Review: Infamous – Second Son

The first Infamous was a fun but flawed superhero game. While it got the feeling of power that comes with being a human with superpowers right, it’s superficial morality system found the game wanting. It’s sequel improved on the formula but again, the developers failed to nail the morality system in the way they should have (think Heavy Rain and its impossible choices). So here we have the third game in the series, Infamous: Second Son, which represents a new beginning for the series. And what we find is that while this is probably the best Infamous game to date, it still hasn’t managed to make morality anything other than black and white.

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First of all, the graphics. My word, the graphics in this game are incredible. While the models and textures in this game aren’t exactly what you’d call “next gen” (they look only slightly better than the character model’s in some of the PS3’s best output, like The Last of Us), the lighting in this game more than makes up for it. There were times when I stared almost slack jawed at the screen in amazement of how great the lighting looked and how it improved the overall look and feel of this world. I still feel like we’re waiting for something to come out to truly show us the power of next gen and the PS4, but overall, this is a great start.

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Like previous games in the series, they’ve nailed the controls, which help you to really feel empowered when using your abilities. Even when I was starting out my career as a superhero, with relatively few powers and upgrades, I still felt like I could take on the world. The game is rarely difficult, but there are certainly many tense moments. But even during these moments, you feel the way you’d imagine The Human Torch or The Flash would feel (if they were real); a sense of superiority over their enemies with a certain sense of cautiousness. It’s great.

Speaking of controls, I really like how they’ve used the Dualshock 4’s touchpad in this game. It’s used to swipe open doors, lift certain objects and, critically, recharge your powers. It actually feels like a good use of the new tech, rather than gimmicky. Less great is the way you do graffiti in this game; holding the Dualshock vertically and shaking it like you would a spray paint can. That is definitely gimmicky, and I didn’t enjoy doing it in those rare instances when I had to.

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The game tries admirably to tell a strong story, and it does this in two ways. First, it relieves itself of a lot of continuity issues by having a whole new cast of characters not associated with the hero (or villain, if you will) of the first two games, Cole, and giving us a new character to focus on, a young adult named Delsin. It also eschews some of the more “comic book” elements of the first two games and sets this game in a real world location, Seattle. The main character, Delsin, is a strong character despite his “Gen Y” personality traits. While he treads a well trodden character arc (no-hoper makes something of himself), it’s lifted above the standard fare by adding in some political allegory, such as the state of surveillance in the world today and the role a complicit media can play in delivering a corrupt official’s political narrative.  It sometimes borders on the extreme, but then you remember the NSA exists and does what it does, and you think maybe it hasn’t gone far enough.

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There are two things that help to drag the game down, though. As I mentioned earlier, perhaps it’s biggest failing is the morality system. There are times when Delsin has to make a conscious choice to do the right thing, or the evil thing. These choices are always black and white. For instance, the first such example is “do you save an old lady from being tortured or do you save yourself”? It’s obvious what the right choice is, and the game even helps you realise by colour coding the decision text for you (blue = good, red = bad). It’s especially ironic that these sorts of decisions are so stark in a game whose plot focuses so heavily on real world examples of shades of grey morality. And it’s all the more annoying given that there are great video game examples of how to do this sort of thing better. I made a comparison to Heavy Rain earlier in this review, a game where a father is tasked with trying to rescue his kidnapped son from a serial killer. In one scene in Heavy Rain, the killer tells you to drink a cup of poison or else you’ll never see your son again. While at first glance this seems like a black and white decision, it’s really not. The killer is known for playing games, so maybe it’s not poison. And even if it is, if you die, you won’t see your son again anyway. But if you say no, will the game end? It’s possible. It’s tough decisions like that which made Heavy Rain so fun to play through, and I can’t help but feel if they’d used it as a template here in Second Son, the game would have been stronger for it.

The other aspect that lets the game down is sound. While some of the powers you’re granted came with appropriately “oomphy” thuds, overall the sound effects and music direction felt lacking. Epic fights to retake a district could have benefited from epic scores, but are often played in near silence. Some powers have positively whimpy sound effects. It should never be underestimated how much sound can add to a game, and in this respect it felt a little under cooked.

Overall, Infamous: Second Son is a very good game and probably the first “must have” title for the PS4. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s very enjoyable and will keep you entertained for quite some time.

Final Score: 8 our of 10.

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