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Late to the Party: Infamous Second Son

Infamous Second Son has long been the flag bearer for the PlayStation 4’s AAA credentials.

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inFAMOUS Second Son

A title that promised an early glimpse of the platform’s capabilities when put to work by a top-tier first-party studio. The game also had the unenviable role of being Sony’s riposte to Microsoft’s TitanFall exclusive.

Second Son is also a game in which you spend 10 minutes foraging around in portable toilets. It’s the next-generation of game design; right here, right now.

The Infamous series is an interesting one. The franchise’s recipe of open world exploration and super-hero adventuring would suggest a sure-fire hit, but for some reason that has never been the case. The first two games reviewed and sold well enough, but the series has never broken through into mainstream success unlike, say, Uncharted.

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Recently however, all that has changed. Infamous Second Son has come roaring out of the gates, passing a million sales with a gallop. This week it, some two months after release, the game climbed back up to No.2 in the UK chart. This reception could be indicative of a change in opinion towards Sucker Punch’s recipe, but it’s perhaps more likely a demonstration of appetite from a content starved audience. Regardless, Second Son is a big game right now.

Second Son is the first Infamous title I have played (it came bundled with my PlayStation 4) and it’s fair to say that for a game built around the conceit of using super powers in an open world, it initially left me underwhelmed.

First impressions aren’t good. The game features one of the poorest opening sequences I have experienced in some time. As an attempt at world building, it’s borderline incoherent, playing out like a third-rate X-Men story but without any internal logic. Lead character Delsin Rowe is a distinctly snarky and unlikable protagonist and the attempts to provide him with some motivational impetus are excruciating.

Fortunately, once the laborious tutorial missions are over Second Son is largely released from the clutches of its fiction and things start to look up. As the game progresses narrative exposition is kept to a minimum and is mostly reduced to instructions delivered by phone call. It’s completely inoffensive, and certainly well-acted, but hardly a generational change in storytelling.

Second Son is also hard to judge from a technical point of view. Unlike GTA V’s Los Santos the game’s representation of Seattle doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. Buildings and structures exhibit a little too much gloss and feel a little too uniform in construction. It recalls Crackdown’s Pacific City. But as you spend time with the game, small details begin to coalesce, creating something rather impressive.

Lighting and elemental effects are truly superb. There are moments, as rays of sunshine break through the clouds and reflect on rain-soaked sidewalks, that Second Son looks beautiful. And it’s these moments that instantly justify the inclusion of a camera mode. Ambient sound and a wonderful lilting soundtrack also contribute, creating a sometimes sombre atmosphere that feels distinct from other open world games. It’s the combination of these elements, rather than finely detailed textures, that make Seattle a memorable location.

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Crackdown also comes to mind when considering the core gameplay. For the most part Second Son is an exercise in running around, shooting bad guys and swooping across the city using a variety of (effectively identical) super powers. Once you unlock the full range of abilities, by collecting the game’s equivalent of Crackdown’s orbs, exploration becomes an exhilarating a joy. This is a relief as the climbing mechanics lack the finesse of Assassin’s Creed.

Horrendous boss battles aside, the game also excels in moment to moment combat. Enemies are alert, inventive and no slouches in using their own powers. It’s not a difficult game, but there are moments that will test both your abilities and agility.

If Infamous Second Son had arrived at the end of the last generation I expect it would have only made a small splash. Yet, here it is, leading the charge as the poster boy for the PS4 generation. And despite its numerous flaws I can’t help but consider the game a success.

It’s a game that’s likeable despite its deficiencies. And having recently completed a tortuously flabby tour of duty in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, Second Son’s simplicity is rather refreshing. It might not bear comparison with the best titles of its genre, but it benefits from being lean, sharp-looking and easy to dip into.

On the flip side, it’s still a game that features a mission involving portable toilets. The next generation starts here.

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Thumbsticks editor, and connoisseur of Belgian buns. Currently playing: Ape Out, Skyrim (again), and Yoshi's Crafted World.