Having to review inFAMOUS Second Son has been a difficult process. As one of the first PS4 games to help begin the flow of new games following the post-console-launch drought, as well as one of the first PS4 games ever announced, there has been some anticipation and expectation placed on Sucker Punch’s latest title. I have had to remove my own blinders to get past the shiny newness and spectacle of it all. I prioritized looking at the core of Second Son and the complete package to really determine how good this game actually is.
Let’s get the visuals out of the way. Second Son is a beautiful game. From the lighting, to the atmosphere and the particle effects — every tiny bit of this game looks great and will easily become a benchmark against which future PlayStation 4 games are measured. The light interacts with the environment and atmosphere particles realistically, and this isn’t limited to the ambient lighting. The effects of Delsin using and absorbing powers have a dynamic lighting that changes with each situation. Watching him reach up to a neon sign and drain it was mesmerizing. Using the smoke ability constantly produced differing effects with the ember particles that I couldn’t stop gawking at.
With the fast pace of the game, namely using powers to traverse the city and a focus on objectives, I failed to really stop and take the time to notice the world. Seattle is rendered in stunning detail, and it wasn’t until the post-game that I really took the time to wander around without the distractions of powers and mission objectives and appreciate everything it had to offer. Puddles on the ground were streaked across the road where the path of cars had carried them, leaves littered the sidewalks, ivy crawled down the walls of some buildings. Sadly, a lot of players will likely miss the little details that were put into place to make the environment feel real, as they focus only on the gameplay.
Delsin and the rest of the cast are animated wonderfully, down to the smallest movements — even having one character chewing gum during a certain scene while talking. Emotions are accurately conveyed in both face movement and body language. It all may seem like a little thing, but as we have grown used to seeing a lack of minutia in character’s facial animations and somewhat robotic body language in games, Second Son’s details become all the more apparent and help it to shine brightly. Some of the secondary characters don’t exemplify this minutia as well as others, but as a whole it is all done quite impressively.
Second Son plays very similarly to the previous inFAMOUS games, with a heavy focus on shooting out whatever power you currently have absorbed. While new powers do change the way in which you traverse the environment (sometimes requiring a particular power to progress), the effects of the attacks didn’t feel all that different from one another. I also never found myself running into combat elements that made me want to change powers for a certain situation. Whatever I had equipped at the moment was usually good enough to take on whatever the game was throwing at me. Second Son’s shift to multiple powers made me hope for more of a strategic combat system overall, but the general encounters with D.U.P. troops never gave me that feeling. There are variances to this in specific confrontations, but they are few and far between, and some may find fighting enemies to get redundant after a time.
Second’s Son’s protagonist, Delsin Rowe, is a much more interesting and deep character than Cole was. His relationship with his brother, Reggie, provides an interesting foreground from which the game gets its name. The narrative quickly branches out to introduce secondary characters and an antagonist, all based around residual effects of the events of the first two games that had taken place seven years earlier. This broader anecdote never really grabbed hold of me in the same way Delsin and Reggie’s relationship did, and the supporting cast almost felt awkwardly forced in at times. The credits rolled much sooner than I anticipated, and the package had a fairly simple chronology from start to finish. While a straightforward story can be a good thing, I felt that there were certain obvious questions left unanswered, but perhaps a full “evil” Karma playthrough is in order to find out if there is more.
Karma plays a much larger role in the narrative, and Delsin is perfectly poised as a character to go either way, making his every decision believable, whether they be good or evil. Karma will also affect which abilities you are able to upgrade, and with a vast array of abilities, good and evil will each play quite differently from each other. Karma does present an issue when you are given overtly black and white decisions, and Second Son is no stranger to this. There were no decisions that were difficult for me to make, and I was locked out of certain decisions based on where my karma was. If I am doing a “good” playthrough, I want a decision that really makes me rethink going that route with ambiguous effects for each choice. I never once felt the need to go in the other direction as I went about my “good” karma playthrough.
I’ve saved my personal bright and shining spotlight of Second Son for last. What stuck out to me the most were the intricacies of the sound design. From the sound effects, to the soundtrack, to the voicework, the sound design and its implementation throughout the game was far superior to what I’ve experienced in any other game in recent memory. Every power’s sound effect was unique and extraordinary, the ambient sounds of the city really helped Sucker Punch’s digital Seattle feel alive and immersive, and the voicework was top notch, helping to add emotion to the excellent character animations. The soundtrack was ingrained within the world and didn’t just feel layered over the top. Second Son’s audio truly feels organic on every level. I would recommend a home theater surround system for optimum effect, and anyone with a Gold or Elite Pulse headset will get a custom audio mix.
inFAMOUS Second Son isn’t a perfect game. The overarching story is a bit stunted and combat can feel somewhat repetitive. What holds Second Son together is how solidly all aspects of the game were made. You can feel the passion that each person at Sucker Punch has for their individual role as each element solidifies and interfaces into an extremely well made game overall. While it may not be remembered for bringing anything new to the table in terms of overall mechanics, Sucker Punch have certainly set a benchmark for how games should incorporate the power of the PS4 to fuse all elements of a game and make one strikingly solid experience.
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