In­fa­mous: Sec­ond Son

PS4

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Your in­tro­duc­tory ac­tion in In­fa­mous: Sec­ond Son is an awk­ward minigame in which you hold your DualShock 4 side­ways and van­dalise a bill­board with spray paint. You’re limited to pre­de­fined sten­cils and cur­tailed by the in­vis­i­ble square that keeps your paint in the cor­rect area of the hoard­ing. It’s hardly an aus­pi­cious start for a game that rep­re­sents, af­ter Kil­l­zone: Shadow Fall, our sec­ond real op­por­tu­nity to see what PlayS­ta­tion 4 can do when un­bur­dened by mul­ti­for­mat or cross-gen­er­a­tional con­cerns.

The dis­ap­point­ment is only height­ened by this sec­tion com­ing af­ter a scrolling wall of ex­pos­i­tory text and be­ing fol­lowed by a tu­to­rial that in­cludes in­vis­i­ble walls and re­veals an odd lack of con­nec­tion be­tween hero Delsin Rowe and his en­vi­ron­ment. Park­our feels skit­tish and glitchy, Rowe’s clumsy, flail­ing form of­ten clip­ping through ob­jects as he tries to gain pur­chase on one of the game’s in­nu­mer­able hand­holds. If it wasn’t for the breath­tak­ing view – and in terms of light­ing, shadow and de­tail, Sec­ond Son ex­ceeds even Shadow Fall’s vis­ual achieve­ments – it would be easy to con­fuse this with an early re­lease for the pre­vi­ous con­sole gen­er­a­tion. And not a very good one.

Things im­prove rapidly, though. Get past the wob­bly be­gin­ning and it be­comes clear that Sucker Punch has learned plenty from its past mis­takes. Rowe quickly gains pow­ers, and by the time he reaches Seat­tle – where he in­tends to seek re­venge for harm wreaked on his na­tive Amer­i­can home­town by the Depart­ment of Uni­fied Pro­tec­tion (DUP) – there’s no longer any need to clam­ber up the side of a build­ing, since you can turn to smoke and shoot up through a vent in­stead.

Rowe’s great­est skill is his abil­ity to ab­sorb the pow­ers of other su­per­hu­mans, known as con­duits (or ‘bioter­ror­ists’ in DUP par­lance), sim­ply by touch­ing them. In time, he’ll mas­ter pow­ers based on smoke, neon, tele­vi­sion sig­nals and con­crete, the lat­ter also wielded by the head of the DUP and many of its soldiers. Each set of pow­ers grants ac­cess to sev­eral abil­i­ties (ac­quired by lo­cat­ing DUP Core Re­lays and cracking them open) and has its own node-based up­grade tree. And each makes nav­i­gat­ing the city, and out­ma­noeu­vring en­e­mies, an un­remit­ting plea­sure.

One mis­sion sees us lo­cat­ing and in­ves­ti­gat­ing a se­ries of crime scenes as we try to track down an­other con­duit. We face no re­sis­tance at the first two, doc­u­ment­ing ev­i­dence with our phone and send­ing the pic­tures to Rowe’s brother, Reg­gie, a po­lice of­fi­cer and re­luc­tant ally. But by the time we reach the third, DUP of­fi­cers are al­ready swarm­ing around the scene and there’s no choice but to fight them. As­sault­ing an un­sus­pect­ing pa­trol with fo­cused blasts of cin­der sends them run­ning for cover, so we cir­cle round be­hind them to get in close and use our flam­ing chain to fin­ish the job. Then we dive into a vent at the base of a tower

Get past the wob­bly be­gin­ning and it be­comes clear Sucker Punch has learned plenty from its past mis­takes

block and launch out of the other end on the roof, tak­ing out two en­e­mies with cin­der shots be­fore we land, with a flame dash car­ry­ing us across the gap to an­other build­ing to deal with a sniper. Fi­nally, we plum­met down into the al­ley be­tween the struc­tures and punch the ground, send­ing out a shock­wave of flame that catches the re­main­ing DUP grunts off guard. Most en­coun­ters prove ev­ery bit as ex­cit­ing and dy­namic. En­e­mies make in­tel­li­gent use of cover and re­act vi­o­lently to the force of your su­per­pow­ered at­tacks, de­ploy­ing their own con­duit abil­i­ties to es­cape or re­tal­i­ate. The game’s main mis­sions are, for the most part, well de­signed and gen­er­ously por­tioned. Even the boss fights – bar two ex­am­ples, which out­stay their wel­come – are en­joy­able enough.

Those still haunted by the cold, empty stare of the se­ries’ pre­vi­ous star, Cole MacGrath, should also find them­selves heart­ened by Sec­ond Son’s cast. Sure, they’re all stock char­ac­ters: Delsin is the an­gry, re­bel­lious youth; Reg­gie, the se­ri­ous, pa­ter­nal older brother; Fetch, the ec­cen­tric girl with neon-pink hair. But they’re well­re­alised clichés, granted charm by good writ­ing and ex­cel­lent per­for­mance cap­ture. The story it­self is well told, too, and not over­long, fore­go­ing any at­tempt to pad out the game with filler.

In se­ries tra­di­tion, Rowe’s path is shaped by moral choices, too, but they’re tele­graphed with about as much subtlety as the neon that il­lu­mi­nates his Seat­tle. Fill­ing your Karma me­ter sees you progress to­ward Hero or Vil­lain sta­tus, and a chain of bad ac­tions (head­shots, civil­ian ex­e­cu­tions) or good ones (non­lethal take­downs, beat­ing up drug deal­ers) will grant you dif­fer­ent­coloured ver­sions of the screen-clear­ing Karmic Pow­ers. Char­ac­ters will also treat you dif­fer­ently in cutscenes ac­cord­ing to your choices, but your de­ci­sions have lit­tle real im­pact. Reg­gie might chas­tise you briefly if you opt not to pro­tect the in­no­cent – in­dis­crim­i­nately wip­ing out a squad of his Seat­tle-based col­leagues, say – but you’ll soon be ex­chang­ing sib­ling-ri­valry-fu­elled quips again. Still, if you de­cide to be a hero, your life is made harder by the need to aim for legs be­hind cover rather than ex­posed heads and to avoid col­lat­eral dam­age.

As an open-world game, Sec­ond Son feels ema­ci­ated. There’s lit­tle to do in the way of side mis­sions, and what is here be­comes repet­i­tive, un­likely to sus­tain in­ter­est be­yond a sin­gle playthrough. Ap­proach it as an ac­tion game that just hap­pens to be set in a non­lin­ear en­vi­ron­ment and it makes more sense, but its not­in­con­sid­er­able achieve­ments take ef­fort to un­cover. By the time you’ve gained the full suite of pow­ers, though, it’s easy to for­get its shaky first steps and im­pos­si­ble not to share Rowe’s vo­cal enthusiasm each time he does some­thing spec­tac­u­lar. And Sucker Punch pro­vides plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to do so.

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