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Slick’s Nit-Picks: inFAMOUS Second Son

During the previous generation, Sucker Punch really stepped their game up by bringing us the inFAMOUS series. Usually known for the more more lighthearted Sly Cooper series, the story of Cole MacGrath was a very dark turn for the company that worked. Players got to choose whether Cole became a hero or the guy who only cares about himself and most chose to play both as the games were designed to be played twice (Festival of Blood being the exception). Many fans, myself included were disheartened by the ending to inFAMOUS 2, feeling Cole's story had come to an end. Imagine our excitement when the first trailer for Second Son aired during the PlayStation 4 unveil event. Cole was (expectedly) absent, but we saw a new Conduit rise to the task of helping the helpless and the wait to play felt like forever. Now gamers can get their grubby little hands on the first big PS4 exclusive of 2014. We finally find out if the Second Son can live up to the legacy of the bike messenger that started it all.

CONDUIT POTTY? Before I go into details, let me just say that it is impossible for me to play this game and not compare it to the previous two in every aspect. Every second I spent controlling Delsin I wondered how it would feel to play as Cole. I guess that means the review is going to be biased, but bias within context of the same product is not the worst thing in the world. The story puts us in the shoes of Delsin Rowe, a young member of the Akomish Native American people living in Sweetwater, WA. Delsin is pretty much the polar opposite of his older bother Reggie, who is the town sheriff. Reggie is by the book; Delsin couldn't tell you where the book is, much less what is in it. He spends his days tagging everything in sight and you first gain control of Delsin when he is defacing a billboard depicting his brother. Reggie knows what Delsin is up to and catches him as he attempts his great escape. The ensuing argument ends as a military transport crashes in front of them and two prisoners escape. Delsin frees a third from under the wreckage and becomes a hostage for his trouble. As the prisoner (named Henry Daughtry) threatens Reggie, Delsin learns that he too is a Conduit when he grabs Daughtry’s hand and proceeds to absorb his powers. The two Conduits fight in the factory the game begins in only to have it abruptly ended by the Department of Unified Protection (D.U.P.) and their leader, Brooke Augustine. This presents you with your first good or evil choice along with the main plot of the game. Regardless of your decision, Augustine rampages through the Akomish people leaving many dead or dying after being impaled by her concrete powers. Delsin feels responsible and decides to save them.

Unfortunately, the story is the weakest aspect of this game. As you play, there is no sense of urgency to complete your mission. With the exception of town elder Betty, there are no faces put to those that Augustine has hurt. The story also does nothing to make you care about any of the characters. Without spoiling, I will say that there are events in the game that should make the player feel more vested in Delsin’s progress but they just do not. When people ask me about the inFAMOUS series, I always wind up mentioning the moment in the first game where Kessler makes you choose between the life of Trish and the doctors. I can even bring up the closing moments of inFAMOUS 2 where you have to choose between saving Zeke and most of humanity or yourself and the Conduits. Second Son does not have a single moment in the game that is on this level. The only thing remotely close is when you literally hold a life in your hand; I give the writers credit for that one part but the story is otherwise cookie cutter at best. Fortunately, Delsin himself is enough of a character to make you want to see what he does next.

Pre-order players of the game are treated to five DLC missions collectively known as “Cole’s Legacy,” yet I doubt that any of them will brag about it. Regardless of the fact that this DLC lets you know what transpired in the seven years since Cole’s death, no one would have missed this DLC. In terms of story it feels forced and the missions are not even as challenging as raiding a D.U.P. base. The good news is that I think Sucker Punch realized they had dropped the ball and made up for it with the “Paper Trail” DLC. Not much is known about where the story is going, but Delsin periodically (about once a week) runs into a female paper Conduit. She hides her face with a paper rabbit mask, wears the uniform of a Japanese middle school student and seems to be a big fan of manga. She leads Delsin around Seattle and seems to want him to discover something. What exactly is yet to be seen as the DLC is being slowly released episodically each week. Fans definitely should stay tuned.

NEEDLES FROM SPACE Delsin does not actually have any offensive or defensive abilities of his own. If you think about it for a second, he is basically Rogue from the X-Men. Previews of the game made you think he is a smoke Conduit, but he got those from Hank Daughtry. As the game progresses he will obtain three other sets of powers and he absorbs each one from a different Prime Conduit. This makes for very interesting combat options as you progress through the game. Whether it be smoke, neon, video or concrete, all of the powers Delsin obtains are awesome and fun to use. They also have different levels of usefulness depending upon the situation you are in. Neon is best for sniping, video for assault and smoke is your all-around ability. Concrete probably would be the strongest power but you get it too late in the game for it to really make a difference. The only real downsides to controlling Delsin are that his powers cannot be combined (better happen in the sequel) and that you cannot switch from one power to another on the fly. If you need smoke, you have to drain smoke; neon, drain a sign. If you need video powers you have to drain a satellite signal and for concrete (this makes no sense) you have to drain power from a fallen enemy. Why you cannot drain the actual concrete I have no idea. It would make using the power very easy, but once again, the point in the game where you get concrete is so late that it just would not matter.

Aside from the main gameplay, the side missions provide much entertainment if you choose to do them. The spray paint locations are a fun diversion and are necessary to trophy hunters. Shaking the DS4 like a can of Krylon is incredibly cool and implementing a simple Photoshop effect in the game is genius. Just as much as people probably love tagging up the place, they probably hate the secret agent mission where you have to find a hidden D.U.P. agent. If you don’t eliminate them immediately you will probably waste a lot of time chasing them. If you use your neon power, it is a heck of a lot easier though. Finding the rogue D.U.P. agent’s dead drops tells the story of the game a lot better than just playing the game does and they are worth looking for if you want to get anything out of the game in terms of storytelling.

The best aspect of the game aside from enjoying Delsin’s powers lies in the Paper Trail DLC. “Chasing the rabbit,” so to speak, opens up an extra dynamic in Second Son. It is nothing that hasn’t been done before but nonetheless it is enjoyable. As you complete missions you find clues which your PS4 will upload to an online account you create at www.infamouspapertrail.com. In true detective fashion, you have to examine the clues in a fashion reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed II’s glyph side quest. Hats off to the developers for giving the players such a fun side quest for free.

The biggest problem with the gameplay is the difficulty, or lack thereof. inFAMOUS 1 and 2 were repetitive and neither was exceptionally hard, but Second Son is way too easy. I played the game on expert both times and the game just got easier as I progressed. When I played the infamous track things were even easier than the hero track because you are not worried about hurting people. It really feels like the game was watered down to appeal to a broader audience. The ending of the game has left room for a sequel and if there is one, Sucker Punch really needs to put more into the actual gaming aspect.

LIKE A MOVIE STAR, BABY! Graphics are where inFAMOUS Second Son literally shines. With a game this beautiful, I wonder why they bother making ads using real people. This is what “next-gen” is all about. From cut scene to game play, there is no difference in graphical quality and the “worst” visuals in the game are the moments when the comic panel style art is used. Literally nothing looks bad in this game. Smoke and fire look real, as does the water and water effects. Probably the only thing that doesn’t fully sell (and this is really stretching it for a gripe) is the neon running effect. I guess they did not want to make the character move too fast. The trails sometimes look wonky to me but it is nothing serious. So much attention was paid to proper physics and the way light, particles and sound behave. When you perform an Orbital drop and your shockwave hits, people and objects are scattered away from you exactly as they should be. You saw Sucker Punch building towards this in the previous games.  It is like they were just waiting for the PS4 to come out. I can only hope that in any future game from Sucker Punch that they push the graphics even further but also work as hard with the game mechanics and story.

When the original teaser trailer played, I knew what was coming before they even showed us the name of the game. I was immediately sold because I have loved the inFAMOUS series so much. I even plodded through the awful Festival of Blood (which still had a better story than this game). Sucker Punch has never let me down as a gamer. The only game they made I have never played is Rocket: Robot on Wheels. In this new generation of console gaming, I have to say that Sucker Punch still has not truly let me down, but Second Son is somewhat disappointing. I have looked up the writer(s) of the game to no avail, but I do not see how it could be the same as those of the original games. In a conversation with MTR’s host Rich, Second Son was described as a showpiece for the PS4 and that it was most important for the game to look good. For that reason, it seems that other aspects suffered, if only slightly. The game is not bad; it is far from being bad. The issue is that it could have been so much more. It could have been longer, there could have been more variation in the enemy design (they all just throw rocks and shoot guns) and there could have been more put into the characters themselves. I can only hope and pray that there is a sequel to the game and that things are cleaned up. I have the same desire as Reggie Rowe: I want to see Delsin make something of himself. Or even if they choose to go with a “third son” (or first daughter), a future inFAMOUS game just needs more.