inFamous: Second Son takes place around seven years after the events of the previous game. The Conduit gene has returned in the wake of those events, causing more and more people to become super-powered. This necessitates the establishment of the Department of Unified Protection (D.U.P.), a group led by a cold-hearted woman named Augustine, meant to track down any Conduits and imprison them for the safety of society. Second Son also ditches previous protagonist Cole McGrath (for obvious reasons, if you’ve played inFamous 2) and brings in some new blood by the name of Delsin Rowe. Delsin’s life turns upside down after a prison truck topples over and several Conduits escape into his town. This brings the terrifying Augustine to his doorstep, a fact made even worse by Delsin’s newfound ability to absorb the powers of any Conduit he touches. After she wreaks a trail of destruction upon his home, he follows her to Seattle to take her powers and stop her reign over the D.U.P.
Delsin is a very likeable character from the get-go, an affable rogue not unlike Kenway from the recent Assassin’s Creed IV. He has a lot of attitude, complete with Billy Idol sneer, but manages to avoid being annoying (well, mostly) thanks to the excellent voice work of the always awesome Troy Baker. The role was also performance-captured, meaning the faces emote convincingly with the actions of the characters. It looks quite nice, aside from the usual dead-eyes syndrome that still plagues video game animation. Delsin’s brother, the other “main” character in the story, isn’t nearly as likeable. Several of his scenes make him come off as a narrow-minded asshole, unwilling to accept his brother’s newfound powers. I hated nearly every scene that featured him, which was unfortunate considering he is a large part of the story.
As for the story itself, Second Son doesn’t do much with its concepts. If you’ve played past inFamous games, you will probably feel right at home with the over-the-top characters who feel like they came straight out of a comic book and thin explanations for everything you, or the other characters, are doing. All of the characters are extremely one-note and don’t really grow or change in any meaningful way. Interesting moments, such as when Delsin gets a picture of the lives of the other Conduits he meets (also where the motion-comic style from past games pops up), are much too brief and promptly forgotten about. From one minute to the next, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing other than trying to find Augustine–one mission at a time. My actions rarely felt justified or fully explained, and the missions barely felt connected from one to the next.
Even worse is that the writing is filled with cringe-worthy lines and characters. Expect to find stereotypical characters (like the gamer who is afraid of people), cliched storylines (someone trying to get revenge on an over-the-top leader? How original!), and poor choices in dialogue (including some potentially offensive lines). A few of these had me really shaking my head in frustration and wondering who thought they were a good idea. I had a really hard time liking any of the characters for this reason and couldn’t count the number of times I groaned in annoyance or disgust.
Gameplay in Second Son will also feel quite familiar to fans of the inFamous series. It feels nearly identical in every way, from the way you scale buildings to the structure of the side-activities. You can clear out individual districts by doing activities such as finding hidden cameras or tagging various walls and billboards (complete with a creative use of the PS4’s gyroscope, imitating a spray can). There are Blast Shards scattered about to be used on your upgrade tree. Various karmic events play out that can give you good or bad boosts to your alignment. Second Son gave me a serious sense of deja vu when I played–sadly, not always in a good way. While I enjoyed clearing out the D.U.P. from the city, the number of activity types is quite low, making the whole thing feel pretty thin; by the time I had hit 100%, I was really tired of each of the activities. It felt like a game that was rushed to meet the launch deadline of the PS4–except that it came out four months after the system’s launch.
The combat, however, still feels tight and exciting. Enemies are tough enough to stand up to your superpowers (having been infused with some of their own) and can drain your health quickly if you’re not careful, especially on the harder difficulty. The variety of powers you get allows you to handle each situation as it comes up. When things get hairy, and they will, you can quickly dash out of the way and allow your health to recharge. Knowing when to back off and cool things down is key to survival. A small change from past games is the necessity to recharge your powers with various power sources. It was possible to get upgrades in the first two games that made your default shot cost no energy; unfortunately, no such upgrade exists here, meaning you will always need to be on the lookout for more smokestacks or neon to drain. This all adds up to keep you constantly on the move, which can be a blast with the various movement powers.
Delsin’s ability to switch powers is dictated by what you drain your energy from; if you want to switch, just find a new source (helpfully highlighted on the mini-map). Each power set feels very different, while retaining the same basic functionality across the board to keep the controls simple. Smoke’s default shot is quick but less hard-hitting, allowing headshots to quickly down a foe. Other powers, such as smoke grenades, also give the ability to choke out enemies for a quick subdual or execution. Neon shoots more slowly but is more powerful. Aiming, however, allows you to zoom in and aim for precise spots on the enemy: ankle shots for good karma and head shots for bad. There are two other power sets to be discovered, but I don’t need to spoil them here. Like smoke and neon, they operate in the same basic manner with enough tweaks to make them special.
Second Son is easily one of the best looking games I’ve seen to date. There is stunning detail in each and every building to climb and explore. Particle effects look fantastically dense and bright, coalescing around Delsin in stunning patterns. Most impressive might be the fingers on Delsin, actual individual models instead of just one blocky hand. It all looks amazing and runs at a very solid frame-rate. The only times I ever had dips were during some of the big, screen-clearing powers, something I didn’t really fault the game for. This game is absolutely the tour-de-force that Sony wanted to entice users to its new gaming platform; it is certainly worth seeing in action, as screenshots don’t really do it justice.
To sum up, inFamous Second Son is a bare-bones package. The action and exploration is fun, especially with the stunning graphics, but there just aren’t enough interesting things to do in the world. Side activities quickly grow boring. Main missions pick up the slack sometimes, but often had me wondering what I was even doing in terms of progressing the story. While I enjoyed running around the world and fighting enemies, that gets a bit pointless when there isn’t a reason to be doing it. Second Son feels like an early console release, a game that didn’t get the time or resources to develop more things to do. For big fans of the series, it’s probably worth it–as long as you don’t mind a ride that feels very similar to past games. For everyone else, it might be wise to wait for a price drop; otherwise, you might find yourself bored quickly.