inFamous Second Son: review

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There’s a lot riding on the superpowered shoulders of inFamous: Second Son. Killzone Shadow Fall sold extremely well – but when the dust settled, a lot of people walked away unimpressed. There’s no next-gen Gran Turismo, Driveclub has been pushed back from launch to ‘almost definitely 2014’, there’s not so much as a screenshot of the new Uncharted; Sony needs a top quality, high-profile PS4 exclusive to ensure sales of their new machine keep their momentum. Is this it?

Although there’s an optional encounter with Zeke and a few relevant Easter eggs, Cole McGrath – the hero/villain of the previous two games – has otherwise disappeared completely. You here take control of Delsin Rowe, a Native American who’s young, painfully hip, but thankfully (generally) not annoying. His straight-laced cop brother plays a part in most of the story, which – as you may already have guessed – leans a little too heavily on clichés and stereotypes. It’s not bad by any means, and some of the dialogue is actually quite witty. As a result of following paths trodden before however the plot twists are consistently predictable, and much of what is said is instantly forgettable.

That’s a shame, especially as the emphasis on story is much stronger here than in previous games (including full-blown cutscenes and lots of in-play speech). It doesn’t really matter though because now, even more than ever, Sucker Punch truly understand how to deliver when it comes to making you feel like a superhero – or, indeed, supervillain. You start powerless, but quickly open and start adding to your bag of tricks. Thanks to Delsin’s Heroes-style ability to absorb the powers of other conduits, your abilities come in a total of four flavours (the fourth held back until the story is over), each of which has several unlockable and upgradeable factors. First up is Smoke, which sets the basic template for the others to come – melee, projectiles, incapacitating grenades, hovering, and a dash. The Smoke dash allows you to pass through chain link fences and gates, which never stops being cool.

It’s a shame that ‘proper’ screenshots aren’t used to promote the game, as it looks good enough as it is.

As you gain new types of power, things just get bigger, better, and more impressive – which is a double edged sword. As soon as you start getting access to the powers that come after Smoke, you’ll never want to go back. This is partly because certain powers and/or upgrades make combat easier, but also because the next two ‘dash’ abilities make navigating the city quicker, easier, and more fun than any Assassin’s Creed game. This means that when the story inevitably forces you to go back to Smoke (rarely, and never for too long), it can be a little frustrating.

The worry with empowering the player in this way, of course, is that the game will present little to no challenge. This is a valid concern to an extent, which is why we’d recommend Expert difficulty for a first playthrough. The rentasoldiers which make up the bulk of your enemies almost always attack en masse, and have limited powers of their own – plus of course there are some more powerful tank-type chaps who don’t go down quite so easy. On Expert at least, this means that no matter how powered up you are, you can die quite easily if you simply stay out in the open trying to look awesome. In addition your powers drain a gauge which needs to be refilled via the environment (which is also how you switch power types), and your most powerful projectiles are limited to just a few. Upgrades are bought with blast shards, which here are blissfully easier to locate and nab than in previous games. Some upgrades have an additional prerequisite for unlocking – a certain level of good or bad Karma.

Yes the Karma system returns and, as always, good or bad decisions are always signposted as such. That’s the way inFamous has always done things and, besides, there’s nothing wrong with that. There are major story decisions which result in different cutscenes and missions, but there are also hundreds of little decisions between that which all add up. This usually means sparing or executing enemies (and civilians), and optional activities marked as boosting your Good or Evil. New to the series is stencil-art graffiti. The idea is that you hold and use the DualShock 4 as a spray can but it simply doesn’t work, and feels awkward. It’s clearly meant to add to the grunge vibe (it’s no coincidence that the city is Seattle, and there are licensed songs from Sub Pop), but this is one idea we hope is abandoned.

“Do you mind if I SMOKE?!?”

There’s plenty to do outside of the story, most of which is tied together by the idea of driving the DUP (the rentasoldier militia) out of Seattle. You can approach most of these tasks in a variety of ways thanks to your powers, but iSS falls into the trap that ensnares most open-world games – there’s lots to do, but not a huge amount of variety in what you do or how you do it.

It’s a great looking game, with some brilliant lighting and other visual effects that make your superpowers look as cool as possible. Frustrating moments are few and far between, even on the highest difficulty, and it’s great fun to Super your way through the story. Said story isn’t particularly long but that, combined with the Karma system, is a positive in that most people are likely to give it a second playthrough. There’s a question mark over how much people will stick with it outside of the story, but it’s great fun for however long it lasts you – and we look forward to what we hope is the inevitable sequel.

critical score 8

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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