On Infamous Second Son…

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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

On Infamous 2…

(**NOTE: This was originally posted on my other blog on the San Antonio Current Website on June 17th, 2011. I am re-posting it here to connect it to my other personal work from the past and future. If you haven’t read it yet, hope you enjoy.)

Cole McGrath didn’t want this—The powers, the control, the power to become worshiped or feared—he was a messenger-turned-savior asEmpireCitywas overrun by Militia controlled by a shadowy agency known as the First Sons. But this choice wasn’t his to make. In fact, it was never a choice at all; Kessler, another electricity wielding being, used the powerful ray sphere not to destroy Cole’s life, but to prepare it.

The first Infamous received critical acclaim for it’s fresh comic book-esque storytelling coupled with the standard sandbox-gameplay made famous by games life Grand Theft Auto 3Red Dead Redemption and Assassin’s Creed. In it’s climax, Cole was warned of an impending storm that would wipe out most of mankind in a sea of fire. Known only as the beast, Kessler wanted to prepare Cole so that he could become the savior mankind would soon need. Infamous 2 picks up soon after the original, as Cole squares off against the monstrous creature…and gets his ass kicked. With a few clever plot twists, solid vocal performances, improved and streamlined combat mechanics and two different ending possibilities, Infamous 2 is a wonderful sequel that properly maintains what made the first title great and deepens the narrative and Cole’s world.

Infamous 2 takes Cole to the city ofNew Marais, designed as a carbon copy of modern dayNew Orleans. Half bustling city and half bayou, Cole must feverishly improve his powers before The Beast finds him and destroys any chance of mankind’s survival. Alongside Cole’s best friend Zeke, he is joined by newcomers Kuo and Nix. While they place a significant story role, they also play into the Karma and Power mechanics of Cole’s electric repetoire. Good deeds (stopping muggings, saving hostages, healing people) will merit you good karma, while Evil actions (killing cops, leeching life, breaking up musician groups) grant you evil karma. Furthering Cole in either side will grant him unique powers, while locking out others. The system is also coupled later on in the game with alternate powers, such as fire or ice. Each branch has it’s strengths and weaknesses, given the combat situation at hand, but on the whole they are both wildly unique and a whole lot of fun to play around with (giving you a definite reason to play through it again).

The original Infamous had Cole progressing through a linear story while having access to several side missions and optional avenues to delve into the game’s back story. This mechanic is left largely unchanged with the same mission structure and more “dead drops”. Carrier pidgeons have several audio logs that reveal interviews with several past and present characters, exploring their motives and histories with each other. While not necessary to be beat the game, it does lend an emotional hand to Cole’s friends and enemies as you hear about what went on before Cole was ever in the mix. Moreover, it also helps deepen the impact of the game’s two significantly different endings. Depending upon Cole’s karmic state, the ending sequence changes a few details that may yield vast consequences to the rest of the world, should there be a 3rd installment (which is all but certain, given this game’s success so far).

Despite a few wonky camera issues, small AI grievances and just a touch of framerate dipping in a few areas, Infamous 2 is an all around knockout of a sequel that deserves any PS3 owner’s attention. Even if you have not played the original title, the sequel does a great job of filling in the important details and gets you off and running in no time. Since the ending of the first Infamous, I’ve been eagerly awaiting a second helping just for a chance to see what The Beast was all about. Fortunately, I found so much more that in the end, The Beast was really nothing more than a damn good reason to play Cole McGrath again.

 

See you in the next level,

Gray