On Infamous Second Son…

 

Image

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.

 

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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).

Image

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,

Gray

Advertisements

On Assassin’s Creed 3…

There is merit to the notion that some stories are timeless: a wayward teen fulfilling a greater destiny, fathers and sons reconciling, age-long struggles between bitter enemies founded upon opposing ideals. They are tales we’ve heard before, yet time and again they persist through the years and reinvent themselves in untold fashions. In the Assassin’s Creed legacy, these themes are all utilized to craft a story thousands of years in play. What once started as a science-fiction experiment taking place in ancient history, Ubisoft has come a long way to evolve the AC titles into encyclopedic chapters telling a much grander story beyond itself. What began with Altair, Ezio improved, and with Assassin’s Creed 3 Connor aimed to perfect. Packed with the most robust amount of side quests, exploration and secrets among all titles, yet faltering on providing a strong final chapter to finish the history-jumping trilogy, Assassin’s Creed 3 is an ambitious evolution of the saga that nearly perfects gameplay and emotional impact. but fails to give Connor’s story a proper context (or finale) in Desmond’s present-day struggle.

When it was revealed that AC 3 would take place during the American Revolution, many were worried that such a drastic change location would prove too vast to accomplish the breath-taking visuals and trademark free-running the franchise has been known for. It will only take but a few minutes meandering the streets of Boston or vaulting through the forests in the wilderness, however, to recognize that the spirit of the franchise is alive and well. While previous entries emphasized towering cathedrals and florid architecture, AC 3 emphasizes the beauty of nature itself and the evolution of people coming from small beginnings to create something greater than themselves. All four seasons are put to effect both in showing the passage of time and freshening up the usual grey overtones in the cities. From the first hour of playing, AC 3 feels very different from its predecessors, but in a good way.

With so much effort put into making Ezio Auditore a person of believable conviction and emotions, it almost seems unfair to compare him to AC 3’s protagonist Connor. Going from boy, to teenager and into adulthood, Ubisoft does an excellent job of weaving Connor’s slow maturity with his eagerness to be an assassin. Spanning several decades, Connor grows slowly, but with direction and reality. The evolution is made stronger by the presence of Achilles, Connor’s mentor and father figure. Arguably one of  greatest supporting characters in any AC story, Achilles fills a role that, until now, was largely empty or stretched across several minor characters. Reserved yet demanding of respect, Achilles is both an antithesis and a future inevitability for Connor as he travels down the path of the assassin. What starts as a tale of vengeance evolves into a larger struggle against the mysterious Templars, and it takes nearly the entire story for Connor to understand his role in what is happening around him.

 

The internal struggle is bested only by the external, however, as AC 3 provides the best scripted missions and events of the entire franchise. Utilizing key moments and battles of the American Revolution, Connor bears witness to some eye-opening skirmishes and events. As the AC franchise has evolved, the missions have drifted toward more rigidity, focusing on short bursts of intense actions that have only one solution. It is a necessary sacrifice in order to maintain a higher level of action. Thankfully, the colossal amount of side missions are a welcome distraction from the main story. Hunting, treasure seeking and liberating forts and citizens are all simple systems that do well to entertain and keep you busy, but it is the naval battles that are a true delight to play. Whether it’s a fleet of scout ships or a daunting galleon, each trip out to sea guarantees an eloquent dance of circling ships and hurtling cannon balls. The controls mirror the feel of trying to turn a giant ship in raging waters, adding more realism to the already voracious waters.

 

Completing most side missions give rewards tying into AC 3’s unfortunately-complicated trading system. In an attempt to replicate the city-building aspect from Ezio’s games, Connor can rebuild Achilles’ manor and attract more people to settle nearby, opening up more options for crafting and trading. The system is meant as a guaranteed stream of revenue for Connor to purchase new supplies and recipes, but what little tutorial provided fails at properly describing how to go about this entire process. Moreover, finding money to purchase upgrades is never a real problem, as Connor will come across dozens of treasure chests brimming with supplies and plenty of money.

One of AC 3’s biggest missteps, and some might argue it has been since the very first game, is the inclusion of Desmond’s story. Fans of the AC saga will no doubt be interested to see how the science-fiction elements of the story play out, and many will not be happy with what they find. The complete lack of a climax or any resolution in the present-day story is made even more befuddling by how polished and diverse Desmond’s missions are, especially considering how few there are. Desmond’s experience outside of the animus are a welcome change of pace for the player as we finally get to see how Desmond’s skills can be utilized in the modern world. By placing such focus on Connor’s story, Desmond still remains in the periphery of the game and the overall importance of his inclusion in the AC 3 feels diminished–a missed opportunity for the AC series to go in a bold direction.

As a game, Assassin’s Creed 3 offers more than any of its predecessors and delivers with polish and streamlined mechanics. The combat has never been easier, and free-running through forests becomes second-nature very quickly. With so much to offer, AC 3 is a very enjoyable game that provides more than enough avenues to explore outside of the main story. As the finale to a bold trilogy spanning the past, present and future, however, it seems to stumble across the finish line rather than following through. It is never a simple task to complete such deep stories in a way where everyone is left satisfied, but the missed opportunities and frequent glitches and bugs cannot go unstated. However annoying such things are, Assassin’s Creed 3 largely delivers the revolution we were looking for–both in 1776 and in 2012.

 

See you in the next level,

Gray

On Uncharted 3…

***NOTE: This was originally written for the video game blog on the SA Current website titled “people’s gamer”, I am reposting it here to keep it bundled with my other work. If you enjoy it, feel free to check out the rest of this site, or my work over on the Current. Enjoy!

The times when people look back over the years to utter something like, “Now that’s how it’s done!” are admittedly few and far between. In video game debates, they’re even fewer. But once in a while there comes a time — stars align, lightning in a bottle, Rick Perry says something intelligent, whichever you prefer — when everything just clicks. The Uncharted series has been nothing but outstanding since the original title debuted back in 2007, but the boys at Naughty Dog have done the near-impossible. Roger Ebert can take his anti-game diatribe and suck it, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is both a video game and cinematic masterpiece.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of playing any of the Uncharted games yet, a quick summary: Nathan Drake, a descendant of the famous explorer Sir Francis Drake, is a wily, charming, yet somewhat lackadaisical thrill seeker and treasure hunter. All games of the franchise have revolved around some kind of plot regarding a lost city or unimaginable ancient wealth. Uncharted 3 is no different in that way, Naughty Dog obviously didn’t want to tread the same terrain again. This time, designers take a proven plot-line as a background to tell a much richer character-driven story about Drake and his mentor/partner Sully. While the earlier games revolved around Drake platforming and gunning his way to stop the bad guys just in the nick of time, Drake and Sully are in this together nearly the entire way, which adds a more compelling nature to the intensity. Not only is Drake getting himself into trouble, but he’s also putting Sully’s life in danger as well and, let’s face it, he ain’t exactly in the prime of life either.

To most, platforming can sometimes be a mixed-bag. Hell, anyone who’s ever played Mario or Mega Man knows about that, but the Uncharted series takes it a step further with some fantastic set pieces. Uncharted 3 just about goes for broke with Drake facing a capsizing ship one minute and falling out of a cargo plane at 20,000 feet the next. There are times when the platforming seems a tad bit out of place (particularly when Drake is climbing the side of buildings in the middle of the day,  in the middle of town, for example) but these are rare enough that they never feel repetitive. The true magic behind Uncharted 3 is how much the formula has been mixed up, in a good way. From one corner to another, Uncharted 3 keeps you guessing about what’s going to happen next. Just when you’re about to guess the next huge escape or next gunfight, Naughty Dog throws something out of left field and changes the sequence entirely.

The cinematic quality of Uncharted 3 is just as stellar, if not more so, than ever before. I’m not sure how Naughty Dog has learned to write such fleshed-out characters or such a tight and entertaining script, but I wish they could give seminars to other developers to show them how it’s done. From the beginning, one of the best features of the Uncharted series has been the characters because they stay so true to themselves. No matter how major or minor the person’s role, Naughty Dog clearly shows the highest attention to detail not just to the environment or the combat, but to the people we are supposed to connect with and feel for. We know Drake is a wise-cracking everyman without too much care in the world, but it’s in his friendship with Sully that we see an entirely new part of him emerge. It’s a wonderfully fresh detail given how many ladies Drake has saved in his day.

I could go on and on, but there’s really nothing I can say without rambling over the same point again and again. From start to end, Drake’s Deception is nothing but a thrill-ride of adventure and emotion brimming with tight gunplay and a wildly entertaining script and story. If there were ever a game to put on your Christmas list, this is it.

 

See you in the next level,

Gray