Infamous: Second Son PlayStation 4 review

The PS4 gets its first big exclusive outside of launch with Infamous: Second Son, but is it a hero, or villain?

Beginning life on the PS3, the Infamous series from Sucker Punch is a favourite of many Sony fans. The open world, sandbox super hero title fused shooting, free-running and player choice with some pleasing visuals and impressive super powers, and both were great games. Now the series has jumped to the next generation, and as a big, much-hyped release for the PS4, Sucker Punch certainly faced a big task. Luckily, for the most part, the team delivered.

New hero please!

Long-time fans won’t be all that surprised to find that the series’ previous protagonist, Cole MacGrath, isn’t the hero here, especially given how Infamous 2 wound up (depending on your choices), and instead we have newcomer Delsin Rowse. Delsin starts out as a normal, rebellious youth, spraying stencil art around his home town, and generally being a pain in his brother’s backside. This is unfortunate as his brother is a police officer, and often has to reprimand or even arrest his own sibling.

One day, however, things go south when a prison transport for the DUP (Department of Unified Protection) crashes near the town. The DUP is a group trying to control super-powered ‘conduits’, now called bio-terrorists, and three such super-powered people escape the crash, with one coming into contact with Delsin. It’s here that Delsin discovers that he’s a Conduit too, only his power is the ability to absorb and use another Conduit’s abilities. Tasty.

Sadly, he also runs into DUP director and all-round nasty piece of work, Brooke Augustine. She’s on a mission to find and control every Conduit, despite her being one herself (she’s got the fairly random ability to control and create concrete). After she injures some of Delsin tribe, both he and his brother set off to Seattle in order to track down Augustine so he can absorb her power and save his people. Simple enough, right?

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Smokey and the bandit

After the initial opening in Delsin’s home town and the road to Seattle, the game starts proper, and sees you arriving in Seattle itself. From here it’s 100% Infamous, and the familiar mission and collectible-driven play returns. Using Delsin’s initial power, which is to control and turn into smoke, you immediately set forth to disrupt DUP operations and acquire upgrades for Delsin’s powers. This means destroying DUP facilities (with impressive destructible environmental effects), shooting CCTV cameras, and collecting Blast Shards by destroying DUP UAVs and other vehicles. Blast Shards are used to power up Delsin, and as you disrupt DUP assets and complete missions in an area, you’ll reduce DUP control over a suburb, eventually weakening them enough to wrestle it away via a confrontational battle. Eventually you’ll encounter other conduits, and can acquire new super power abilities above and beyond smoke.

It all plays brilliantly, make no mistake, but it’s also very formulaic, and this is the main area where Second Son stumbles. As rock solid as the game is, and believe me, this is a well made and highly polished title that not only looks gorgeous, with some of the best open world visuals, it also plays very well with great controls, it’s also overly familiar.

If you strip back this generation’s visual flair, you’re left with pretty much the same exact game as the previous Infamous titles, with little in the way of actual gameplay advancements. Delsin’s powers may allow him to do such things as shooting into building vents, emerging impressively from a rooftop exhaust, with other more impressive abilities like the Comet Drop featured, but canned animations, no matter how cool, do little to actually advance gameplay.

The core abilities, such as projectiles, gliding, missiles and so on, feel almost exactly like Cole’s electricity powers with a different skin applied (even down to the animations), and even the so-called moral choices are the same, with black and white, help or hinder civilian-style mechanics, and on-screen red or blue pill prompts. It works, yes, but it’s hardly pushing the capabilities of the PS4, and doesn’t really advance the Infamous series.

No more mister nice guy?

There are some new tweaks that work well, though, and do add a little to the core gameplay. The ability to actually avoid casualties and be a true good guy is handled far better. Like Cole, Delsin can choose to subdue or drain fallen foes, but he can also go for incapacitating head shots and use gas grenade-style attacks making it possible to subdue whole groups of people without lethal means. This opens up more scope for different play styles, and makes the game more than just mindless shooting and blowing things up.

The implementation of the DUP and the almost Red Faction Guerilla-style land-grabbing mechanic is also welcome, and gives you more to do outside of missions. This is one area where Infamous has always been lacking, and outside of actual missions, be they main or optional, the series hasn’t always given player all that much to do, save for collectibles. Here there’s more to keep you busy.

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Of course, it’s the main missions that feature the best the game has to offer, with impressive battles and scripted segments (such as the opening bridge crossing), and there are plenty of side missions to take on. Early examples include taking out drug dealers, finding hidden audio diaries, locating hidden DUP cameras, and there are totally new additions like Delsin’s graffiti stencil art. This uses the DualShock 4’s motion sensing abilities to control the spray can and paint onto the screen. It’s nifty, and is a nice, if totally unchallenging mini game that breaks up the otherwise repetitive action.

Generation next

I found Infamous: Second Son to be a brilliantly entertaining game, and by far one of the best games on the PS4 right now. Taken for what it is, it’s a great game, pure and simple. The Infamous games have always been both polished and highly enjoyable, and this is no different. However, and the end of the day that’s where the problem lies – it’s no different.

Being one of the first games to make use of the PS4 hardware, and an open-world title that could truly show us what this generation is capable of, Second Son demonstrates little more than the fact that the PS4 is capable of some incredible visuals and presentation. In terms of gameplay, there’s nothing here that the PS3 couldn’t deliver, and that’s a shame. It’s another point to the argument that modern games rely solely on pretty visuals to earn their ‘next-gen’ stripes, and as the game’s story of super powers and open world action could be a perfect playground for true next-gen play, it only highlights this fact even more.

I was hoping for some impressive, previously impossible game mechanics to accompany the visuals, but sadly that’s not the case. Sucker Punch has played it very safe, and what we get is an undeniably top notch experience, but one that fails to deliver the kind of gameplay the PS4, and competitor, the Xbox One, can deliver. It’s a definite purchase, just don’t expect too much.

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4 out of 5