In fictional media, super powers are used by super heroes; those willing to fight for the weak, protect the innocent, and stand up in the face of evil… you know… all the usual mumbo jumbo. In the world Delsin Rowe lives in, there are no super heroes, only bio-terrorists. Those who destroy and kill, people to be feared. There’s only one problem, Delsin Rowe is one of them. He just doesn’t know it yet.
Seven years have passed since the events of Cole MacGrath’s triumph over the Beast in New Marais. The world was exposed to the destructive power of conduits. The RFI which was created to rid the world of conduits… was not absolute. In the aftermath the government set up the Department of Unified Protection (DUP) to track down and quarantine conduits, now branded as “bio-terrorists” for the safety of the people. The world Delsin Rowe lives in now, is terrified of these bio-terrorists. As one of these conduits, will you choose to be Seattle’s hero, rising above the bio-terrorist label or a villain who deserves to be locked away?
With that in mind, the world of Second Son or more specifically Seattle is absolutely beautiful. It’s almost shocking how good this game looks on the PS4. Details from road pavement, to bricks making up the walls of buildings, to pores on faces of characters, everything looks stunning. Sucker Punch really out did themselves in this department. There are time transitions during the main campaign; day, night, morning, evening etc. These all provide different lighting to the city, giving off a feeling of progression in the main campaign. There are times when it will rain (come on, it’s Seattle), or just after a rain that result in some surprises. Rain drops hitting puddle in on the ground show ripples, people carry umbrella’s and puddles show reflections. These little instances of detail drive home the point that Second Son is a graphical wonder, and quite possibly, the best looking game on consoles. Even buildings with glass siding, reflects objects behind it. Watching a helicopter fly past me, off screen, via the glass on a skyscraper is truly impressive. Delsin’s powers and effects are bright, colorful, and are likely filled with a mind boggling amount of polygons.
The game looks great, but how does it play? Fundamentally, everything is solid. I had no problem with the frame rate, loading times, or glitching. Gameplay is tight and responsive as ever. Sucker Punch places inFamous veterans in familiar territory: an expansive city, main and side missions, collectibles, and karma opportunities. In this regard Second Son doesn’t do much different than prior installments. This has both good and bad consequences. InFamous is as much fun to play as ever, running around the city defeating enemies and using various powers. However, it does nothing radically different to separate it from InFamous 1 or 2, which mean players won’t be blown away by gameplay. I’ll get into all the components that make up Second Son, so let’s start with a bang and discuss some powers.
To avoid spoilers, I will mention only smoke and neon, as those have been featured in multiple videos before the games’ release. Through a series of inconvenient circumstances, Delsin Rowe finds himself in possession of a conduit power. Whereas Cole used a more familiar power, electricity, Delsin sports something not often seen: smoke. I’ve seen gameplay videos leading up to the game’s release, but was unsure exactly how the smoke ability would feel and play. I left my uncertainties behind when I got full reins of the conduit power. Smoke may sound weak, but it can pack one hell of a punch. Smoke and all subsequent powers Delsin “acquires” are as unique as smoke and are equally fun to play with. Each additional power unlocks another part of a skill tree that Delsin can upgrade using blast shards. Some skills are neutral while others can only be unlocked with a certain level and type of karma. The difference between these good and evil abilities slightly changes the way Delsin uses his powers; either to subdue or kill his enemies.
When referring to Delsin’s powers as a whole, each one functions differently enough that no two powers feel like exact copies. However, they are all cut from the same cloth so to say. For example, each power is used through Delsin’s hands as a projectile: smoke has a medium rate of fire and shoots in bursts, while Neon has a slow rate of fire and is used more for longer distances. The 3rd power Delsin acquires has a fast-rate of fire and is used for shorter distances. What results is a strange relationship between the abilities: players may want to use certain powers for certain situations, however they are not different enough that situations arise where a certain power is absolutely needed. If players want to play the entire game using smoke (except when the main campaign forces you not too) they can. This also stems from the lack of enemy diversity. DUP soldiers aren’t varied enough that certain power are more effective against certain types. The same can be said for a lot of Delsin’s powers: similar functions that have a slight difference in use and execution. It’s a shame that with these distinct powers, and I mean distinct, that there is so much similarity between the function of the powers in Second Son. To make matters worse these powers are quite similar in function to those used by Cole MacGrath.
The power(s) at Delsin’s fingertips feel and execute similarly to Cole’s electricity. Delsin can shoot Smoke (and other acquired powers) through his hands much like Cole’s electric powers. Cole uses Shock Grenades that affect a wide area; similarly Sulfur Bomb and Stasis Bubble are wide area attacks, but have different effects. Sulfur Bombs cause enemies to cough, while Neon’s Stasis Bubble traps enemies within a confined space for a few moments. All conduit abilities Delsin has come with a heavy attack by using the R1 button. Cinder Missile and Phosphor Beam are two examples of such an attack. They are limited to a number of uses before Delsin needs to replenish energy. While this is an added feature, these attacks mirror Cole’s Megawatt Hammer (or Rockets in iF2), as they are all straight-firing ranged attacks that cause large damage. All heavy attacks in Second Son operate in the same way, but with different aesthetics. The last ability Delsin acquires has a wide effect added to the heavy attack.
The Neon ability, Laser Focus, slows movements down when aiming and also zooms in on enemies, much like Cole’s ability Precision. Both Cole and Delsin can use cars as spring boards to jump higher; Car Boost in Second Son and Induction Launch in inFAMOUS 2. Dropping from buildings and causing an impact on the landing returns as well (called Thunder Drop for Cole). Every conduit ability Delsin acquires implements this attack. Cinder Blast is a short range, wide area attack much like Cole’s Electromagnetic Shockwave. Cole’s Static Thrusters make their return, but are not called by an actual ability name in Second Son. Each ability Delsin acquires can use these “thrusters” to levitate and prolong their flight/jump time when moving across Seattle rooftops. Lastly, akin to Cole’s Ionic Storm and Ionic Vortex abilities, Delsin can go on a “karmic streak” by stacking either good or evil karma and unleash a devastating attack, wiping out all enemies in the process. Overall, these abilities are not the same as Cole’s, just fundamentally so. As such these abilities are still fun to use, but don’t revolutionize the combat we’ve seen previously.
At this point you may be asking what positive aspects there are to Delsin’s powers. Make no mistake; running around the city using your conduit gifts is as fun as ever. Controls are tight and accurate and Delsin feels powerful regardless of ability. There is also the added feature of freely switching between powers by draining their respective power sources. Neon signs, smoke stacks, and other power-sources are dispersed evenly throughout the city, making finding and switching powers convenient. The strongest aspect of Delsin’s arsenal is surprisingly city traversal. I spent a long time in inFAMOUS 1 and 2 climbing up buildings. In Second Son climbing still exists but plays second fiddle here. The city is designed in such a way, that power traversal in convenient. Vents at the base of buildings allow Delsin to enter, using his Vent Dash ability, and end with him exiting on a rooftop. Getting to the top of a building takes seconds. With the Double Air Dash smoke ability, short rooftops are also an easy reach. While using Neon, running on the ground is now a viable option. Neon’s ability, Light Speed, allows Delsin to run up almost any surface, including straight up the sides of buildings without any problems. When fully upgraded to Endless Run, Light Speed lasts indefinitely. Getting from place to place in the city, maneuvering around battlefields, or getting out of sticky situations is much easier with Second Son’s traversal. In this way I sought out certain powers based on their traversal, rather than their combat abilities.
While melee has never been a strong aspect of combat in the inFAMOUS franchise, Second Son doesn’t take a step forward, but rather a step back. Delsin’s weapon of choice is a heavy chain that he uses this for his all melee attacks. Much like Cole’s AMP in inFAMOUS 2, he uses a repeating combo. Unlike the AMP you cannot build to finishing moves. While the chain does change appearances depending on what power you use, melee combat is mundane. Sucker Punch could have added some depth with the melee considering what a long chain can be used for; Delsin could use it to bind fast moving opponents to him allowing for close range attacks. He could also use the chain to grab enemies and bring them in, then use these enemies as human shield when under heavy fire. There is one other ability in melee, Dash Strike, which lunges Delsin towards an enemy and attacks in a sweeping motion. Further upgrades allow Delsin to either subdue or kill his enemy. It’s a nice move to use in situations, but doesn’t work on bigger enemies.
What are powers if there is nothing to use them on? Second Son doesn’t lack enemies in the quantity department that much is certain. However there are only a handful of different types, especially when compared to the many different enemies that appear in inFAMOUS 1 and 2. These DUP soldiers wield cement conduit powers. At first the DUP enemies are interesting to fight, but new types are not introduced frequently to keep things interesting. Second Son tries to overwhelm Delsin by sheer numbers rather than pairing up different types to test player’s use of their powers or forcing players to switch powers to gain an advantage. The good news is that the action never lets up and while the game is not too difficult, players can find themselves quickly overwhelmed. The best (or worst, depending on how much you enjoy combat) situations occur when taking over concrete fortresses in the city. Enemies are on various platforms and on varying heights, which cause logistical problems for Delsin. Combat can escalate quickly, especially when helicopters and turrets are added into the mix.
As with past games the bulk of gameplay is made up of a main campaign and side missions. The main campaign is solid and will keep your attention from beginning to end. This is largely due to the interesting characters introduced over the course of the story, as well as a great villain in Brooke Augustine (not a spoiler). Overall the main campaign can best be described as “safe”. Second Son lacks truly memorable game defining missions, but at the same time none of them are bad. Second Son does execute its boss battles well. Setting up situations that are interesting in their presentation and execution, meaning boss battles aren’t repetitive. The other downside to the main campaign is the lack of differing missions between good karma vs evil karma playthroughs. There are only two times during the campaign where you’re decisions will result in differing missions. This is an incredibly low amount compared to past inFAMOUS games. Two differing missions and an evil karma ending might not be enough of a reason to play the game twice, although it will depend on how much players enjoy the game on an individual basis. Both endings are satisfying, although the good ending is fairly predictable the evil ending truly reflects Delsin’s actions during the course of the game.
The other half of gameplay consists of side missions. For the most part these side missions are… how can I put this nicely? Mundane… maybe that’s not too nice, but it’s true. Before you can attempt these side missions, a district’s DUP mobile command center must be destroyed. This gameplay aspect also returns form past games, where the city is being controlled by the enemy and Delsin, by completing missions, can liberate sections of the city. For clarification, Cole turned on sections of the cities electrical power while Delsin must destroy mobile command centers. After doing so, blast shards locations and missions become accessible. Thankfully blast shards are located on the map, which means no more running around the city aimlessly hunting down blast shards.
These are the side mission categories: hidden cameras, secret agents, audio logs, stencil art, and district showdowns. Hidden cameras involve Delsin locating and eliminating a hidden camera. Players are given a hint from the camera’s point of view, often including a visible Delsin in the camera’s range. Secret agents are undercover DUP operatives, hiding in plain sight (literally). A picture of the agent (how we got this, I have no clue) is given and Delsin is tasked to find them. Like hidden camera’s these operatives can be found quite easily and with minimal effort. Audio logs also make a return from past games, but as side missions this time. All it takes is a few minutes to locate the device, and instead tying these logs to a familiar character, an unknown NPC gives insight into Augustine and Curdun Cay Prison. These audio logs are interesting, but lack the same impact as audio logs in inFAMOUS 1, as John White was an actual character in the game with a real impact on the story.
The last two side missions are stencil art and district showdowns. Surprisingly, I enjoyed stencil art which made use of the Dualshock 4’s light bar and motion technology. Here, Delsin has the option of tagging buildings around the city with depictions of good or bad karma art. It was enjoyable to see what the art ended up being, in addition to having a lasting impact on the city itself. As the stencil art is visible after the mission is completed. District showdowns, consist of a final fight between a districts remaining DUP forces and Delsin. These become available when the district falls under a certain percent of DUP control. Each showdown has a different wave of enemies attacking Delsin, once completed fast travel for that district is enabled.
Similar to main missions, side missions are marked on the map and can be initiated while standing under the marker. There is no NPC interaction to start these side missions. Due to the exclusion of this aspect, Seattle as large and beautiful as it is… feels a bit empty. When looking back at inFAMOUS 2 there are no categories that side missions fall into, there might be repeat missions but they are much more varied than in Second Son. Completing missions gives a portrayal that Cole is making an impact on the city, especially when conversing with residents of the city. Since this is the first outing for Sucker Punch on the PS4, I don’t know if the simple side missions and lack of NPC interaction was due to limited resources, time constraints, or laziness.
Lastly, karma opportunities are given to players to either progress their good karma or evil karma. Indicated by red and blue icons on the mini-map, these can involve drug busts or healing for good karma whereas killing protestors or street musicians give Delsin evil karma. These may seem familiar, as similar karma opportunities were used in previous inFAMOUS games. Besides progressing towards your full karma path, these karma opportunities do not impact the city or the game in any way. Much like side missions these karma opportunities lose their luster pretty fast. After a few times stopping drug busts, players will probably ignore these opportunities. Repeating karma opportunity missions for karma can feel like a grind at times, something that’s not too desirable in an open world action-adventure game.
Another strong aspect of Second Son is its cast of characters. Sucker Punch’s veritable… second son… (stretch of a pun, but it’s all I got), Delsin Rowe is the main protagonist. He is a delinquent who frequently gets arrested by his older brother, Sheriff Reggie Rowe. The difference between their personalities creates a nice juxtaposition as the story progresses. Reggie understands the weight of Delsin’s newfound power and the implications it has, while Delsin is more concerned about running around doing cool conduit stuff. At times this switches; Delsin reminds Reggie why they are pursuing Augustine while Reggie’s main focus can shift to “curing” Delsin. This gives room for Delsin to mature and grow as a character, either in a positive or negative way depending on karma choice. Their dialogue and different views on Delsin’s situation keep things interesting. Second Son also has a humor that largely works, but can be childish at times. All in all, these two characters act realistically based on their personalities. The only drawback between Reggie and Delsin’s relationship is during an evil karma playthrough. Despite how many innocent people Delsin kills, Reggie doesn’t act differently than in the good karma playthrough. He doesn’t move to directly oppose Delsin or attempt to bring him into custody. This makes their relationship feel unnatural considering the circumstances.
The rest of the cast and main protagonist Brooke Augustine, all have their own personal motivations to achieve their goals… or enact their revenge. Much like Delsin and Reggie, these characters are interesting, well written, and act realistically within the world they live in. I don’t want to go too much into detail to avoid spoilers about the characters, but take my word for it. Brooke Augustine is a villain that will strike a chord with players. She is an easy a character to detest, and for villains, this is a good thing. I want to give credit to her voice actor Christine Dunford for doing a great job with this character. While I’m at it, all the voice actors did a fantastic job in bringing these characters to life.
Sucker Punch played it safe with Second Son. It doesn’t break new ground in the inFAMOUS franchise from a gameplay or story perspective. At the same time, its a really good game despite the fact its predecessors have done certain gameplay aspects better. Despite my criticisms that make this review seem overly negative at times, Second Son is a good game that’s really fun to play. The game is visually and technically fantastic, the game’s premise is interesting and filled with great characters, in addition to sporting some truly unique abilities. However these conduit powers function in similar ways, with ability concepts seen in past games. The good news is that traveling throughout the city is easier than ever, it’s quick and fun with limited climbing. Karma opportunities are recycled from prior games, and become dull fairly quickly. There are plenty of side missions, but they fall into a few boring categories with no NPC interaction. What results is a large, beautiful recreation of Seattle that feels empty despite the amount of detail put into it. The main campaign is solid, but the story (while good) can be predictable and doesn’t do anything to match its predecessors in terms of narrative, scope, and missions. If you’ve enjoyed past inFAMOUS games then you’ll enjoy this one. If you’re looking for a game to top inFAMOUS 2, or the reason to finally buy a PS4 you might want to hold off.