As I stand on the edge of a building, watching the streets in perfect clarity, a mission marker blips on my mini-map.
In anticipation of jumping off I look around as options swirl through my head: which of my powers do I use to get from point A to point B, and should I take the streets or the rooftops? inFAMOUS: Second Son shines in its options as the powers that flow from Delsin’s fingertips provide dozens of possibilities.
**Unlike Cole, Delsin LOVES his powers.**
Enjoy Your Power(s)
The linchpin in every inFAMOUS game lies with the powers, and Sucker Punch has masterfully upped the ante with four unique powers to master in Second Son. While Cole McGrath had only one (and a half… sort of) power to take advantage of, Delsin’s unique ability allows him to absorb the power of other Conduits a-la Rogue from the X-Men.
The upgrade trees for each power operate in a similar manner to the previous inFAMOUS games – but each of them are far deeper than they have been. You upgrade by collecting shards, which you then use to upgrade each different ability. Like previous inFAMOUS games you can get locked out of certain upgrades depending upon your karmic balance. Generally upgrades for a player going through a good karma kick will provide abilities to subdue enemies, while the evil karma folks will master upgrades to obliterate foes.
For the most part I found that all of the powers have their own strengths and weaknesses. The smoke power packs a wallop in up close and personal combat, whereas the neon abilities are more conducive to a “sniper-like” approach. Of course, there are two more powers to master, but since Sucker Punch didn’t announce them, I won’t spoil the surprise.
One thing I made note of was that the final power is obtained shockingly close to the end of the game, making it kind of pointless in a lot of ways. On top of that the final power doesn’t seem to have the same thought in it that he others did – the upgrades and learning curve are a bit more shallow, and it made this potentially very cool ability seem like and after thought.
**The D.U.P. controlled Space Needle.**
Welcome To Seattle
I’ve never been to Seattle, but thanks to Sucker Punch’s expert craftsmanship I feel like when I do visit I’ll already know the town. In previous inFAMOUS games our hero (or villain) watched over Empire City (an analogy of New York) and New Marais (a parallel to New Orleans). Each of the previous locations were essentially comic book versions of the city that inspired them, but with a new generation of consoles Sucker Punch figured they could make a believable real-life city. Spoiler alert: they did. The city is absolutely beautiful, easily among the best looking games to date. When looking at the faces of the characters as they talk it wouldn’t be out of this world to forget you’re looking at a game.
As you run, float, and fly through the rainy city the passion and attention to detail shines right from the second you step into the city. Car lights reflect in the ever-present puddles, and when it rains, individual drops can be seen colliding with every surface. Every building, street, and overpass has been placed with care, building a massive Seattle-shaped jungle gym in which Delsin Rowe can play.
Sucker Punch also partnered with several businesses in Seattle to really bring the city to life, and make it seem as though Delsin is really adventuring in the actual Seattle. And yes, you get to climb the Space Needle.
Traversing the city is, for the most part, one of the best parts of the game. Being able to look at a building far in the distance and arrive on its roof minutes later is exhilarating. However, dealing in tighter spaces can sometimes be a hassle.
I found when powering through tighter areas Delsin would often get stuck on things, and sometimes fall through the world. Fortunately Sucker Punch did a really good job with having these bugs self-correct without having to reload, but it tears me out of an otherwise tremendously immersive surrounding.
**There are tons of little easter eggs scattered around Seattle.**
Living in Black and White
inFAMOUS is a world of exaggeration. There is good and evil, nothing in the middle. While this is somewhat appealing, I found the returning karma system to be simplistic. At various junctures in the game Delsin is given a choice that can basically be amounted to save this orphan or burn this building full of kittens. It is so clearly good or evil it put me off.
The ridiculously clear options wouldn’t be so off putting if they had more of an effect on the surrounding world. Seattle remains entirely unchanged depending upon what Delsin decides to do. I would have liked to see Sucker Punch take a real risk with this and have your karma reflect in the world as you progress through the game. It would have been amazing to see some areas of the city rampant with crime, or see the effects of people attempting to escape the city via a massive graveyard of abandoned cars if Delsin goes bad. Or adversely see crime decrease and have areas flourish if Delsin goes good. It doesn’t break the game by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a missed opportunity that would have been interesting to explore.
Fortunately, inFAMOUS: Second Son’s villain, Augustine, is a breath of fresh air. From the get go she is an imposing, powerful villain that dwells in an area between the clear karmic system. Augustine is the head of the D.U.P (Department of Unified Protection), and a Conduit that kidnaps and imprisons other Conduits without remorse and with no clear motive. More than any of the other inFAMOUS games, Augustine represents a legitimate and compelling antagonist that I loved going toe-to-toe with.
**The particles, guys… seriously.**
I know, I know: graphics don’t make a game – but polished visuals certainly add to the allure. The lighting is some of the most realistic the industry has seen to date, and the facial capture allows the player to see every muscle in a character’s face flex as they talk. It’s gross and awesome at the same time.
The most impressive thing about the visuals of Second Son is the particles. Watching billowing smoke thousands of neon particles absorb into Delsin’s arm as he recharges his power is mind-blowing. Likewise, watching shadows realistically dace as Delsin shoots neon bolts out of his fingertips is engrossing and compelling.
**Reggie be mad. Look at how that face looks so much like a face.**
Second Son’s story is anchored by the relationship between Delsin and his brother, Reggie. Coming from a Native American tribe I think it would have been really easy for Sucker Punch to use that as the skeleton for the game’s story – but thankfully they didn’t. Doing so would have seemed like they were throwing Delsin in our face saying, “look, a not-white dude!” Delsin’s background and brother provide nothing more than motivation and a catalyst for some of the game’s events.
Many of the game’s most entertaining segments come from Reggie and Delsin bickering. As someone with an older brother, I’m very familiar with being called a dick, and in return making a quip. Travis Willingham and Troy Baker (shocker, I know) capture the brotherly relationship of Reggie and Delsin perfectly, and gives the player a real connection to Reggie, who is an NPC.
**I can do that.**
The Bottom Line
inFAMOUS: Second Son is exciting for many reasons. It is beautiful, big, and tremendously fun. Playing through the game you can easily get the feeling that you’re between last-gen and net-gen, but it doesn’t impede the joy you’ll get from diving off the tallest building in Sucker Punch’s version of Seattle. One thing to take away from Second Son is to see it as a benchmark: when the first Uncharted game came out I remember thinking, “this is the future.” I get the same feeling while playing Second Son. Now, I look back at Uncharted and say, “everything looks like plastic and it plays kind of weird.” Imagine what Second Son will usher in for the rest of the next generation. Imagine what we’ll see from Sucker Punch come the next inFAMOUS game.