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inFAMOUS: Second Son (PlayStation 4) artwork

inFAMOUS: Second Son (PlayStation 4) review

"I stopped caring about getting to know Seattle as soon as the city became nothing more than dead space, something to stand between you and your next waypoint."

inFAMOUS: Second Son (PlayStation 4) image

The main character from Infamous: Second Son, a superhuman being labeled in this universe as a "Conduit," has the ability to absorb the powers of other Conduits and use them for his own means. Sadly, he never unearths the ability to get the game running at 60 frames per second.

This dexterous and adeptly-delivered observation may sound petty, but Second Son's visual presentation was the first of many indicators to me that the game is an underperformer. I had a lovely time with the original Infamous, back when the superhero sandbox genre was still finding its footing; it was perhaps the first open world game that gave me complete freedom of movement and didn't treat that like a one-way trip to success. It also boasted a surprisingly substantial story and a city with genuine purpose to back the nifty powers players were allowed to fool around with. Now, though, when you've got spectacular games like Just Cause 2 and Saints Row IV demonstrating what this genre is capable of, Second Son feels depressingly ordinary. A fallen giant, this series is.

With Cole McGrath out of the picture, we now focus on a guy named Delsin Rowe, who wears a beanie and is thus a graffiti artist. Delsin encounters a few Conduits early on and winds up as one himself. His superpower is superpowers. He has the power of superpowers. He can absorb abilities from other Conduits, you see, and while they tend to be a bit unorthodox (one of them is "neon"), they're all essentially flimsy jumping-off points for whatever cool thing developer Sucker Punch wants the player to do next, much like how Cole was somehow able to constrain people with electricity. I don't know why having the power of smoke allows Delsin to leap several stories into the air whenever he's standing on a car, but hey, I guess roll with it.

inFAMOUS: Second Son (PlayStation 4) image

Second Son's first couple of hours actually quite nicely recapture one of my favorite aspects of the original Infamous, which is that even with all of the freedom of movement at your hands, navigating the city efficiently still took a great deal of skillful timing and precision. Cole had to grind about on power lines and train tracks; Delsin travels through vents and launch himself from smokestacks. Flinging yourself around Seattle is great fun for a while, and one of the things that I like about Delsin as a character is that he's one of the few protagonists of his ilk who seems to openly revel in the thrill of what he's doing.

Unfortunately, it's not long until Delsin acquires his second ability set, which – sure enough – allows him to scale any object or building in a flash with no limitations, and that's when the game gets less interesting. This is the same problem that Prototype had. If I can scale a skyscraper with the snap of my fingers, there's no reward; it sours the view from the top. Conversely, climbing the Agency Tower in Crackdown was only a blast because of all of the laser-precise, sweaty-palmed platforming it took to get up there. I stopped caring about getting to know Seattle as soon as the city became nothing more than dead space, something to stand between you and your next waypoint.

Another common trap that superhero sandbox games tend to fall into is that it's difficult to actually challenge players when the whole point is that they're overpowered. Second Son's solution, more often than not, is to simply overwhelm you; the most difficult portions of the campaign are when you've got dozens of enemies firing at you from every direction, with opposing Conduits warping about and knocking Delsin around like a pinball. Second Son finds some strength during its boss encounters, when Sucker Punch can focus on solid one-on-one showdowns rather than hectic orgies of explosions, but they number in the single digits, sadly.

I do appreciate that there's an actual purpose to completing side quests in Second Son, that being to claim territory and clear the city of enemy patrols. I'd typically do all of the side quests in a new area before engaging in the actual story missions; it's a long-running tradition of the Infamous series that this new one preserves quite nicely. Unfortunately, Second Son also still carries over some of the worst characteristics of the series, up to and including – ugh – the moral choices. They're not quite as jarringly black-and-white as they were in previous games, but once again, unlocking the best abilities can only be done by sticking rigidly to your alignment. So you're basically just making one choice at the start of the campaign and then adhering to it for the remainder of the game. Sucker Punch really needs to give this tired system a rest already.

inFAMOUS: Second Son (PlayStation 4) image

The other longtime flaw that Second Son inherits is the sluggish controls, which I've become increasingly more sensitive to with every entry. Maybe it's just bad timing that I'd play this so soon after Titanfall and Cloudbuilt, two of the most lightning-responsive games I've ever played, but it feels like Delsin takes a split-second too long to respond to any instructions I give him. On the other hand, I do commend Second Son for managing the seemingly impossible and implementing touch pad controls in such a manner that they eventually became second nature to me. Hardware gimmicks only tend to work if you commit to them fully (see Tearaway), and it's difficult to deny that Sucker Punch was dead-set on selling us on every single one of the bizarre things that the Dual Shock 4 can do.

The one thing that I absolutely love about Second Son is the villain. She's menacing in a very downplayed manner, and her introduction will likely wind up being one of my favorite scenes in any video game this year. This is also due, in part, to Second Son's absolutely stellar motion capture work. I'm seeing more of that lately, between this and Ryse, and it really helps to sell the power of these next-gen hardware when the characters being portrayed with it aren't neck-deep in the uncanny valley.

But aside from that, a few early thrills and one very strange boss battle midway through the campaign, everything about Second Son feels safe, good enough. It looks... fine. The story is... decent. The powers are... pretty cool. It makes for an inoffensive weekend-long diversion, sure, but I remember Infamous feeling liberating and genre-bending. More importantly, I remember it, period. I just finished Second Son a couple of days ago and it's already vanishing from my memory.


Suskie's avatar
Freelance review by Mike Suskie (April 09, 2014)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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Germ posted April 09, 2014:

Ouch! I guess I'll hold off even longer on getting a PS4, this was a big title of interest to me

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