Review: inFAMOUS Second Son (PS4)

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Title: inFAMOUS Second Son
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (24 GB)
Release Date: March 21, 2014
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
inFAMOUS Second Son is exclusive to PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Golden Minecart Award Winner 2014:
– Best Action/Adventure Game (PS4)

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 363 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
inFAMOUS Second Son rolls onto the PlayStation 4 with high expectations. The first two games in the series gave us a tantalizing look at what it would be like to have superpowers along with an interesting morality component. There have been some changes this time around. Whereas we were given fictional versions of New York and New Orleans (Empire City and New Marais respectively) in the first two games, Second Son drops us in Seattle, with no pretense of it being anything else.

It’s an interesting choice and one that works well over the course of the game. The immersion is at a much higher level due to the power that the PS4 affords the developers. Speaking of which, Sucker Punch is also conveniently based in Seattle, so making this game allowed them to bring to life a city that they know intimately and it shows.

You’ll play as Delsin, a Native American graffiti artist and all around troublemaker. You’ll be faced with moral choices along the way much like in the first two games and your actions will dictate how the story plays out and what powers you’ll gain access to, just as before.

So beyond the real world location and main character, what’s really different about Second Son? For starters, your powers. You’ll (eventually) have access to four different powers, none of which has ever been seen before in an inFAMOUS game. I’ll only be touching upon the first two so as not to spoil anything about the others.

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You’ll start with Smoke, which might not sound like much, but it really packs a punch. You’ll have your basic melee and projectile attacks that become devastating after a few upgrades. Speaking of which, in another big change, there’s no more hunting for hundreds of shards to upgrade your powers. The first two games involved accidents early on which spread them all over their respective cities. Seattle was a normal place, only recently occupied by the Department of Unified Protection (D.U.P. For short); these are the guys tasked with hunting down conduits, now labelled as Bio-Terrorists. Shards will come, but they’ll show up on your map long before the end of the game and they’re handled in a much better way overall.

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed at Delsin’s stuttering movement up the side of buildings which hasn’t really changed much from the first two games. The powers you gain tend to diminish this as an issue, but it’s still there. Pedestrian AI feels very last-gen which was another minor disappointment. While there are plenty of people on the streets, their movements just don’t feel genuine. Start a battle and they’ll run, but when it’s all over anyone remaining will often ignore you, as if half the street didn’t just blow up right next to them. They often cower in fear with that wonderful synchronized movement we’ve seen in nearly every video game sports crowd.

Having a real world environment, coupled with all the power the PS4 could throw at it makes for quite an atmospheric change in an inFAMOUS game. I’ve never been to Seattle and now that I’ve had a taste, I’d really like to. Sucker Punch pulled in some famous landmarks and Seattle businesses, including a particular music label that made me swoon. Everything just feels much more real this time around. The story itself is pretty decent, but it really doesn’t hold a candle to inFAMOUS 2.

The light bar, touch pad and speaker on the DualShock 4 are all used quite creatively. The light bar starts off white and over the course of the game will gradually change to red or blue depending on which karmic path you take. It’s actually a nice visual cue. The touch pad is used to open things and drain cores and it feels so natural that it’ll be hard going back to the button combinations of the first two games. The speaker is used sparingly but effectively but I don’t really want to discuss how as it might spoil some pretty cool things in the game.

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It’s still inFAMOUS, you’ll fight to clear out an area, play a story mission and so on. That’s really one of the odd things about this game. Don’t get me wrong, the game is a load of fun and everything you can do with the new power is wild, but the city is divided into sectors and opening them up involves the same checklist every time. It’s not necessarily bad, but a little more variation would have helped here as it’s a lot of “same stuff, different location”.

Veterans of the series also might want to up the difficulty a bit right off the bat. I played through on normal, fully evil karma, and breezed through with few problems up until the (somewhat infuriating) final showdown. I plan on doing a second run-through going full-on good karma.

Visuals:
This one’s a stunner folks. The lighting is unlike anything you’ve ever seen in a console game. Living and working in and around the real-world neighborhoods allowed Sucker Punch to really get a ton of reference material when building the game. They put all of it to good use in throwing everything the PlayStation 4 has at it.

You’ll experience the city at different times of day, in the rain, the fog, even at night. Each new look will make your jaw drop at the beauty and realism of the lighting and shadows, the reflections in the puddles, all of it. More amazing is that in the midst of all that, with heavy action thrown on top, the game never skips a beat, no slowdown whatsoever.

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Character faces are, for the most part, pretty stunning as well. It’s clear that the most work was put into Delsin as he gets the most screen time but it’s clear that great care was taken with the other major characters too. Hair… well, it’s good but it didn’t really do anything to show off the power of the PS4.

Your powers as a Conduit however, wow. The swirling smoke and flames look drop dead gorgeous in motion and Delsin’s transformation when entering and exiting vents is an incredibly cool effect. Neon seems like an odd choice, until you see what you can do with it. Running through the city at “neon speed” is something that has to be seen in action to truly appreciate it.

While things look great and the framerate is rock-solid, I did experience pop-in every now and then. It tends to be rare, really nothing like the previous games in the series, but just seeing it happen at all was a bit of a surprise and kind of a let down.

Audio:
The voice work is everything you could hope for and more. Every character shows a beautiful range of emotion led by the Nolan North of 2013-14, Troy Baker. His performance as Delsin hits all the right notes and really helps you to empathize with the character.

The powers and ambient sounds of Seattle also shine. Ever wonder what Neon sounds like in action? Well, I didn’t actually, but when I heard it I realized that’s exactly how it should sound, and it’s awesome. Traffic in the distance, birds in the background, a D.U.P. tower crashing to the ground, gunshots, the tell-tale rumble of a patrol vehicle; it’s all designed to pull you in and immerse you deeply in the world, and it succeeds.

The music, sadly, is a little lackluster. The theme song is excellent but beyond that… there’s just not a whole lot going on. It’s either buried too far down in the mix or it’s just plain forgettable. It’s really a shame considering the stellar soundtrack of inFAMOUS 2.

The other low point would be the ancillary characters. D.U.P. patrols and pedestrians alike tend to spout the same few lines over and over. There’s a bit of variation here and there like the protesters changing their chants later in the game but in general I expected more in this new generation.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

Conclusion:
It’s a gorgeous game with lots of action and amazing powers. The story is good, but doesn’t feel quite up to the level of inFAMOUS 2. The action gets crazy at times (in a good way) and it’s great to see the series hit the PlayStation 4 so early in the lifecycle.

The bottom line is that you’re probably gonna love this game. Minor issues aside, and they are minor issues, inFAMOUS Second Son is an excellent addition to the series and gives us a great taste of the potential of the PlayStation 4’s power.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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