Thursday, December 18, 2014

Infamous Second Son

Ever since the first Infamous game came out in 2009, I’ve been anticipating each installment by Sucker Punch. I remember liking the original game as well as Infamous 2, so I naturally wanted to play the PS4 installment, Infamous Second Son. However, it wouldn’t be until after my birthday that I’d be able to get it (I ordered it online so I could play the Limited Edition), and even then college eventually got in the way of my play time, so I couldn’t finish my standard two playthroughs until my finals ended. After having finally done so in time for Trophy Unlocked's fourth anniversary, I would say that Infamous Second Son is definitely worth playing, though it’s not without a couple of hang-ups.

Delsin Rowe is a graffiti artist living on the Akomish reservation. After his brother Reggie, a police officer, catches him spray-painting again, Delsin runs away, but Reggie stops him and scolds him for having to be arrested again. The resulting argument is interrupted when a military convoy carrying three Conduit prisoners crashes on the reservation. Delsin ends up touching one of the prisoners, a man named Hank, and gains abilities related to smoke. Seeking answers, he chases Hank and manages to corner him, only for Brooke Augustine, the director of the Department of Unified Protection (D.U.P.), to show up and trap Hank in concrete. Augustine quickly finds out about Delsin’s powers and puts him in a coma. A week later, Delsin wakes up and finds that Augustine used her powers to injure everyone on the reservation with her concrete powers. In an effort to save them, Delsin heads with Reggie to Seattle to confront Augustine and gain her concrete abilities so that he may heal everyone in the Akomish tribe.

The story has solid writing, with enough character development to let the player figure out Reggie and Delsin’s personalities. Other important characters, Hank, Fetch and Eugene, are less three-dimensional, but they have their own character arcs that show development on their end, as well as back story via comic book-style cutscenes, and feel more involved in the story. The Karma system returns from the first two games and still influences power modifiers and story paths. However, no matter what Karma route you pick, the story will play out in nearly the same way except for the very ending or what the minor characters say and believe. Since I played the game twice, I also noticed that though the numerous side activities around Seattle can lengthen the game immensely, the actual story feels a little short. I’m not really certain as to how long it takes, but I felt like it could have been lengthened a little or had some more character development worked in.

Seattle is very well rendered. Though I haven’t been to the city in real life, I would say that Sucker Punch did an amazing job with recreating iconic landmarks like the Space Needle. They also did a good job capturing the feel of Seattle, which was the goal anyway since this is more of a fictionalized version of the city, though this feeling is based on what I’ve seen from Strip Search and countless episodes of Frasier. The character models look very realistic without dipping into the uncanny valley and Delsin’s powers all look very cool during use, with various effects applied so as to make them believable to the setting. I also liked the lighting effects during the different times of day, as it added a layer of realism to the world and shows how well the PS4 is able to render day and night, although certain conditions can make specific side missions requiring good sight a little more difficult to complete, though I’m more willing to blame the angles I put the camera at. Also, I didn’t really come across any glitches, except for a specific one where Delsin can slide down a specific building’s support and clip all the way through the ground.

The game's graphics are top notch.

Gameplay in this installment is definitely improved from the previous ones. Delsin’s conduit ability is that he can steal powers from other conduits, so there’s an easier explanation for how he can have, at the end of the game, four different powers at his disposal (I won’t go beyond Smoke to avoid spoilers). Each of these powers has their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as different methods of mobility, so any player can figure out a power which suits their play style. Karma can also determine the sort of additional upgrades you can gain with collected Blast Shards, so it’s worth it to play through the game twice to see what Delsin is truly capable of, though I did notice that Good Karma abilities tend to take the more nonlethal or healing approach as opposed to Evil Karma focusing on death and destruction. The only thing I was unsure of was the fact that powers are switched by absorbing it from the environment as opposed to using the d-pad (think Devil May Cry 4 style switching), although the fact that the strongest abilities are mapped to the Down button may justify it for some.

Like in previous Infamous games, Karma is altered depending on either story choices or actions in the environment. These actions can include side tasks such as drug busts or clearing an area of Akura gang members, though these are designed to be done quickly and you can, of course, always just kill random civilians for quick Evil Karma. Karma isn’t so easily swayed though, since the Good and Evil sides each have five levels as Delsin reaches either Hero or Infamous rank. The biggest addition is the ability to free different districts of Seattle from D.U.P. control by completing actual side missions, such as destroying mobile command centers, killing secret agents or finding the location of a hidden file. Completing a certain mission from each district that unlocks whenever the D.U.P. control of that district reaches 30% or lower will also unlock Fast Travel locations for easy travel across the rather large city. What I found most interesting was that Seattle is divided into an upper and lower half separated by a bridge, which can also sort of separate the difficulty level of the game, since the lower half can definitely get more intense than the upper half.

If there’s one thing I really didn’t like however, it would be (optional) Paper Trail DLC. Paper Trail is essentially an ARG built into the game in which Deslin confronts a Conduit with paper-based abilities. During this extended encounter, players are encouraged to visit an external website to solve various clues left behind by the Conduit, though the clues are often cryptic and may necessitate consulting an online guide. Just to add to the frustration, these clues are often solved by doing something in the real world, such as printing out an origami dove and folding it until certain numbers are visible, which you then enter in as a password on an additional website. The worst part of this ordeal though is that when you finish all parts, some of which require the external website to activate, you don’t get any paper powers or anything. I’d only recommend a player do this if they either want more unlockable jackets or want to wear the mask that the paper Conduit wears.

I actually had to do this for a code within Paper Trail.

On the other hand, the Limited Edition’s Cole’s Legacy missions are actually quite interesting. The story arc is overall pretty short and consists mostly of locating audio reports, but it provides long-time fans with some insight as to what happened to Cole and Zeke after the events of Infamous 2. I would say that the Limited Edition is worth buying for this, plus you get to wear Cole’s jacket when it’s all over, which is a nice touch.

Before I end this review, I’d like to also talk about how the game uses the PS4’s controller. The DualShock 4 is used in the sort of way that a tech demo would, by taking advantage of as many of a system’s features as possible, but in this case the features are integrated in such a way that it doesn’t feel like a tech demo at all. The touch pad is used to great effect as both an immersive function a la finger scanning as well as the dedicated button for absorbing new power or Blast Shards and picking up audio logs. Additionally, the speaker is used for phone alerts and additional audio, plus when combined with the built-in Move functionality it makes the act of spray painting even more immersive; as an additional touch, the Move light on the controller changes color to match the color of paint.

Overall, Infamous Second Son is a game worth playing. The story, though not the best, is pretty solid, the gameplay is better than before and Seattle is rendered extremely well. Karma is a bit binary here, but I actually liked the simplicity and I felt that in some ways my choices still mattered. Paper Trail can be rewarding for some, but in my case I found it too tedious to be worth the trouble. The game also manages to take advantage of several of the PS4’s features without at all feeling like a tech demo and the music is written and integrated very well. If you’re a fan of the Infamous franchise then this is a definite buy, but I’d also recommend this game to those looking for a great addition, or start, to their PS4 library.

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