Infamous: Second Son Review

I’ve been looking forward to Infamous: Second Son for quite a while now, and I know I’m not alone in that, thanks to the Infamous series being one of the best currently active franchises Sony has. The first two games followed Cole McGrath, a conduit (Infamous’ term for anyone with the ability to gain powers) with electrical based abilities. The first game is about Cole coming to grips with his powers to fight off someone terrorizing Empire City (basically New York City,) and the second game has a now experienced Cole preparing to fight “The Beast,” a giant, world-ending type of being. In the end, “The Beast” ends up also being a conduit and, using the ending that is now the official canon story, Cole uses a device that supposedly kills off ALL of the conduits in the world, including himself and “The Beast.” But as it happens, not all of the conduits went away, thus giving rise to Second Son. The original Infamous games were a lot of fun and had compellingly written stories that still made you feel as though your decisions mattered. They weren’t perfect, but they were still both easily in my top 10 for the PS3. So naturally, that being said, Second Son has some very big shoes to fill.

In Second Son, you play as Delsin Rowe, a member of the Akomish Native American tribe. Initially, Delsin is sort of a petty vandal with a particular penchant for graffiti, and is about to be arrested by the town sheriff, who also happens to be Delsin’s brother Reggie. But suddenly a prison transport truck carrying conduits crashes only a couple hundred feet away. In an attempt to help the survivors, Delsin finds out that he’s a conduit with the unique ability to acquire other conduit’s abilities by inadvertently gaining the powers of the conduit he was helping from the wreckage. Not long afterwards, the head of the Department of Unified Protection, or D.U.P, (an organization tasked with catching and detaining conduits for the safety of the general public) comes to recapture the escaped conduits. She suspects that Delsin might also be a conduit, but instead of capturing him, she uses her own abilities to inflict an eventually fatal condition upon the rest of his tribe. Delsin discovers that the only way to reverse the condition is to gain her power and undo it himself, so he heads to Seattle, which is currently under martial law by the D.U.P. The rest of the story then involves Delsin powering himself up until he eventually can face her, as you probably already expected. One small issue that I have is that the good and evil playthroughs run nearly identical, with only about 3 significant points in the game where they differ, although the finale does have a very substantial difference between the two. The core story was definitely written with the good playthrough in mind though, so I would recommend doing a good-side playthrough first simply because the story feels a fair bit stronger that way.

The controls for Second Son remain basically the same as the original games, and they still feel pretty comfortable to use. However, even though it wasn’t really an issue for me, there is a disappointing lack of any ability to re-map the controls to a different layout which may be a bit off-putting to some people. Although I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the game managed to integrate some of the Dualshock 4’s fairly unique features in a way that actually felt quite natural and even satisfying. For example, you open to suspected-conduit holding cells by swiping across the touch pad, and to lift the central components of D.U.P. command trucks to destroy them, you slide your thumb to the top of the touch pad and hold it while you fire with the trigger. The DS4’s built-in motion detection also plays a role with some of the side missions where you’re tagging various areas around the city by having you hold the controller vertically and turning it into essentially a digital spray-paint can. As a whole, the controls are  pretty solid, so I have no real complaints there.

One thing that I did find a little bit difficult to judge about Second Son is the quality of the graphics. By all means, the graphics are very pretty, but there were some aspects that had me a little unsure at times. The trees, for example, still have the sort of flat visual texture that makes them a bit unnatural-looking in nearly every game I can think of off the top of my head, although admittedly to a lesser degree than most other games. Still though, I found it to be fairly noticeable at the start. The other minor issue I had was that with the close up shots in cutscenes, particularly during dialog, some of the characters slip into the uncanny valley a bit because they aren’t quite to the point of looking photo-realistic yet. However, considering that all of the cut scenes are actually in engine and not prerendered, the characters look incredibly well done. And, much like the issue with the trees, by the time I was an hour or so into the game, I had completely stopped noticing that there was anything less than stellar about the graphics. In fact, Second Son’s version of Seattle is so beautifully created that I found myself wishing I could live there, even with the military policing and all that. The most impressive thing to me though is the quality of the smoke effects in the game. It seems like generally if there’s one thing that can break even the most photo-realistic graphics, it’s smoke, but Second Son makes the smoke look so good that once or twice I almost expected to be able to smell it.

The sound design for the game is also very well done, and helps the environment feel really lived-in and alive. The attention to fairly minor details is also really impressive, whether it be the fact that you can softly hear Delsin drumming on his legs if you leave him standing still long enough for him to get bored, or the quiet blowing sounds of rooftop ventilation units. In addition to the environment sounding great, the score is also spectacular, and somehow even managed to accurately reflect my mindset throughout the game nearly every time it started playing. As a whole, the sound design doesn’t really have anything about it that absolutely stands out, but at the same time, I couldn’t point you in the direction of a single flaw either.

As a whole Infamous: Second Son is, in my humble opinion, very easily the best in the series so far. Delsin is a much more likable character than Cole was, so add that to the improved graphics and the expanded powerset (4 times the powers even!) and you end up with a fantastic game. Sucker Punch’s no-so-subtle easter eggs are plastered all over the city even more than in the previous games, and left me chuckling more than a few times. The game still has some areas that could be improved a bit, but that can be said about pretty much anything. Besides, each entry in the series has been better than the last, so lets just say I can’t wait to see what they improve next time around.