in the Infamous series has come and gone, and much like its predecessors, Second Son provides gamers with another fun romp in a free-roam environment that is sure to scratch any itch gamers might have for the opportunity to control a guy with awesome superpowers. Some could argue that this is the best game in the series; others could argue that it's the weakest game; and still others could say that it's the "middle child". In my opinion...all those viewpoints are correct. Confused? To be honest, so am I. When I think about it, deciding which game in the Infamous series is my favorite is kind of like asking a parent which of their three children they love most. It is my understanding that most parents would not be able to choose which kid is their favorite (in most cases) because they love them all equally. That's how I feel about the Infamous series: they're all really good games with their own strengths and weaknesses. A feature that is prevalent in one game could be lacking in the others. All three games have very many similarities and have the same basic functions with regards to controls and how superpowers are used, but they also have other subtle differences. So, how does Second Son stack up compared to its predecessors? Let's find out.
Taking place 7 years after the good (Hero) ending of Infamous 2, we are put in the shoes of Delsin Rowe, your classic juvenile delinquent who has a penchant for spray painting and bugging his older cop brother, Reggie (and getting arrested by him on numerous occasions). The two brothers, who are both of the Akomish tribe, are verbally duking it out near their reservation's main gathering place when an armored transport carrying 3 Conduits (now branded as "Bio-terrorists") crashes nearby, forever changing the fate of both brothers, and possibly the fate of the world. Delsin comes into contact with one of the escaping Conduits and suddenly copies his ability to manipulate smoke, and before he knows it he's doing things like dematerializing into a puff of smoke and ash to pass through gates and travel through air vents, as well as hovering in the air and shooting smoky fireballs. Soon enough, the party is crashed by the Department of Unified Protection (D.U.P.), an anti-Bio-terrorist organization whose sole duty is to gather up and confine all Conduits and imprison them for life in a detention facility known as Curdun Cay. Conduits are currently viewed as evil beings who bring nothing but death and destruction. Anyone who's even glanced at an X-Men comic or seen one of the movies should recognize the very similar prejudices Conduits face compared to the Mutants in the aforementioned comics and movies. While some may think this premise has been done to death already, I personally found it to be well done in this game and it really gave the story a dramatic quality, and it thankfully wasn't too overdone either. Anyway, the head of the D.U.P., the oh-so-hateful and professional female dog, Brooke Augustine, uses her own powers to torture and mortally wound the other members of Delsin's tribe in order to get answers out of them about Delsin's involvement with the accident caused by the other Conduits. After taking some time to recover from Augustine's special form of interrogation, Delsin then takes it upon himself to get to Seattle, where the main D.U.P. headquarters is located, and get Augustine's power so he could undo the damage done to his tribe (with his very reluctant brother Reggie along for the ride).
The rest of the story has some interesting moments sprinkled along as Delsin eventually joins with other Conduits and makes his way up the D.U.P. food chain to get to Augustine. The relationship between Delsin and Reggie was well done and did a great job showcasing two believable brothers who don't normally agree with each other, but still support each other through thick and through thin, with often amusing banter resulting. Delsin repeatedly makes fun of Reggie and antagonizes him, but does so in a (usually) lovable manner that shows he never stops caring for his big, bossy brother. As for Reggie, he often grows frustrated with Delsin's immaturity and pressures him not to be so impulsive, but sticks with his little bro by using his contacts in the police force to dig up useful info on the D.U.P. and other characters they encounter. There is one strange inconsistency involving the relationship between Delsin and Reggie, and that is the fact that Reggie appears to be oblivious to all the horrible things Delsin does should the player choose to make him evil. Also, all this focus on the brothers' relationship leads to them kind of hogging the spotlight, which causes Delsin's relationships with other characters to be less developed than they should have been. The fact that the story for Second Son is also the shortest compared to the previous two games only compounds this issue. While the story for Second Son was certainly good and was more personal, it wasn't as epic or memorable as the story in the first Infamous. Also, Second Son's good and evil endings definitely closed things out in two very different ways, however it still lacked the oomph and greater polarizing elements of the two endings in Infamous 2 (but not by too much). I would also like to add how the comic book style cutscenes, which do make a return, were slightly less grasping to me than in the first two games as they were largely used in flashback sequences when Delsin comes into contact with other Conduits and experiences their memories as he copies their powers.
Speaking of powers, let's discuss those next. Delsin is a special type of Conduit who can copy the powers of other Conduits simply by touching them. He starts with the smoke powers, followed by neon (using neon light to shoot laser blasts), video (using light pixels from t.v. screens to create "hard light" constructs and holograms), and concrete (hurl concrete projectiles). Each of these powers have their own uses and functions, all of which are eventually unlocked after Delsin absorbs energy from Core Relays. The most notable differences between these powers is how they allow Delsin to traverse the city. Delsin can use his neon powers to change into a wave of light to run at increased speeds and run up the sides of buildings, while using his video powers lets him sprout a pair of holographic wings to make quick dashes along the ground, in mid-air, or (again) up the sides of buildings. Delsin's smoke powers give him comparatively less mobility, except when going through strategically placed air vents located around many buildings that let him reach rooftops in seconds. The concrete powers let Delsin hover in the air for longer and higher than he can with his other powers, and he can also surround himself in concrete armor and charge down the street at high speeds like someone out of a Prototype game. As far as attacking enemies go, all 4 powers function very similarly and allow Delsin to shoot gun or missile-like projectiles at his foes, though there are other differences like Delsin using his video powers to turn invisible or summon holographic angels and demons to aid him in battle.
Delsin can also imbue the chain he keeps wrapped around his wrist with his current power and unleash impressive physical attacks on those who dare to get too close to him. The first three powers have what can be called "big finishing attacks" or "karmic bombs" and involve Delsin unleashing these visually impressive attacks that can subdue (good karma) or destroy (evil karma) all surrounding enemies in one fell swoop, but they can only be powered up after Delsin has performed enough good or evil karmic actions in relatively quick succession. As in the previous games, Delsin has to recharge his powers by absorbing the necessary elements from certain sources: smoke from chimneys and destroyed vehicles, neon from lit-up signs on buildings, video from t.v. screens and certain satellite dishes, and concrete from...let's keep that one a surprise. The most notable feature with the powers is that players no longer have the option to duck and cover behind walls or cars while shooting enemies like they could in the previous games. That now useless feature has been replaced with the option to "quick-fire" projectile attacks without having to use the classic over-the-shoulder aiming from the first two games, though aiming is still an option in this game (and actually necessary for certain attacks with the neon power). Each power also has different functions depending on whether Delsin is good or evil, with his good persona gaining more abilities that focus on debilitating or subduing his enemies, while his evil persona of course focuses on obliterating them into nothingness.
The missions Delsin takes part in actually don't cover very many avenues like they did in the previous games, especially the highly varied missions in Infamous 2, and the missions don't differ too greatly between the good and evil campaigns. Aside from a few chase missions and investigating a few crime scenes, Delsin normally finds himself taking down D.U.P. command centers and strongholds in both the main and side-missions. There is also one mission where Delsin is taken into a virtual world when he's on his way to gaining his video powers which does change things up considerably, but it's just a one time deal. The city of Seattle is made up of two decent-sized islands, and the islands are divided into a number of districts. After Delsin has destroyed the D.U.P. command centers in these districts, then the available side-missions for those districts (as well as some main missions) will be unlocked. The missions themselves consist of finding audio logs, destroying surveillance cameras, spray painting, and chasing down undercover D.U.P. agents. Some of these missions, mainly the spray painting, can be tedious at times, but they somehow make you want to complete them all, especially since clearing out a district leads to a "final showdown" where you must repel a D.U.P. attack force in order to fully liberate each district. Sidenote: One thing I did like about the spray painting missions was how they included the feature to hold the controller sideways and use it like an actual can of spray paint; it was kind of nifty...gimmicky, but nifty.
One more important gameplay element they added to the game that I appreciated was how they changed the use of Blast Shards. In the first two games, Blast Shards were collectibles that simply increased Cole's power meter, and there were literally hundreds of them. In Second Son, the number of Blast Shards available to find has been downgraded to a more reasonable level and they now serve to upgrade Delsin's powers like increasing the rate at which he absorbs power from different sources, decreasing the amount of power he uses up when shooting enemies, increasing his power meter (this is unchanged), and improved versions of his current abilities. Even finding the Blast Shards is more enjoyable since most of them are being carried by unmanned drones that have to be shot down before you can get the Shards they're carrying, while others are acquired by destroying the mobile command centers.
Enemy variety, like the missions, is also more limited compared to what's on offer in the first two games. Delsin will take on the occasional drug dealers, gangsters, cops (mostly when he's evil), and some of those holographic angels and demons in that one mission. He will chiefly be fighting D.U.P. soldiers who not only use guns, missile launchers, mounted machineguns, APCs, and attack choppers, but they are also imbued with concrete powers of their own. These guys range from the simple grunts who use their guns in conjunction with lobbing balls of concrete at Delsin, to the big bruisers who are encased in concrete armor and can crush him when up close, as well as keep pace with him when going up high buildings. There are only a handful of boss fights, and while they get progressively more challenging, neither of them prove all that daunting. The second boss does provide a decent enough challenge, and the final boss isn't too bad either, though it is kind of over before you know it.
The stand-alone DLC, First Light, lets players take control of everyone's favorite emotionally unstable, neon-powered Conduit, Abigail Walker, better known as Fetch. As interesting as her background was in the main game, we only got a short glimpse of her life before she met up with Delsin. First Light lets us experience her past in far more detail and without the inclusion of a karma meter. While those who have played the main game already know how that particular chapter of Fetch's life ends, there are some surprising revelations that shine some new light on Fetch's past dealings with drug dealers and her relationship with her brother, Brent. First Light's story definitely surpasses that of the main game. The game opens with Fetch in the custody of the D.U.P. at Curdun Cay and telling her life's story to Augustine, while also having her powers put to the test in the facility's battle arenas. We chiefly take control of Fetch during flashback sequences taking place 2 years earlier when she's on the streets of Seattle with Brent (only the first island is accessible), and it's not long before the siblings run into some trouble that gets them separated. Fetch then spends the majority of her time battling gangsters, drug dealers, cops, and eventually D.U.P. soldiers. The main missions are lots of fun, and are generally more varied than most of those in the main game. Aside from the usual stuff, they include sniping large groups of enemies from afar and escorting vehicles past enemy forces; they actually remind me of several missions in the first two Infamous games, so it's nice to see them make a return.
Side-missions and random encounters involve Fetch dealing with drive-by shootings, saving hostages from gangsters, shooting down drones, etching "neon art" on walls, and finding collectibles. Floating clouds of neon gas called "lumens" litter the city (some have to be chased down in special race trials) and collecting them earns Fetch upgrades for her powers; there are also larger neon gas clouds on the streets and rooftops that give Fetch speed boosts when she runs through them at light speed (there is a reasonable explanation for the presence of all these neon gas clouds, FYI). Occasionally, we're brought back to the present where Fetch is undergoing her training at Curdun Cay with Augustine, which includes battles against holographic versions of gangsters, drug dealers, D.U.P. soldiers, and even some new demon and angel enemies. For those who are interested (not including me), the arena battles can be replayed at any time with both Fetch and Delsin, with your scores being posted on online leaderboards. These arena battles also introduce new powers to Fetch's story. With regards to Fetch's powers, she displays several abilities not accessible to Delsin. Her light speed running ability lets her phase through fences and most other obstacles, even balconies when running up the sides of buildings (these things would annoyingly impede Delsin when he was going light speed). Fetch can also hit enemies with powerful neon drop kicks, homing blasts, and can even temporarily take control of auto turrets and other enemies to fight alongside her for a time. Her most powerful ability, Singularity, lets her shoot out a large ball of neon light that draws in nearby enemies and objects like a miniature black hole before going "boom". Even the speed at which Fetch shoots neon blasts and the amount of neon power she can store is greater than Delsin's. First Light is certainly a worthwhile DLC for fans of Infamous, especially for those who liked Fetch's character.
Infamous: Second Son is, at the very least, just as good as the first two games in the series. Aside from the slight changes with the controls, larger number of powers, and using the touch pad feature to have Delsin interact with certain objects and absorb Blast Shards and power sources, it basically has the same characteristics as the first two games. The graphics are quite nice though and the particle effects for the powers (especially neon) were very well done and are visually stunning. I enjoyed this game, as will most gamers who enjoyed its predecessors. Under any other developer, the Infamous series likely would have lost its steam long ago and fallen under the category of "too much of the same thing", but somehow Sucker Punch managed to release three games that operate on the same basic principles, yet still made them fun and entertaining. The first Infamous had the best story and atmosphere, as well as the most interesting setting. Infamous 2 had the most variety with missions, enemies, and environments. Infamous: Second Son had more variety with the powers. However, as my title suggests, the Infamous series has indeed hit its peak and is past its prime. If a fourth game is eventually released, Sucker Punch needs to go back to the drawing board and make some drastic changes to their tried and true formula. The karma system, which is still exactly the same as before, needs to be more dynamic like the ones in other game series such as Fallout and Mass Effect. They should also think about differentiating the powers more so that they feel more unique; some can be strictly long-range, others can focus on melee, and others can be stealth based, etc. I still recommend this game for fans of the series and for anyone who likes free-roam games with a superpowered flavor.