Infamous: Second Son is stuck with a concept too exciting for its own good. It aims to tell a more grounded, less unbelievably wild story than its predecessors, while at the same time imbuing the player with more wild powers than ever before. The amazing movesets bestowed upon you make you feel like a god whose aspirations and duties should be going far beyond the repetitive sidequests, short main campaign, and black-and-white karma system that that drags you down to the role of an explosive street detective. When it clicks, it clicks, and Second Son becomes the most fun Infamous game yet, but when it does work, it’s simply because flying around a gorgeous Seattle as a smoke/neon/video vigilante (or terrorist) is something that’s almost impossible to make boring. Second Son seems like it put all of its efforts into constructing a flawless recipe that developer Sucker Punch didn’t give enough time to cook.
You play as Delsin Rowe, a delinquent street artist who spends his days causing harmless mischief, much to the chagrin of his police officer brother. Delsin is a Native American, part of the fictional Akomish tribe, who graffitis his longhouse and routinely disappoints the elderly woman who raised him. The attempt at racial diversity by Sucker Punch is a valiant one, imbuing triple-A games with the rare non-White protagonist. Unfortunately, after the prologue, Delsin’s Native American heritage is all but forgotten about. You never visit the Akomish reservation again in the game (until the ending cutscene), and Delsin’s motivation, to gain the power necessary to heal members of his tribe injured by the villainous Augustine, quickly becomes forgotten.
The focus instead rapidly shifts to near-future Seattle’s unfortunate plight. After the ending of Infamous 2, the world became afraid of Conduits (people with super powers; think mutants from X-Men), and the government set up the Department of Unified Protection to systematically hunt them down and lock them up. Conduits, they say, are really a group of “bio-terrorists.” Seattle lives under the total control of the DUP, subjected to a military occupation under the guise of safety. Augustine, head of the DUP and ironically a “bio-terrorist” herself, rules with an iron fist, her monumental towers of concrete casting a shadow over the otherwise beautiful and sunny (the city is conspicuously devoid of rain) Seattle. Delsin only first discovers his Conduit power, to absorb the power of other Conduits, when a crashed DUP vehicle lets a smoke-wielding criminal free. The escapee, Henry, becomes the first of four conduits from which you will absorb your powers. Every one of the four becomes a significant, recurring character, but Second Son’s writing is so awkward and unflowing that only one character during the entire game, the Bronxite ex-drug addict Fetch, is at all believable.
Second Son’s story does almost nothing right. Augustine is generic, Delsin is unlikable, and Delsin’s brother seems pulled out of a late-night cop show. But Second Son is not a story oriented game. The campaign is over quickly (too quickly), and the game encourages you to explore the Seattle and systematically liberate each neighborhood from DUP control. You’ll want to see as much of Seattle as possible. Not only is it a gorgeous and culturally rich city in real life, it’s been meticulously recreated to capture the feel of the city to a higher degree than either Infamous or Infamous 2 was able to. Second Son’s Seattle is arguably one of the best looking open worlds in video games.
It’s a shame there’s so little to do. Side quests are painfully boring, usually requiring you to look for hidden cameras, look for hidden messages, look for hidden DUP agents, and…that’s about it. Seattle should’ve been a playground full of exciting opportunities to use your powers in creative ways. The only side missions that even require combat are the good or evil mini-missions, where you’ll either be beating up drug dealers or killing anti-conduit protesters. The most fun you’ll have outside of the campaign is assaulting the DUP mobile command centers in each neighborhood, mostly because they’re the only part of the game that provides a significant challenge.
That being said, every power you receive is incredibly fun to use and plays so differently each could be given its own game. However, after just a few upgrades, you become absolutely unstoppable. Few things in Second Son will provide any sort of real challenge, even on the highest difficulty.
So Infamous: Second Son, is nothing more than another one of those pervasive power-fantasies that dominates triple A development, but it reminds us why power fantasies are so popular in the first place. No matter how unbalanced the gameplay or how stiff the writing, nothing in Infamous: Second Son can put a serious dent in the fact that Second Son is just plain fun (having superpowers is having superpowers). Even something as simple as navigation is endlessly entertaining and completely satisfying. Every Infamous has had some sort of gliding, but in Second Son, the gliding is so lenient that you can basically fly. The freedom of leaping gracefully from rooftop to rooftop as you sail through the air is perfectly captured, as is the sadistic pleasure of landing a perfect headshot from a glowing beam emanating from your palm. This is a 6 year-old’s superhero dream, encapsulated.
Second Son has a few interesting ideas. Some side missions have you holding the controller like a spraypaint can to create street art. It’s at its best in the the free post-campaign DLC, “Paper Trail”, which integrates gameplay across PC and PS4. Paper Trail uses fake websites, interactive puzzles, fake news broadcasts, and even some real-life origami folding to create a PC experience that make you feel more like a detective than anything in gaming before, even if its PS4 missions contain no creativity or variety.
Infamous: Second Son is by no means a great game. In fact, it could be considered only slightly above mediocre. At the same time, Infamous: Second Son is a pure game, unconcerned with trying to engage the mind of the player and satisfying itself by being more raw fun than anything seen so far on this generation of consoles. As much as the gaming industry likes to talk about art, atmosphere, and serious storytelling, Second Son reminds us why we started playing games in the first place.