Who wouldn't want to control a superhuman capable of throwing fireballs or running at the speed of light? This is just part of the appeal of Sony and Sucker Punch's "InFamous: Second Son," one of the most eagerly anticipated games for the PlayStation 4. The third title in the "InFamous" series also forces players to make important moral choices that affect the world and people around them. The game even addresses pressing social issues, including the fear of a government that tracks your every move. But does all of that make "Infamous: Second Son" a must-have for PS4 owners?
"Second Son" picks up seven years after the events of "InFamous 2." But that doesn't mean you'll had to have played the first two games in the "InFamous" series to get into this title. This is as much of a reboot as developer Sucker Punch could create without actually crafting an entirely new world. Unlike "InFamous" and "InFamous 2," which took place in fictional stand-ins for New York and New Orleans, respectively, "Second Son" takes place in a digitally recreated version of real-world Seattle.
The overarching premise of "InFamous," however, remains intact. A new breed of human, born with a specific gene activated by radiation, has come to light. Because of their incredible abilities, which include controlling lighting or hurling fireballs from their hands, these mutants, or "conduits," are feared and shunned by society.
Following the events of "InFamous 2," in which humanity was nearly wiped out by a plague caused by the radiation that creates conduits, the government formed a new paramilitary organization called the Department of Unified Protection, or D.U.P. Its sole purpose is to protect the public by locking conduits, and those suspected of being conduits, away for life.
You take on the role of protagonist Delsin Rowe, a member of the Akomish tribe living on a reservation in Washington state. After seeing a prisoner-transport vehicle carrying three conduits crash near their reservation, Delsin and his brother Reggie rush to help. Delsin touches one conduit and finds he can absorb powers from other superhumans.
When the D.U.P. and its leader, Brooke Augustine, show up asking questions, Delsin must choose between fessing up and telling Augustine he is a conduit, or keeping quiet and letting her torture the other Akomish until they give up Delsin.
This is the first of several morality choices sprinkled throughout the game that affect how Delsin grows as a character. To force your hand, Augustine tortures the members of Delsin's tribe, which in turn sets Delsin on his quest to take down Augustine and the D.U.P. in Seattle.
The universe of "Second Son" offers players a fully realized look at military power and government surveillance going off the rails. Sucker Punch plays with some rather serious themes, including the idea of a police state and discrimination against large swaths of humanity based on fear.
As characters, Delsin and his brother Reggie are well fleshed out, but their narratives are a bit on the shallow side. Delsin is at once angst-ridden and idealistic, but that isn't represented by the game's moral choices. Instead, you must choose between good and almost comical evil. You're either saving civilians with a healing touch, or crushing them under your heel by the dozen.
Limiting moral choices to two options is understandable to a degree, especially since the direction of your moral compass determines how the game plays out and what kinds of powers you get. But we couldn't help but yearn for a more dynamic approach to Delsin's choices.
Like its predecessors, the meat and potatoes of "Second Son" is combat. Sucker Punch once again delivers with an impressive and enjoyable experience. Over the course of the game, players get access to three unique powers: "smoke," "neon" and "video." We were happy to find that each power brought something different to the table in terms of how we handled enemies.
Smoke, for example, offers an explosive missile with a wide area of damage, while neon features a precision shot that lets you disable individual enemies with ease. The three powers are so well balanced that none is greater than the others. Where one power is strong, the others may be weak, and vice versa. As a result, players must learn and master each new power they acquire.
Better still, your powers have a direct impact on your environment. Come upon a D.U.P. checkpoint scanning for conduits, for instance, and you can launch an attack that levels the entire structure. It's this kind of destructibility that helps give you a sense of how truly powerful Delsin and his fellow conduits are.
While all of that's impressive, at the end of the day there's nothing better than scaling a building and dropping down fist-first onto a crowd of D.U.P. personnel, blowing them away in one punch.
MORE: Top Gaming Keyboards
As with many sandbox games, "InFamous" is broken down into two parts: a main objective and side missions. The main objective deals with Delsin's quest to take down Augustine and avenge his tribe. Side missions focus on dismantling D.U.P mobile command centers in an effort to free Seattle from the organization's grasp.
Along the way, you'll break up drug deals, destroy hidden surveillance cameras, blow apart checkpoints and hunt down D.U.P. spies. Taking apart one D.U.P. command center after another can get a bit tedious, but thanks to the game's steady progression in enemy difficulty, each encounter manages to feel relatively fresh.
As in "InFamous" and "InFamous 2," players progress by collecting blast shards that can then be used to upgrade their various powers and skills. Some games limit such collectibles to make you think strategically about which powers to choose, but "InFamous: Second Son" gives you ample shards to collect and spend as you like.
Your decisions might not have the import they would if you had a limited supply of shards, but it doesn't really matter when you're blowing up everything in sight while zipping across Seattle's skyline.
Art and Graphics
Speaking of Seattle, the city looks absolutely stunning, thanks to the graphics power of the PS4. Pedestrians walk along sidewalks and protesters hold anti-conduit rallies at random, bringing the city to life. We were also impressed by the sheer number of civilians, vehicles and enemies that could be displayed onscreen at the same time.
Draw distances were equally satisfying, especially when traveling from one end of the city to the other. Watching Delsin turn into a plume of smoke and ash before dashing across the map offered superb visuals, while the neon signs dotting the landscape reflected beautifully off puddles following the Seattle rains.
Of course, the real stars of the show are Delsin's powers. Flames and neon laser beams flying from his hands and rocketing across the screen looked downright gorgeous. We were enthralled by the game’s color palette, and particularly enjoyed seeing the destruction wrought by Delsin's Karma Bomb super-moves. Nothing is more fun than watching a game's protagonist fly into the air and crash down on his enemies with a massive shockwave.
It's also worth noting how wonderful the game's character animations look in cutscenes. Delsin, Reggie and Augustine each look wonderful on screen, and their mouths sync up nicely with their dialogue. Sucker Punch says each of the 20,000 vertices on Delsin's face are animated independently, moving 30 times a second during each cutscene, an impressive feat.
Sound and Audio
Sucker Punch has added the perfect amount of audio effects to Delsin's powers and Seattle as a whole. Neon lasers ricochet with the kind of "pew pew" noise you'd expect, while massive pieces of scaffolding come cascading down with a satisfyingly hollow metal crash. The voice acting throughout "Second Son" was equally fantastic, with extra points going to Troy Baker, Travis Willingham and Christine Dunford for their roles as Delsin, Reggie and Augustine, respectively.
With its myriad side missions and massive cityscape, "InFamous: Second Son" is just begging to be explored well after you finish the game's main mission. Collectibles litter the map, giving players looking to fully complete the game extra incentive. Players who pre-ordered "Second Son" also get free access to the "Cole's Legacy" DLC pack, which adds several hours of gameplay to the experience.
"InFamous: Second Son" is a high-quality open-world action game that offers PS4 owners hours of action-packed fun and excitement. Delsin's powers are diverse and interesting enough to keep players satisfied through their experiences, and Seattle feels alive with energy, thanks to its cast of civilians. We also liked how Sucker Punch tried to address larger social issues by touching on the theme of the surveillance state, and we enjoyed guiding Delsin's character growth.
We just wish the morality choices were more in line with the type of person the game establishes Delsin as at the outset. We would have also liked to see more diversity in terms of mission structure. Those small gripes aside, "InFamous: Second Son" is a worthwhile sandbox game with a well-developed world and intense action that's well worth the investment.
Rating: 4 stars