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A few hours into Sony’s new game “InFamous: Second Son,” I had my angle for this review -- or so I thought.
“‘Second Son’ is a nice game,” I mused, “but it disappoints by lacking originality, or anything spectacular to separate it from the crowd.”
“I’ll put that down in my notepad in a minute, and then I’ll take a break,” I thought to myself.
Three hours later, I still hadn’t written anything down or taken a break. I was glued to my console.
It’s true that “Second Son” hardly reinvents the wheel, using many of the open-world concepts and ideas gamers have seen in series such as “Assassin’s Creed,” “Crackdown” and “Saints Row,” as well as the “inFamous” series itself. However, what “Second Son” manages to do is blend them together into a world that is devilishly fun.
You play Delsin, a trendy graffiti artist from Seattle with a Native American background and a chip on his shoulder.
Conduits are a breed of people running around with super powers. Borrowing heavily from “X-Men,” such people are treated as “bioterrorists” and are being rounded up by the heavily armed Department of Unified Protection (DUP).
On the way to Seattle, some prisoners break free, Delsin is infected and obtains Conduit powers. After the members of his community are tortured to discover what they know about the Conduits, Delsin decides to take down the DUP and their villainous leader.
The game takes place in Seattle, and it looks gorgeous. Next-gen graphics are in full-effect on this PlayStation 4-exclusive title, showing off the Space Needle in all its odd glory, and producing a delicious looking city. Faces are cinematic, sunlight sparkles through trees, and rain glistens beautifully off the sidewalks.
The real strength of “Second Son” is gameplay, however. Combat is fluid, and the various powers take advantage of the environment. Smoke power lets you fire everything from little bullets to huge missiles, for example, and it can be replenished with the smoke from destroyed cars and chimneys. You can also use vent pipes to fly to the top of buildings. So powers are more than just weapons, they give the character a whole different personality depending on which he’s using.
These powers upgrade, and quickly Delsin becomes very powerful and very agile, with the game giving you a genuine sense of being a superhero (or villain). There’s lots to do in Seattle, from tracking down spies, destroying bases or just spray painting walls. Each side quest either hurts your enemies or strengths your character, giving you strong, addictive incentives to zoom around the city taking on quests and causing havoc -- and sticking it to the man.
The game offers you two ways of playing with its Karma system. Play as a nice guy, releasing prisoners, not touching civilians, getting rid of drugs and subduing instead of killing DUP soldiers. Or go evil, kill soldiers and civilians, blow everything up, and generally commit carnage.
It’s the kind of moral choice system that rewards being Mother Teresa and Satan -- nothing in between. You get evil powers by being evil, and good powers by being good. You don’t get pragmatist points. Also the game strongly pushes you to do evil things -- it’s designed for chaos, and holding back feels like the exact opposite of what you are supposed to do.
Consequently it jars against the nuanced approach to moral issues the story tries to adopt, using the slightly tired theme of “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” It feels slightly off when this message is pushed after you’ve performed a mini-genocide.
That’s not to say the story is bad -- it stays steady and Delsin is a likeable lead. It’s just that the more ethically heavy aspects aren’t particularly convincing when coupled with the black-and-white moral choice system.
But we’ll let “Second Son” off on this one: It’s a great deal of fun and that’s what matters. The developers at Sucker Punch know what you’re here for -- and they give you a great, big sandbox city, lots of things to do, and lots of cool ways in which to do it.
No-one will ever talk about “inFamous: Second Son” as a game that revolutionized or fundamentally changed anything. Nor will they wax lyrical about its story. But play through it and you’ll look back fondly at the destruction you caused in virtual Seattle -- “inFamous” is endlessly fun.