‘inFAMOUS: Second Son’ is a technological marvel

4/5 Pitchforks

Every new console release has that one most anticipated game that validates being an early adopter. “inFAMOUS: Second Son” was that very game when I bought my PlayStation 4. I had high expectations for my first must-have game. It doesn’t quite meet those lofty expectations, but it is a solid, entertaining game that gives players a glimpse into the future of graphic fidelity and animation on the PS4.

Several years after the events of “inFAMOUS 2,” this third game in the open-world adventure series focuses on new protagonist, Delsin Rowe. He’s the local delinquent from a fictional Native American tribe who uses any surface as a canvas for his graffiti art. A chance encounter with humans with superpowers reveals Rowe is a Conduit with the ability to absorb powers from other Conduits. Rowe’s anti-establishment attitude and a threat to his tribe causes him to butt heads with the Department of Unified Protection, and they take their fight to the first real world city setting in the inFAMOUS series: Seattle. The by-the-numbers story doesn’t break any new ground and the morality system still gives players a false sense of choice since the outcomes of the story beats are still determined. Thankfully, the supporting cast is much more interesting and less slapstick comical than the previous games.

Sucker Punch Productions, located in Bellevue, Wash., really talked up the development of Second Son and the digital version of Seattle. As a resident in the Seattle area, I have been asked how it compares, and that’s a tough question to answer. On one hand, Sucker Punch did an amazing job in nailing some of the details that make Seattle unique beyond the Space Needle. There are sections of the city that are exactly like the areas after which they’re modeled, like the Pacific Science Center. Sucker Punch even went as far as including local businesses in the game to add flavor, such as the Elephant Car Wash, the Crocodile but no major coffee conglomerates. On the other hand, there are no stadiums — we did just win a Super Bowl after all and there is an international district that looks like it belongs in the Hong Kong-based “Sleeping Dogs” video game instead of inFAMOUS.

 

 

The magnificent graphics and animations are the game’s mightiest assets. There is so much going on under the hood that it would be easy to take it all for granted. Every movement and facial feature animations are motion captured, creating a new standard in 3-D animations. The character models feature details like skin imperfections, pores and moles. This technology is light years ahead of anything seen in previous gaming generations.

On the surface, Second Son might seem like a vacuous experience. The combat hasn’t changed much from the previous games. Shoot projectiles or abuse a simple three-hit melee combo to take out enemies. That’s all you’ll really need as the enemies don’t exhibit much in the way of intelligence. Sucker Punch was far more creative with the superpowers this time around. Gone are the traditionally boring fire, ice and lightning attacks, replaced instead with powers utilizing smoke, neon and even video which are quickly interchangeable by absorbing the appropriate elements. The first time you unleash the orbital drop and Rowe smiles at the apex of a vertical, smoke trailing flight, is a jaw-dropping moment. Rowe’s ability to traverse the Seattle landscape by dashing at hyper neon speed or with limited video-flight capabilities truly captures the game’s essence. Unfortunately, traversal contributes to Second Son feeling too small as it can take seconds to move from one end of Seattle to the other.

Aside from Seattle being a very pretty snow globe, my biggest issue with Second Son was how lifeless the overall setting was. Yes, it rains and is overcast in the game. There are far less people milling about the city than I expected, and it was pretty disappointing to see so many of the same character and car models frequently popping up. It also doesn’t help that taking on side missions and collecting shards feel more like busy work than anything.

“inFAMOUS: Second Son” takes the series to new visual heights for gaming on the PS4. The cast of characters, Rowe’s unique superpowers and the game’s setting in Seattle made for a more refreshing experience. Second Son quickly comes back to Earth with its lack of push in a bolder direction. Appreciate it for what it is — a mostly solid, entertaining entry in the infancy of the PlayStation 4.

Reach the reporter at michael.jerome.martin@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NefariousMike