By AARON YNCLAN, Staff Writer
Though most worlds revel in the glorification of superpowers, the same cannot necessarily be said of inFAMOUS: Second Son, which continues the series legacy of grounding superpowered mayhem in a real-world atmosphere.
After the events of inFAMOUS 2, in which then-protagonist Cole McGrath sacrificed himself to save humanity, the populace reacted to the discovery of Conduits-superpowered individuals capable of manipulating various matter and energy-with terror and violence. To quell public fear the Department of Unified Protection was formed with its sole task the hunting and capturing of all “Bio-terrorists.” With McGrath gone, the future of Human-Conduit relations rests in the hands of graffiti artist Delsin Rowe.
A 24-year old Native American, Rowe leads an unruly lifestyle on his tribe’s reservation causing trouble for his brother Reggie, the local sheriff. His delinquency is interrupted, however, after encountering a D.U.P. prisoner transport and discovers that he, too, is a Conduit. Yet unlike most Conduits-who can only wield one ability-Rowe can absorb the powers of multiple individuals. This leads him to travel to Seattle in a bid to become powerful enough to save his tribe by confronting Brooke Augustine, a powerful Conduit and head of the D.U.P.
With Second Son, developer Sucker Punch has taken most of what worked with its predecessors and expanded on it. Delsin starts off with only smoke, but can eventually gain access to three additional powers, including neon. Each ability is activated by absorbing the energies of Core Relays, and can easily be switched on the fly by absorbing their respective power outlets (chimneys, neon signs, etc.). Sucker Punch also takes advantage of the DualShock 4, with the touchpad used for various actions like opening doors, absorbing energy, and picking up items. They’re all little touches that keep the action moving at a constant pace and emphasize the largest improvement to the games mechanics: Movement.
Every power in Delsin’s arsenal revolves around fluidity and traversal, allowing him to quickly navigate battlefields and traverse the city with ease. Players no longer need to trigger-aim in combat to use powers, and the resulting field of sight provides better sensory of player surroundings; all this adds up to a gleefully fun combat system that allows players to practically dance around battlefields as they demolish enemy forces. Blast Shards also make a return in this entry, now serving as a form of in-game currency that can be used to purchase various upgrades. None of the upgrade trees contain as much depth as in previous entries, but each power feels distinctly unique and provides enough variety to keep players swapping abilities as they explore every inch of Seattle.
Representing the first time the series has used a real-life location as a setting, Seattle is a technical marvel; structures are recreated with matching features but contain enough distinction that nothing feels cut-and-paste. Parts of the city are also destructible, such as vehicles and D.U.P. emplacements, providing a small, extra layer to the gameplay as well the city’s aesthetic. Conduit powers are equally striking, and character movements, which were partially rendered with Mo-cap technology, deliver some of the most realistic animation seen from the next-gen.
Despite its beauty, however, there’s little to do in Seattle. Each area houses a D.U.P. installation that, upon destruction, opens a host of activities to engage in. Unfortunately, the activities are the same in each district and devolve to basic tropes like destroying a camera and finding an audio log. Completing enough activities also unlocks a “district showdown” which results in Delsin purging the area of D.U.P. influence. They’re fun, but they quickly grow repetitive. The one event that stood out was a graffiti minigame in which the player holds the DualShock 4 like a spray can to paint an image. This was surprisingly fun, and accentuates Delsin’s artistic background while providing one of many opportunities to establish player morality.
Karmic alliance is a key feature in the inFAMOUS series, and offers players the choice between being a hero or a villain. Yet the choices in the game are wholly black and white, dissolving into either being a decent human being or an absolute monster. Though the series has never strived to be as grey as other franchises, it still shoulders the burden of consequences to only one side of the narrative. The plot suffers as well, for while Delsin’s journey is engaging, it neither significantly advances the franchises lore nor sufficiently dissects the questions the game raises.
Sucker Punch tackles several topics reflective of today’s society; surveillance of citizens, withholding of rights, and similar instances of the means justifying the ends play into the game’s primary theme of freedom versus security. Yet none are given adequate time or effort to have an impact. At roughly 10-15 hours and only 16 story missions, the game would easily have benefitted from a couple more hours to examine these subjects.
Where Second Son’s story does shine is with its characters. Delsin and Reggie prove far more likeable leads than Cole and Zeke, and their conflicting ideologies, particularly when discussing Conduits, leaves the pair at constant odds. Yet their concern for one another shines through every interaction, and the results are some of the strongest, most poignant moments in the series history. Sadly, this depth doesn’t fully extend to the rest of the cast.
Augustine isn’t as imposing as other series antagonists, but she easily makes up for this with a slimy demeanor and commands every scene she’s in. Yet her character and motives are given little context until the game’s final moments, by which point her intentions feel too conflictive with her actions throughout the game to feel very virtuous. Supporting characters Fetch and Eugene suffer as well. While both Conduits are very dynamic and carry tragic backstories that contextualize their actions, they’re vastly underused; the player rarely interacts with them outside of a few character-specific missions and the finale, and neither has a significant impact on the story barring one plot device.
In the end, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. I’ve always appreciated the mythology behind inFAMOUS and its attempts to ground superpowers in a real-world context. Yet Second Son’s narrative feels too constrictive to do much for the series aside from establish a new protagonist. Thankfully, Delsin is a fantastic lead to play, and despite some repetitive side-missions Second Son offers a fantastic gameplay experience that should tide fans over until the next installment.