The gift of power has long been an entertaining topic in the world of video games. Even before then, novels and comic books have detailed histories exploring what happens when someone with nothing is given the ability to have everything. Infamous Second Son is Suckerpunch Studios’ third foray into the world of superheroes born from the common man, and from the first few hours it is evident they have honed their process to a fine science. Though Second Son’s moral impact and karma system don’t hold up as strongly as its two predecessors, Second Son shines brightest through its incredible visuals and near-perfect game play. Delsin Rowe is a fine evolution from the days of Cole McGrath, even if the implications of his actions don’t weigh as heavily upon him as one might hope.
Seven years after the events of Infamous 2, the world has turned against Conduits and seeks to wrangle every last one into custody to keep the world from becoming a battleground like New Marais. Unlike before, Second Son utilizes a real city as the setting for the next chapter, and it is obvious that Suckerpunch went to great lengths to render Seattle in all its hip, indie vibe and beauty. Utilizing the PS4’s hefty processing horsepower, Seattle comes alive around every street corner and rooftop. As sunlight reflects off of puddles and casts shadows through the trees, its a wonder how easily the PS4 can keep up as Delsin turns picture-perfect parkways into smoking disasters. Particle effects flow brilliantly from Delsin’s hands, swirling into concentrated projectiles and laying waste to enemy squadrons and vehicles. And at the center of even the most intense of firefights, the framerate never stumbles or shows the slightest hiccup. If this is any indication of the PS4’s potential, it’s difficult to fathom what future games will look like in just a few years’ time.
Speaking of Delsin, Second Son’s protagonist is decidedly different than the franchise’s previous hero, Cole McGrath, which at times feels like a double-edged sword. Troy Baker’s performance of Delsin is refreshingly energetic and more animated than Cole, lending to a more believable main character who receives super powers. Akin to a kid in a candy store without an adult, it is fun to see Delsin react accordingly and find entertainment in his new abilities at first, while his law-enforcing brother juxtaposes him by reminding him that he is labeled a “bio-terrorist”. Their abrasive relationship does lead to some funny banter and a kind of brotherly love that I could certainly relate to, but it does not resonate as well as Cole’s relationship with Zeke was. Delsin does make a decent attempt at showing the inner turmoil of controlling his emotions and his new powers, but this conflict fades into obscurity rather quickly, and is all but gone by the game’s final act.
The Infamous franchise has also hinted at the breadth of various superpowers controlled by different conduits, but it isn’t until Second Son that we get to see how unique these powers can be. Delsin’s smoke powers are a visually distinctive start, but the game’s later powers really take Second Son’s creativity to another plateau. If the point of the Infamous franchise is about becoming powerful, Second Son succeeds brilliantly. Enemy forces grow in strength and number as the story progresses, but they fail to keep up with Delsin as you perfect each of your abilities. By the final few hours, Delsin is nothing short of a one-man apacolypse. In the end, only the story’s stoic villain Augustine proves to be any real challenge, and even she proves to be a disappointingly linear boss fight.
Delsin’s powers and some portions of the story depend on the karmic choices you are faced with as the story progresses, and it is here where Second Son falls a bit short of its previous titles. Karma-specific missions are few and far in between, and even when Delsin is faced with making a decision between good or evil, the repercussions don’t ripple out nearly as much as they should. Rather than add more emotional turmoil or impact between Delsin and his brother, the karma system feels more like a mechanism by which you grow your powers in a certain way. The story’s resolution is the only thing that truly changes depending on your choices, and in all honesty I found the evil ending more satisfying than the positive one (to be fair, though, the game isn’t called Hero Second Son).
Open-world action games like Infamous are almost always centered on toppling those on top or growing in strength to finally enact their revenge upon those that did them wrong, and Second Son is no different. This, however, is a fantastic example of how such a game can be done with expertise and style and infused with a good dose of humor. While it may not have been as morally thoughtful as Cole’s legacy, Delsin’s Rowe’s chapter in the human vs. conduit world of Infamous is incredibly fun and aesthetically hypnotizing from start to finish.
See you in the next level,