When Sony and Microsoft released their consoles late last year, they lacked the killer launch titles needed to kick off the next-generation of gaming. The Xbox One got Titanfall last week, and now the PlayStation 4 has Sucker Punch’s Infamous: Second Son. While Second Son doesn’t quite live up to the enormous hype it has generated, it still arrives as the best PS4 exclusive yet, and a must-have for early adopters looking to show off what their new console can do.
Second Son reboots the superhero action-adventure Infamous franchise with a new protagonist, Delsin Rowe, in a totalitarian-occupied Seattle. Delsin, an over-the-top punk with a penchant for graffiti, absorbs powers from other Conduits, the term for people in the Infamous universe with the genetic ability to absorb and wield elements from the surrounding environment.
Our hero starts off with a smoke power before picking up a few others during the course of the game. While Sucker Punch has gone out of its way to choose unconventional powers, the results are mixed. Manipulating smoke instead of the more obvious choice of fire leads to some cool abilities like zooming through vents up into the air, but I found it hard to really get excited about the ability to control neon lights. I’ll leave it to you to discover the other powers, but they tended to feel more “WTF” than awesome.
Sucker Punch tried to get a few new interactions out of the PS4 controller with Second Son. For instance, you’ll turn it sideways and rattle it to imitate a spraypaint can when tagging graffiti. You’ll also need to swipe the touchpad to open gates and perform other actions. It’s not particularly groundbreaking, but it does change things up.
Second Son is far from a perfect game – the story felt contrived and emotionally stunted at times and gameplay became repetitive toward the end – but it is fun, which is unfortunately more than I can say for most of the exclusives on either platform.
The game looks stunning. We’ve been waiting for developers to tap the tremendous processing potential of the PS4, and Second Son is definitely off to a good start. The next generation is here, and it is slick.
I spent a couple days of heavy playing to get through the main storyline, but I still had plenty of side missions and areas to explore once I finished. Sucker Punch also included a free bonus extension called Paper Trail that delves into the back story of the villainous Department of Unified Protection with roughly 5 hours of new gameplay. The extra content mixes in-game missions with external easter eggs like websites, voicemails and documents.
The Karma aspect adds an interesting element of replayability to the game. Infamous games allow the player to make choices between good or evil throughout the game. Those choices add (or subtract) from your Karma level and influence which missions you play and how you use your powers. Playing through the game as a good guy turned out to be a little less fun than just letting loose, but at least I had the moral high ground of rescuing and healing people instead of rampaging. Karma in Second Son feels too neat to be emotionally engaging, but it does add some depth to the game.
I had a couple of minor complaints with gameplay. The one complaint I had about the Karma system is its awkward insertion into combat. For instance, when you target enemies with the neon power, you can either headshot them for evil karma points or shoot them in the knee for good karma. In theory this is a good idea, but in practice, it’s really annoying to run around stooped over, zapping people’s knee caps.
Water areas are completely off-limits and you’ll have to press the touchpad to get back on land to resume the game. It’s unnecessarily jarring, especially when compared to a game like Grand Theft Auto 5.
Sucker Punch has said that Second Son is designed so that newcomers to the Infamous series can dive in without knowing the backstory. However, that’s only partially the case. The game fails to fully explain why “core relays” and drones expand your powers, so having to search for them felt like an pointless mechanic.
When I reviewed the initial game lineup for the Xbox One and PS4 last year I remained largely unimpressed, so Infamous: Second Son stands out because I actually enjoyed playing it. While I had a number of gripes about the game, it still succeeded at capturing the thrill of discovering new Conduit powers and unleashing them on your enemies, and Sucker Punch earns bonus points for making this look good.