Infamous: Second Son review

4 out of 5
£50

For

Open world play, ‘good and evil’ replay value, power swap mechanics lend to game’s individuality

Against

Repetitious play, linear missions, new powers feel much the same

Infamous: Second Son is the game that every PlayStation 4 owner has been waiting for, whether an existing Infamous fan or not. It's the cool TV ad - well, the American one without the shouty British voice-over anyway - that's done it. All those quick cuts threading slow-motion action along to a rock-out soundtrack. That's the ticket.

In creating Second Son, studio Sucker Punch has taken the core of earlier Infamous titles and chucked them into a PS4-themed blender. If you've not played the earlier titles then it won't matter one bit. If you have then the familiar taste of open-world gameplay returns, but with focus on new found flavours. New lead character, new superpowers, and a new Seattle-based world to play it all out in.

But does Second Son deliver that kickass PS4 exclusive experience or does it fail to offer anything genuinely new and exciting? We've been dabbling in the world of good and evil to see whether it all adds up.

Negative Creep

Hollywood and the games industry appear to run in a curious parallel. If you've seen a trailer for a movie called Divergent then you might as well just rename it "Second Son The Movie" in your mind, because the premise is much the same as this game.

Well, minus Kate Winslet. Instead, Infamous fans, the game treats us to new protagonist Delsin Rowe, acted by none other than Troy Baker - otherwise known as Joel from The Last of Us, but here better looking and without the beard. Although the Beenie, chain and denim jacket with pin badges makes Rowe feel more 1990s grunge than next-gen, so we'll run with the grunge theme.

But it's not just the attire. Rowe is brattish to begin with and goes on to remain unlovable throughout most of the tale. It's not the acting - Baker delivers Rowe with churlish conviction - merely the game's position. In a way that's refreshing because it avoids the all too familiar lead character and you are able to make transformative choices throughout the game.

Territorial Pissings

But we're here for the action, right? Who cares if we like him or not? Let's go blow stuff up.

And yet the very first action in the game - if it can be called "action" - is to spray stencil art onto a billboard. Fill in all those gaps and just when you think you're all done with the yawnsomeness of it, along comes stencil two, then three. Sorry, but we thought this was Sony, not Nintendo.

It's a start at odds with expectation. But stick with it and action prevails. The story kicks off following an incident at Rowe's Akomish tribe home where a Department of Unified Protection - better known as "DUP" - transport crashes, releasing apparent prisoners and resulting in Rowe acquiring his first power: smoke. Not light-a-cigarette smoke, but turn-yourself-into-smoke smoke.

At first you are but a baby bird of your new power. Unable to fly proper, unable to shoot, you utilise it to dash through fences and launch through vents, learning the controls as you progress at different stages. The game's freedom is what makes you feel most like a superhero. Not only can you walk down the street, you can throw yourself off a 50-storey building without fear after effortlessly scaling it. Now that's cool, and it all looks great too.

However, the movement controls lack the climbing automation of something like Assassin's Creed: Black Flag. After playing that game for so long, Second Son can feel somewhat alien, yet it's merely a case of conditioning: once you're on board with how it plays, it generally feels right.

Drain You

Eventually you'll be lobbing smoke bombs and blowing the crap out of pretty much everything in the game's pseudo-Seattle setting. That's among the most fun part of the game - being able to destroy any of the temporary DUP structures in the game or watching their vehicles go up in a plume of smoke.

But that's not just for the sake of it. Smoke, after all, is the very nectar of your power. Where you see it in the cityscape you can stock up your power energy bar once more; if you can't see any then, hey, no smoke without fire - so go trash a car until the black stuff seeps into the air. It's something you'll need to do a lot too, perhaps even too much at first as you smoke everything while testing out your new abilities.

Once you've unlocked enough perks - activated by "shards" located at DUP bases, vehicles and scanners throughout the city - you can select upgrades from the weapons menu to heighten your powers. Use less power per action, have a larger arsenal of bombs, run for longer and so forth all have their place. It's essential to upgrade as being more powerful makes the game more fun.

And yet you'll find yourself running away a whole lot to avoid death too. When the screen fades to grey it's all nearly over and the only way out, typically, is to leg it as far away as possible and hide. Your power regenerates automatically and then you'll be fresh to charge back in like new.

The combat isn't as complex as, say, the Batman Arkham games. But this isn't Batman and the gung-ho style used in combination with your powers to dodge while keeping an eye out for cover to shield yourself has its own rewards.

Been A Son

Just like earlier Infamous titles, Second Son hinges itself on the paths of good and evil. You get to make choices throughout the game that impact the types of power-up perks you can select, which missions you can embark on and the outcome throughout the game.

Unlike the earlier games, Second Son embeds this throughout the game. Shoot at the ankles to subdue rather than kill an enemy to notch up your blue karma; shoot at the head or murder civilians and that's some opposite-end-of-scale red karma earned right there. Gather enough and you'll max out your meter to unlock a super move that's delivered in cinematic style - it's cool to watch, totally devastating to surrounding enemies, but does get old after the first couple of uses.

If you've ended up mid-way towards a Hero - we were all goodie goodie on the first play and went down the "good" route - and feel the need to go on an evil mission then you'll have your work cut out to push the balance the other way. It all takes time, and if you do drop a karma here and there then it may remove the special perks that you've previously purchased with your collected shards.

We like the concept of good and evil, but it's all or nothing really - you'll pick one side and stick with it as that's the most rewarded way to enhance your powers.

Something In The Way

Right at the beginning of the game Rowe has inexplicably figured out that he's able to adopt powers, but only from certain other "Conduits" like him. In tracking down these powers - there are four in total, smoke being one, neon the next and the other two for you to discover - there are some gorgeous comic-style cutscenes to add to the drama.

But upon acquiring the neon power the game feels like it's hit the reset button because, and just like with smoke power, you start at the bottom and have to work up. And you can only adopt one power at any given moment. This means tracking down more shards to learn new abilities for each new power and it feels linear and repetitive.

Even once maxed out each of the four powers feels roughly the same as the last. Acquiring neon does make navigating the city quicker - you can infinitely run up the side of buildings, which is amazing and looks cool - but we tended to stick with one power until forced to use a different one in any given part of the story.

And that's the thing: Second Son feels the same throughout. It doesn't feel as rich an open world as some other games, of which there are an increasing number of good ones. One or two small sections of jumping and climbing are the only side-steps from the same style of combat play. We can't help but feel there could have been more. 

Verdict

Superhero powers and shootouts are all well and good, which Infamous: Second Son delivers on aplenty, but it's the variety that lacks.

For many it will still define a great game, because despite repetition and some pacing issues it's a title that continued to lure us in. We never really felt attached to the characters, but throughout the two weeks we've been playing we've wanted to come back for more until we had completed the story. And then there's the scope to start it all again and complete it at the opposite end of the good or evil path.

As an open-world title Second Son doesn't out-Arkham the Batman series for combat complexity, nor deliver the variety or fluidity of some other open-world games such as Assassins Creed or even Saints Row. But if you want to go gung-ho, blow things up and fly up skyscraper walls then fill your boots. Second Son does have its own positive quirks such as the way Rowe's powers are swapped between and recharged from the surroundings of the cityscape: smoke from a burning car, neon from a shop window sign and so forth. That gives it distinct personality.

The pseudo-Seattle world it's set in also looks great, particularly at night, even though some pop-up in the distance can't strip Killzone: Shadow Fall of its next-gen graphics crown. But you'll only notice such things when bouncing off the side of a 50-storey building with the city sprawl laid out in front of you, lobbing firebombs at some DUP enemies. And the very fact that next-gen gaming allows for such acts to be possible makes it worth the cover price alone. After all, who wouldn't want to be a superhero? 

Infamous Second Son is available 21 March for PlayStation 4