Review: inFamous: Second Son
In the three years that have passed since we last saw inFamous, Sucker Punch Productions has spent countless hours wrestling with Sony's latest console: the PS4. As with other development studios, toppling the challenge of working with a new architecture has been motivated by the adrenaline rush produced by trying to tap into its potential. inFamous, being the franchise that's always fallen just short of being first class, is the perfect example of a series that could benefit greatly from a challenge.
Being touted as the system's first must-have title, does inFamous: Second Son deliver on its promise of successfully ushering the franchise into its next chapter?
In inFamous: Second Son you play as Delsin Rowe, an exceptionally ordinary 24-year old male. Although he becomes a superhero early on in the adventure, much of the time he doesn't feel like one. Being the laid-back slacker that he is, his carefree nature fosters both a connection that isn't present when playing as a the 'perfect hero' archetype, while also remaining somewhat uninteresting given his high-school level dialog. Nonetheless, he tries to be humorous to win over the crowd.
Delsin's journey is as short as it is compelling. Clocking in at 9 to 10 hours—just for the main story, mind you—, much of it is spent delving into small story pieces that feel unimportant in the grand scheme of things. In every case these quests end with you earning a new power type to use. Your drive to unlock these new skills that are perpetually teased before you leads to moments of thrill when you finally acquire their power.
Interactions with other characters are done through several impressive in-game cutscenes. The facial animations and voice acting together are top-notch, offering us our first true look at how the PS4 will be able to deliver stories as we progress deeper into the generation. There are also comic-style videos shown that fans of the series will find familiar, and they look as good as ever.
The biggest problem is that being Delsin just isn't all that entertaining to play as. Some of that comes from his modest ability set. Most of it comes from the ill-conceived controls. Using the basic ranged attack in nearly all power types feels like you're throwing paper airplanes at foes; they lack the sort of feedback that makes playing as a superhero as exhilarating as it should be. This lack of audio and visual cues wasn't particularly a problem in the last two games which makes it a strange shortcoming. As with the previous games, you have to keep tapping R2 to repeat fire. It's a strange design decision that makes you feel as if you were playing a shooter like Call of Duty and were limited to a 9mm handgun that shoots rubber bullets.
The game's few boss battles highlight the weakness of the combat mechanics. Taking down enemies with a lot of health requires an uncomfortable amount of R2 presses. If you have arthritis, you'll need to take breaks and keep some medicine handy.
There are four different power types unlocked throughout the game, and they differentiate between one another in subtle ways that change up how you play. However, you can only have one move set active at any time, and switching to another requires several seconds of power draining from an object in the game world—drain smoke to unlock Smoke powers, neon lights to unlock Neon, etc. Progressing through the game's skill trees aids in making each skill set more powerful, but doesn't do enough to take it to the next level, especially for melee where it's always a repetitive two or three hit combo. No matter which power you're using your R2 ranged attack will be your main punch, though. The other abilities are more complementary than anything.
The DualShock 4's touchpad gets a lot of use. Opening doors, tagging walls with your spray paint, and more are accomplished with swipes and clicks. It's understandable that Sucker Punch wanted to integrated it given it's a first party developer, but its implementation is far too prevalent. Destroying objects by swiping up, holding it, and then tapping R2 is nonsense.
Karma is back with Second Son, and like previous games you'll want to decide on whether to be good or evil during your first playthrough. This choice has significant ramifications during the course of the game as not only are your powers affected by your Karma, but cutscenes are as well. Speaking of which, there are several major decisions you'll make throughout the journey. The lives of one or more characters are in your hands.
As much as gameplay falters, Second Son's graphics are worthy of praise. Seattle is where the game takes place, and Sucker Punch has done the city justice. Buildings are beautifully rendered with immaculate detail. Puddles of water around the city streets glisten as you toss grenades at foes who oppose you. The city isn't particularly large or varying in style, but the level of detail makes up for it.
Unfortunately, the city lacks the liveliness that most modern AAA games posses. Pedestrians behave and look artificial, and the only thing really going on are the six or so different types of scripted side-quests that have been peppered around the map. The game also suffers from an inconsistent framerate. During moments of environmental destruction framerate dips well below the 30 FPS mark. I would have preferred to see a more modest presentation with a steady framerate for the sake of being able to fully enjoy the game's bountiful moments of tension.
You'll likely complete Second Son within 10 hours, but you're encouraged to replay the game with the opposite Karma type. There are also a few hours of side quests which include the familiar for inFamous fans such as resurrecting pedestrians and executing protestors. However, there is a new side-mission type where Delsin tags walls in the game world with spray paint. Using the DualShock's motion sensor and touchpad, seeing the finished work of Delsin when he draws cats, old guys pushing lawnmowers, and more around the city is nice, but performing the work is repetitive. The game's day one patch also includes the inFamous Paper Trail Storyline which may bump up your playtime if you're looking for more content.
inFamous: Second Son represents a type of game that I've been weary of heading into the new generation of consoles; a game that de-emphasizes gameplay in hopes that its captivating beauty is enough to woo you. Ultimately, it's hard to fault the game too much given its dazzling visuals and respectable polish. But once that initial wow factor wears off you're left with a game that has neither a story to reel you in or gameplay mechanics that keep you coming back for more.
Jonathan Leack is the Gaming Editor for CraveOnline. You can follow him on Twitter @jleack.
Copy provided by publisher. inFamous: Second Son is exclusive to PS4.