Buy InFamous: Second Son: PlayStation 4
A sequel to InFamous was a surprise. It was a popular franchise, but the second game wrapped up the story quite firmly. The good ending involved the death of every superpowered person on Earth, and the bad ending was only slightly less definitive. Comic books and video games don't stop plots simply because people died, though. InFamous: Second Son is a half-sequel, half-reboot of the franchise. It justifies the continued plot by starting from the second game's good ending, but it explains that events killed most, but not all, of the superpowered beings. It's set in the same world and features cameos by the same characters, but it's effectively a second shot at the same world from a new perspective.
Second Son stars Delsin Rowe, a young man who is part of a Native American tribe that lives on the outskirts of Seattle. When a group of conduits (InFamous' term for superhumans) escapes from a government convoy, Delsin runs into one and discovers that he is also a conduit who can copy others' abilities. The head of the government conduit agency, known as the Department of Unified Protection (DUP), appears in Delsin's village and tortures people for information, embedding concrete spurs in their bodies that can only be removed by the conduit who did it. Delsin and his brother set out to find the evil woman and steal her power to save their people.
The plot is extremely by the book. Delsin is a surprisingly likeable character, and the cast has enjoyable interactions with one another. I enjoyed their banter, and by the end, I learned to like a character who I had expected to dislike. Every story twist is predictable, and every beat is carried out in a very workmanlike way. The ending doesn't have any memorable twists or turns. The first two InFamous games had crazy twists involving time travel, characters coming back from the dead, and other surprises. Not all of them worked well, but at least they added a proper sense of escalation. Second Son feels the same from start to finish, and there's no sense you're building up to anything grand. The game attempts to give the villain a sympathetic motivation, but it's hard to reconcile that with the fact that she tortures an old woman for fun.
Perhaps most disappointing is the morality system. InFamous has never shied away from "kick a puppy/save a puppy" choices, but Second Son takes it to a new level. There are only a small number of morality choices, but they offer very black-and-white options, which is used in very few games nowadays.
The gameplay hasn't changed much from the previous InFamous titles, although you have a slightly greater focus on running-and-gunning than hiding behind cover. Through most of the game, you have three basic powers: Neon, Smoke and Video. Each power represents a weapon, and you switch them by absorbing energy from a related place in the world. You grab Neon from neon signs, Smoke from flaming cars or chimneys, and Video from television screens and satellite dishes. Replenishing your weaponry is simple, and it's rare that there is one resource in an area but not others. There are a few plot-mandated missions where the game requires you to use a specific weapon. There is also a fourth power, but it is only obtained after you finish the game, and it's mostly there for kicks.
Neon is effectively a sniper rifle. You get long-range shots that slow down time and can target enemy limbs, a grenade that makes enemies float in midair, and you also get a super-speed power and a charge shot. Smoke is equivalent to a default pistol weapon. It's a fast-firing, medium-damage, all-around weapon. Its most distinctive feature is that headshots cause enemies to choke and cough, which renders them vulnerable to instant-takedown attacks. It also has a powerful explosive variant, an area-of-effect smoke grenade, and the ability to turn into smoke and dash through attacks and obstacles. Video is the most distinctive and equivalent to a machine gun. You can shoot lock-on homing missile swords at the enemy and become invisible to perform stealthy kills. At higher levels, you can summon a giant angel or demon to attack your foes. You can glide along at high speeds and teleport. Each power also has a melee attack, but there is very little difference between them, except attack speed and power.
The powers look amazing. Neon is the coolest-looking superpower, and I spent 10 minutes running around with my newfound speed, but the attacks and abilities are serviceable but not very creative. Each power is extremely good at what it does, almost to the point of excess. Once you get the ability to instantly down enemies with a headshot with Smoke, you're practically unstoppable. Stealth kills with Video almost breaks the game. I was able to clear entire encounters just by stealthily disabling an enemy, turning invisible, and repeating the process until they were all captured.
As in previous InFamous games, your morality also impacts your attacks. Early on, you need to put some effort into capturing enemies (good) or executing enemies (evil). This is done by capturing a surrendering or disabled foe or killing them while they're helpless. Your powers promptly adjust to the selection you've made. If you're good, your powers make it easier to be heroic. Your headshots instantly disable enemies, and you recover health, for example. If you're evil, you can dissolve enemies upon death or suck the life from them. There's no way to mix-and-match, so you're either getting evil powers or good powers, and trying to go from good to evil or vice-versa is basically impossible. You'd have to grind enemies for hours to change after you get deep into the tree. There are only a handful of differences between powers, and most boil down to either instantly killing or instantly subduing enemies.
Second Son doesn't provide many new enemies. You'll spend most of the game fighting almost-interchangeable mooks. Some have powers that allow them to create perches from which to snipe or throw rocks. Things get more interesting with the introduction of midboss enemies, like a heavily armored soldier with a Gatling gun or an officer who can seal your legs in rock to prevent you from moving. The enemies are fun enough to fight, and the variety of powers keeps things fresh, but there's a lack of variety among them. The game only has a few boss fights, and while they are memorable enough, they're also rather easy.
Seattle is a fun town to explore, although it does little to set it apart from the variety of other open-world titles on the market. Enemies have taken over sectors of the city, so you must perform side-missions in those sectors to liberate them from enemy control. A liberated section becomes a fast travel point and gives you a new jacket to wear. The side-missions are pretty basic: Find an enemy in a crowd, rescue captured conduits from cages, hunt down hidden cameras, use a tracking device to find audio tapes, and destroy enemy security cameras and waypoints. They're fun, but they quickly get repetitive. Once you've done one side-mission of a type, you've just about done them all. There are special missions available to people who purchased the game, but as of this review, the Paper Trail missions are still being introduced. The Cole's Legacy DLC, available to people who bought the game new, provides some backstory into the world, but the missions are extremely short and gimmicky.
Second Son feels very safe. It does everything it tries to do as well as expected, and it feels like it doesn't add an iota more effort. The game is fun, and I enjoyed my time playing it. Aside from some entertaining banter between the characters, nothing really stands out. The superpowers work well, and some are neat, but they lack creativity. The enemies are largely interchangeable, the set pieces are forgettable, and in the end, it just sort of exists.
Second Son is a huge step up from the previous games in terms of presentation, though. The graphics are top-notch. Everything is crisp and clean, and the frame rate is solid. The powers all look incredible, and the city is full of tons of little details and surprisingly little repetition in background material. The textures are nice and clean, and it's nice that you can plainly identify signs and familiar sights. The particle effects on your various powers are a delight, and Neon in particular looks amazing. Troy Baker does an excellent job as protagonist Delsin. He might be voicing every game protagonist in the world these days, but he still brings his full effort to the role. The rest of the cast is quite good, and even the villain pulls off her cartoonish evil surprisingly well.
InFamous: Second Son is good but unmemorable — essentially the diner food of video games. It's well made, enjoyable, safe, and it has a likeable cast of characters. However, it doesn't do anything beyond the expected, it lacks variety and reach, and there are a few problems, such as the lackluster morality system. In the end, it's a very beautiful but extremely textbook sequel.
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