There’s a lot resting on inFamous: Second Son. Not only is it the biggest exclusive title to hit the PS4 since launch, it’s also a chance to re-establish the franchise for a new generation of hardware and players alike. It mostly succeeds in both respects, but is not without its flaws.
Set years after the cataclysmic ending of inFAMOUS 2, the world’s governments have clamped down on the existence of superpowered Conduits, treating people with abilities as second class citizens. Of course, in a world where the powered are oppressed, new hero – or villain, pending your choices – Delsin Rowe soon ends up with a few unnatural skills of his own. Branded a bio-terrorist by the oh-so-friendly-sounding Department of Unified Protection, Delsin and his brother Reggie, a disapproving cop, are drawn into an escalating conflict that’s equal parts social justice drama and superpowered dust-up.
Unlike McGrath, Delsin isn’t limited to just zaps of electricity – he has the rather more unusual collection of smoke, concrete, video and neon. The latter is perhaps the most interesting, with eventual abilities ranging from chained explosions to time-freezing, but all four categories offer something a little bit different for the now-familiar superhero game model.
Delsin himself proves a mixed bag as a lead, though. Ten, fifteen years ago, he’d have been considered a ‘Gen-Xer’ but now, we’re not quite sure what he is. An article of disenfranchised youth at the very least, he’s an anti-establishment slacker; a graffiti artist who’s a constant disappointment to Reggie. The relationship between the squabbling siblings are at the heart of the game, but when the main player avatar is often so brattish, it’s hard not to root at least a bit for his authoritarian brother.
Looks and performance are the greatest improvements over previous entries. Second Son is simply glorious to behold, the new Seattle setting blending the urban detail of the first game’s Empire City with the more natural splendour of the second’s New Marais. Troy Baker and Travis Willingham’s roles as Delsin and Reggie, respectively, blow everything before clear out of the water – though after The Last of Us, Baker’s talents in particular shouldn’t surprise. Voice acting and motion capture throughout similarly impress, with even minor characters feeling real and nuanced.
While showcasing the graphical power of the PS4, Second Son’s use of new hardware features are less interesting. Regardless, the game is insisten on showing its tricks off. Literally the first thing you’ll do is use the controller’s motion sensor to spray paint a billboard. Shortly after, you swipe the touchpad to open a door. It’s all relatively unintrusive but feels a bit, well, gimmicky, and nothing that really adds to the game.
Beyond that, it’s inFAMOUS by the numbers, for better or worse. The free-running feels more natural, with Delsin speedily navigating the world, while combat is a genuine thrill, with the variety of powers allowing you to create a truly personal style. The shell of moralistic choices remains, but with no real middle ground. Either all good or all bad rewards the player with the best upgrades, so why would anyone strive for a more realistic balance?
Second Son’s themes have been explored before, from X-Men to Heroes, with various degrees of success. Developer Sucker Punch’s attempts to use paranormal abilities as metaphor for real-world social oppression land on the better end of the spectrum thankfully. A fine new start for a still-engaging series, and although it’s a little rough around the edges, like its protagonist, it’s a step up on its predecessors.