Infamous: Second Son Review – Freedom in All but Its Morality System

infamous-second-son-boxart Infamous: Second Son Review - Freedom in All but Its Morality SystemInfamous: Second Son is the sort of game where a cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” (by Dead Sara) plays over the credits. It opens with new series lead Delsin Rowe (Troy Baker) tagging up a billboard. The player has to hold the DualShock 4 on its side, using the trigger as if it were a spray can nozzle. It wants to be edgy and cool. And at times it is, presenting a fluid, real feeling open-world Seattle and allowing you to move through and around it with terrific slickness using Delvin’s myriad of superpowers (he’s a “Conduit”, someone who has special genetic superpowers, which allow him to take other people’s powers). There’s a lot of freedom in movement at gameplay. At the same time it flashes up a message when you are near drug dealers saying that “drugs are dangerous and illegal” and that destroying them dishes out good karma.

In the 8th gen era it’s this and its over needlessly binary, black and white morality systems that puts the game at odds with itself. It constantly presents things that are just plain good, or just plain evil. This was interesting and fine in the past when action adventure games like this were exploring these kinds of things for the first time, and technical limitations were an issue, but it doesn’t really gel with the current generation.

Not only are drugs bust “good” (even when using very unnecessary force) or dispersing protesters “evil”, but there are also certain points where you are forced to make a specific plot choice. Time comes to a stand still and you can examine the two options at your leisure. They are comically binary. One lets you choose to either help redeem a fellow Conduit and reform them from being a killer, to helping them become more of a merciless killer. There are a handful of sections in the game where you will do a good mission or an evil mission based on your karma up to that point, but besides those there’s not that much difference, the plot going in the same straight line either way.

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More interesting is the way your morality blocks out certain upgrade paths. If you’re taking the good path you can’t get the more deadly, explosive upgrades, for instance. It makes sense, and no upgrade paths go too deep, so it doesn’t feel like it’s locking you out of too much. These are bought using “blast shards” – obtainable through various collectibles on the map. There’s a wealth of them available, but they all match up to upgrades 100%. But, with only a couple of powers available early on its possible to have an abundance to upgrade with, and collecting them is easy enough. Side missions don’t give you blast shards and are generally more annoying and repetitive, from having to figure out where a hidden camera is based on its video feed, to following your phone to find an audio file, or picking an undercover DUP agent out from a crowd – possibly trying to showcase a variety in NPC appearances that is less impressive than Sucker Punch thinks it is.

Each of Delsin’s powers have their own upgrade paths, but they’re all quite similar, just as how they’re similar in use. While there are differences between the powers, they all fit the same rough template. There’s a hover move, a shooting move, a dodge move, etc. There are only minor variations between them — for instance shooting an enemy in the head with the smoke power will stun them and take them down non-lethally, but do it with neon and it will kill them. Instead, with neon, you need to aim for the feet to wrap them up. Those two powers are the earliest you get in the game, and while the others are a little bit more different, they’re still very similar.

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I’ve seen people praise the combat in Infamous Second Son, but I don’t really see it. It’s very basic. Delsin has a simple three hit melee combo he can do, but the focus here is on shooting, really, the game even having a reticle in the center of the screen at all times. The different types of shots are probably the most interesting variation between the powers (though that’s not saying much), and blasting enemies into non-lethal submission from a distance is much more satisfying than the clunky close quarters combat.

The story is decent — the standard “mutant superpower” kind of story where the government are bad and people are distrustful of those with powers. The acting seemed like it could be great at first, but it kind of ended up being hampered by a script at times dull and a little bit lame. But, most of the time, the actors have enough chemistry to see it through. Delsin isn’t exactly the most likeable of protagonists, but I thought that made it interesting, and his path moreso. I haven’t played the first Infamous games, so I don’t know how the game compares to the first two. The story and characters hint at more depth than it’s possible to explore in the games morality system, though, which feels pretty annoying.

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Infamous: Second Son was a PS4 “launch window” game, and it does a great job at moving the mission-based third-person action adventure open world game into the new generation. There’s freedom and fluidity in a lot of game design, none moreso than the ease with which you can traverse the wonderfully colourful rendition of Seattle. But it also brings with it some of the pitfalls of the previous generation, which don’t play well with the scope Infamous: Second Son really wants to get at. I’d be up for a sequel, but, this far into the 8th generation, the morality system really needs revising.

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