In a nutshell: Think the open world Grand Theft Auto series mixed in with athletic superhumans wielding smoke, neon and concrete powers. Sprinkle a lot more moral choices that lead you to a good or evil ending, and you have the inFamous series.
If developer Sucker Punch’s latest action adventure sandbox du jour is of any indication of the future, it’s looking incredibly bright.
inFamous: Second Son focuses on an affable delinquent named Delsin Rowe, perhaps the first Native American who gets top billing in a video game. After a prison bus crash incident containing superpowered beings called Conduits, Delsin suddenly absorbs the ability to manipulate smoke. When his Akomish tribe people are afflicted by a Conduit’s power, Delsin sets out to Seattle with his brother Reggie to get to the bottom of this.
From here on, a player can choose to either be a righteous saviour or destructive jerk overlord with the talent to sponge off other Conduit’s powers. Standing between him and his goal is the Department of Unified Protection (DUP), an army of supercops who use concrete powers to maintain state-wide lock-down and lock-up Conduits. While you’re plowing through the opposition, you get to see how Delsin evolves from his rebellious upbringing, either as a paragon of justice or vengeful enforcer. It’s not a huge breakthrough in character writing, but it’s solid enough to warrant emotional investment into our main character and his growing charm.
But really, it’s the sandbox element of Second Son that takes a huge chunk of the spotlight. To say that you will have an ecstatic time going through the story and sidequest motions in this free-roaming setting is putting it mildly. Every beat, every level of progression, and every moment of conflict and right-slash-wrongdoing just feels exhilarating to perform on the carefully-crafted Seattle district landscape. It also looks brilliant in portraying the sights and sounds; the alternate rock-influenced music creeps in during appropriate times to get you amped up before the impending storm. Leaping and gliding from building upon building with your new-found powers is done effortlessly, yet gives you the sense of unburdened freedom.
The distinction between good and evil is apparent in combat: good powers tend to be more precise and stealthy, while evil attributes make your skills more chaotic and heavy on area-of-effect attacks. The way you power up your be-all-end-all super moves (called Karmic Bombs) differs; the good side lets you store your charges but depletes instantly if you perform any evil deed. The bad side requires you to actively execute and cause terror lest it depletes itself after a short amount of time. Whichever side you choose, players will get two polar opposites of play that entertains.
Exploration is a joy as there’s always something to distract you from your main goals. Spray-painting your legacy (via clever use of the PS4 control pad) or infamy onto the street walls, busting down a DUP station with a smoke-powered orbital drop or crazy neon light show, searching for hidden flying drones to absorb shards that power up your ability tenfold. Every sidequest is peppered strategically across digital Seattle, tempting you to just go for “one more” before promising yourself you’ll finish the game. Random people will either praise and take pictures for being heroic, or take a pot-shot at you if you go the evil route, making the city alive and bustling with activity. Destructible environments turn most of the occupied city a canvas for your creative ruination.
Before you know it, five hours have passed and you’re not even halfway done. That’s the hallmark of a great sandbox game: the ability to distract you for the sake of additional progression and entertainment.
Though you can’t switch your powers on the fly, there’s never a moment where you’re caught with your pants down too. If smoke sources aren’t in the vicinity, switch to neon nearby and change up your tactics. The game’s design requires you not to rely too much on one of your multitude of elements.
Second Son is lacking in the multitude of enemy factions compared to past inFamous titles, though that isn’t a slight against the concrete-powered DUP soldiers. What Second Son lacks in roster pizzazz, it makes up for in ferocity, persistence and intelligence. The DUP are persistent, numerous and can employ their versions of grenades, portable cover, and maneuverability just to end your heroic-or-murderous spree.
It‘s slightly disheartening that Sucker Punch decided to go for the obvious route in the good and evil storylines, though that isn’t a slight to its quality. Both paths are for the most parts well-written. The narrative flows well thanks to not being chained up by the past game’s canon. Props should also go to the chemistry between Delsin and his brother Reggie that feels plausible, given the fantastical situation they’re in. However, the story can come off as on-the-nose with its lessons and guilt trip when compared to its predecessor’s “for the greater good” moral approach.
Despite the looming shadow of its older siblings that set the free-roaming bar to monumental heights, inFamous: Second Son is a free-roaming marvel in its own merits.
Worth playing for: The third power that you get halfway through the game, and then using a certain unexpected object on high-rise buildings as a fancy travelling catapult.
Watch out for: The rare framerate stuttering in highly intense firefights (or smoke or neon in this case) and sudden 60fps jump in melancholy parts. Also, the climactic showdown with the game’s true antagonist lacks a proper flow compared to the rest of the title’s hectic action.
In closing: The next generation was indeed built for a sandbox extraordinaire like inFamous: Second Son. Highly recommended without hesitation.