Or, “Swirling Particle Effects: The Video Game”.
Infamous: Second Son (M)
Copy purchased (part of PlayStation Plus subscription in September 2017)
Infamous: Second Son suffers a little from being an older game, reviewed well after its launch. Released in March 2014, making it nearly four years old at the time of writing, it was one of the first batch of games to hit the shelves next to the shiny new PlayStation 4. It’s also an open-world sandbox game, a genre which is arguably a bit stale as we enter 2018. And it’s an open-world sandbox game in the increasingly-tired “conquer the tower to add all the activities to your map” mould, which doesn’t help matters.
With that in mind, however, Second Son is perfectly fine fare. It gives you a variety of superpowers to work with, and avoids a lot of the ‘filler’ activities that sandbox games tend to have. But as a result, it does feel a bit short and not terribly difficult. Other than a particular foible with the combat the game isn’t terribly challenging on its default setting, but that foible was enough to discourage me from replaying the game at the higher difficulty level.
Set a few years after the events of Infamous 2- enough so that you don’t really need to know the previous games’ backstory- you play as Delsin Rowe, a young graffiti artist-slash-delinquent who discovers he is a Conduit. Conduits can harness energy from elements around them, such as smoke, and manipulate them to their will. This makes them a bit dangerous to the US government, which established the Department of Unified Protection to round up the Conduits (or as they refer to them, bio-terrorists). In a bid to find two escaped convicts, the DUP has declared martial law in effect in the city of Seattle.
Thus the player’s job, in true open-world style, is to liberate Seattle from the DUP, one suburb at a time. Each district has a DUP ‘mobile command unit’ to be destroyed, and a certain number of challenges that are marked on the map afterwards. A few challenges revolve around finding things in a crowded area, such as a DUP agent in civilian gear, or a small surveillance camera. For the most part, though, the challenges involve finding collectables- the usual audio logs, filling in the backstory, and ‘shards’, which you can spend on upgrading your abilities.
Over the course of the game you master a number of elements, such as smoke, or neon, and get a set of abilities unique to that element. I say ‘unique’ there but they generally follow a set pattern- one way of dashing, one way of traversing vertical surfaces, a light projectile attack, a heavy projectile attack, and a stun-grenade manoeuvre that allows you to perform non-lethal takedowns on your foes. Who knew you could hit people so hard with smoke?
Each of these can be upgraded to do more damage, use less energy, travel further and so on. The environments all include ways of recharging each element- chimneys for smoke, shop signage for neon- meaning occasionally you’ll find yourself in an area where your preferred element isn’t available and you’ll have to change up your tactics. Generally, though, once you’ve got one element fully upgraded you’ll probably stick with it for convenience and familiarity.
There is also a ‘karma’ system in the game, as per previous entries in the series. Do good things- avoid killing civilians, accept the surrender of soldiers who are outmatched, paint whimsical graffiti- and you get good karma, while indiscriminately destroying things and shooting to kill are evil. The game essentially locks you into one of two paths early on- to experience all the missions and cutscenes in the story, you need to play through the game twice, once as Good, once as Evil. Some ability upgrades are also only available on one path or the other.
Combat is not complicated- shoot the dudes, shoot heavy ammo at the heavy dudes, use your stun moves if you’re aiming for Good karma (or don’t if you don’t care). Certain enemies can trap your feet if they have a line of sight to you, which is incredibly annoying; with your feet trapped you can’t shoot or, indeed, do anything else until you button-mash yourself free and wait for the game’s frame rate to recover from the explosion effect. I didn’t do any formal testing on the game’s frame rate, but it seemed pretty smooth the rest of the time- it was only that particular animation that seemed to make my PS4 choke momentarily.
The combat gets worse once the enemies start carrying grenades or explosives, as Delsin is not terribly resilient and ragdolls like nobody’s business. You can’t just take one hit in a crowd- you’ll get hit five or six times as Delsin bounces around the level, and if you’re lucky you’ll regain control quickly enough to dash behind cover and regenerate your health. In boss battles this gets particularly frustrating, and you should just assume every attack is a one-hit kill, as you regularly get combo’d, Street Fighter-style, by a volley of explosives. At least the loading times are minimal and you won’t wait long to resume, although the game does commit the sin of making you listen to the same conversation over and over again if you die at particular checkpoints.
But overall it scratched an itch- with no new Saints Rows on the horizon and the new Crackdown delayed, I got to fly around a city, wall-walk up tall buildings and fry a bunch of totalitarian soldiers. Infamous: Second Son gets a ‘solid’ out of ten.
(And as it was one of the PlayStation Plus games a few months back, it didn’t even cost any money. That said, full price for the game on the PlayStation Store at the moment is A$56, so maybe wait for a sale. EB had physical copies of the game for A$28 after Christmas this year and I’d probably run with that as a decent price.)