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Playing with Smoke: InFamous: Second Son Review

by on March 27, 2014

Written by Terry Randolph, discussed in review by Chris Medrano and Terry

Developer: Sucker Punch Productions  Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: March 21, 2014   Rated:T for Teen
Platform: PlayStation 4   MSRP: 59.99  Platform: Action/Platform/Sandbox/RPG

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Let’s get one thing out of the way before the review; Chris and I don’t understand the acclaim the InFamous series has received. We’ve both played through the first game (I’ve played bits and parts of the second one) and found them to be decent but forgettable games. Sure, gameplay was fun, upgrades interesting and open world somewhat exciting to explore, but none of the elements help InFamous stand out among the crowd of games similar to it. Most people cite the comic book-like tone of the story as being exceptional, we both found it drawn out and muddled in tone. That’s not to say neither of the games are bland in everything: both games excel exploring the symbiotic relationship between man and city and the morality paths you can take made the games highly replayable. Otherwise I feel left out on something others are getting.

This is especially prevalent in the storytelling department.

Sucker Punch Productions consistently produces top-notch writing for any of their series. The worlds they create are immersive and have a personality of their own. However, the story you’re playing through gives little understanding why the antagonist is doing what they’re doing (based on the first InFamous game) and when you find out it’s a head-scratcher. The stakes at play feel fake and forced, to where I felt completely disconnected before the final mission. Chris and I both agree that we didn’t feel any investment at all. However, the one aspect of the games that truly shines is the Karma option; you can play as the perennial paragon or the dastardly anti-hero. These two styles of play are so distinct in their effect on the story, dialogue and play style that it makes it hard to not want to do another play through.

Nothing like gaining a power for the first time.

Nothing like gaining a power for the first time.

InFamous: Second Son, the third entry in the series and the big Playstation 4 exclusive is an interesting step in a different direction for the series. Sucker Punch Productions opts for the comic book tone and a more realistic approach that succeeds for the most part. The social commentary is poignant, current and effective if feeling forced at times. The stakes that drive the story feel like they naturally progress, reigned in by a wonderful performance by Troy Baker as the main protagonist. For Chris and I, this game takes a positive step forward for the series while being held back by some significant flaws.

The game takes place seven years after the “canon ending” of InFamous 2, with conduits being labeled as “bio-terrorist” and society fearing them. They’re being hunted down by Department of United Protections, or DUP for short. Players are introduced to Delsin Rowe, a free-spirited rebel (aka delinquent) and native to the Akomish Native American village. He gets caught spray painting a billboard by his brother/cop Reggie, who “arrests” Delsin to give him a talking to.
While driving back, a military convoy crashes in front of them. Two people escape the crash site, while one of them has their legged trapped under the convoy. Delsin tries to help him up, and learns two things in the process: the person, Hank, is a conduit with the power of smoke and Delsin himself is a conduit who’s absorbing both Hank’s power and memories. This overload of information knocks Delsin out, having him wake up moments later afraid of his new powers and confused to what’s going on. Delsin tries to learn to control this new power while giving Hank a chase wanting answers.

Moments later with behind Abigail, head of the DUP, the DUP show up to recapture the escaped conduits. Abigail is able to subdue and capture Hank with her concrete powers and begins to interrogate Delsin after his behavior makes her believe he’s hiding something. A week later, Delsin wakes up in a hospital having found the village being interrogated to get his whereabouts. Those interrogated by Abigail are dying from her power she used on them, and the only known way to save them is to use that power on them. Wanting to right his wrongs, Delsin drags his brother with him to Seattle in hopes of absorbing Abigail’s powers to help the village. Of course, like many stories in games, the stakes are much greater than Delsin or Reggie know.

Just typical brotherly banter going on, nothing to see here.

Just typical brotherly banter going on, nothing to see here.

One thing that stands out with InFamous: Second Son that Chris and I agreed on is its ability to tell a smaller, personable story that helps you relate to Delsin. The progression of stakes natural increases over time, and doesn’t feel forced onto the player. The scope of the story is woven tightly, sometimes a little too tight, to keep the player immersed in the world. Gone is the muddled, ambiguous storytelling and in with a straightforward, poignant story. Unfortunately, the story has a similar problem to the previous entries but in the opposite way. The pacing in this game is incredibly fast to the point where you might race through the campaign without realizing it. I know when I reached the halfway point of the game, I exclaimed “I’m halfway done already?” Chris and I felt Sucker Punch could slow down the pace of the story without taking away Delsin’s sense of urgency to gain redemption.

Another problem with the frenzied pacing? Delsin’s characterization and growth is at hyperspeed: one minute he’s freaking out over his new powers and the thought of being considered a monster with the label “bio-terrorist” to a few minutes later loving every minute of it. Or instead of having to learn to adjust to his new powers, he finds it easy to control and improve through things like “cores” to gain more abilities with those powers. Granted, it can make sense that he’s learned to accept his fate of being a conduit since it’s irrevocable. At the same time, it felt as if that acceptance happened in the blink of an eye, and he didn’t grow into the identity of being a conduit.

Give the cast and crew credit, they surely knew how to bring to life both the world and keep the pacing of the story from being overwhelming. Troy Baker does a phenomenal job bringing Delsin to life and making him a very likeable character. Other people Delsin meets on the journey are eclectic, especially the other conduits, bring a new shade of personality to the world of InFamous: Second Son. Chris and I agreed that it was tragic they were not used enough in the story. All the player really gets with them are a few missions and the conclusion of the game when it would have been fun to have them throughout the game.

Just one shot of how gorgeous the scenery can be in the game

Just one shot of how gorgeous the scenery can be in the game

Seattle is also a fun open-world to both explore and mess around in. Sucker Punch Productions wanted to present a more realistic setting in order to explore issues closer to home. For the most part, this living, breathing world accomplishes it even if it feels a little forced. The streets are alive with protestors, military presence and government surveillance that feel relevant to the current issues we face today. Not to mention, Sucker Punch does a great job exploring the fact that discrimination and prejudice is still alive and well today through several “good” karma chances of saving a conduit from a beatdown by ordinary citizens. They’re not inherently bad people, just they’ve allowed their fear to take over their actions.

What really stood out the most was how beautiful this game looks; it is visually stunning to play. Particles, environments, lighting, and even character details look really sharp for this game. However, while the world is fun to look at and to explore, it can feel a little monotonous in designs. Some areas feel or look the same as others. Chris and I found that the game looked noticeably sharper overall compared to the previous generation console’s abilities, but it only gave a hint at what more potential the Playstation 4 has to produce.

At the heart of InFamous: Second Son, like its predecessors, is gameplay. This is both its greatest strength and weakness. All of the powers Delsin has at his disposal are a lot of fun, each with their own strengths and weaknesses to have a unique gameplay style. This adds also the extra challenge of figuring out which power works best for a combat sequence. For example, Smoke is powerful enough to subdue enemies in one hit, but is hard to escape a fight if you need to heal. After each fight, I know I found myself wondering what would have happened if I would’ve used another power for the fight.

Plus, which Karma route you take adds an exciting element to gameplay. Depending on which route you take, good or bad, affects which upgrades you can get for your powers, how people perceive you, and how the story plays out. Each side is so distinct in their differences that it has both Chris and I wanting to replay the game just to see how different they are. It’s a little odd, being that the story feels more like a story about redemption and identity, but hey being bad can be just as fun right?

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The problem with fights is that enemy variation is very little; they may have a different appearance but they all feel the same. There are some differences, some were more like mini-bosses and others minions. Enemies also seems to have a predetermined set behavior in battle and made the combat feel really easy. In fact, that’s the hugest weakness to this; combat feels way to easy too fast. Combat initially feels challenging before you can upgrade your powers, but once you start to upgrade them Delsin is practically invincible.

Variation is also an issue in terms of missions and sidequests: InFamous: Second Son can sometimes feel like a one trick pony. Every district has sidequests you do to liberate it from DUP control, and they’re all in the same vein with different aesthetics. It gets repetitive and can be boring. The only sidequest Chris and I both enjoy is the graffiti one, but that is because of how the control scheme works for that. Otherwise, if you’re a completionist (like me), you’ll find yourself dragging through everything.

Overall, InFamous: Second Son is a step Chris and I believe in the right direction for Sucker Punch Productions series and a game definitely worth playing. This is especially true if you need a reason to play your Playstation 4. The combat is fun because of the powers at your disposal, even if they can get a little predictable. However, the tightly woven tale interwoven with the powerful social commentary creates a very engaging tale with a great protagonist in Delsin. It certainly can be a fast ride, but it’s one definitely worth enjoying.

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