One of the advantages to having never owned a PS3 is being able to step into franchises such as Infamous or Killzone fresh. Killzone: Shadow Fall was my first Killzone game, and indeed my first second PS4 game ever, and a few of my friends who were absolutely huge fans of Killzone 3 were left feeling bitter disappointment at Shadow Fall. I myself was found the game to be a decent, if repetitive first-person shooter, and one whose multiplayer provided enough entertainment even if it was never able to keep a hold of me. Was I better or worse off for sidestepping the potential disappointment? As an early adopter of the PS4 these kinds of questions pop into my head whenever I get a chance to play an entry into a long-running Playstation franchise that I have missed out on entirely. Which brings me to Infamous: Second Son, the third game in the Infamous series, but my first. 

Infamous: Second Son is an open world action game that sees the player take on the role of Delson Rowe, a man who quickly discovers that he is a Conduit (i.e. he has superpowers) in a world where Conduits are labeled as Bio-Terrorists and hunted by a sinister government agency known as the DUP, itself run by a Conduit by the name of Brooke Augustine. An armoured transport carrying three “Bio-Terrorists” crashes in the small Akomish reservation where Delson lives. When the protagonist comes into contact with one of the escapees of the crash he absorbs his Smoke powers. But the crash also brings Augustine and her DUP goons and, when trying to determine the whereabouts of the escaped Conduits, Augustine uses her concrete powers to injure quite a few residents of the reservation in an effort to get Delson to give her some answers. Delson and his brother Reggie quickly set off to Seattle, the setting for the game, after Augustine so that Delson can absorb her concrete powers and heal the people of the reservation and so the game begins.


As I said before Second Son is an open world game and with that comes all the skill trees and third-person combat I’m sure you can already imagine. The closest analogy in gameplay terms to this game is Saints Row IV, just without the aliens. computer simulation and purple dildo bats. You begin the game with the smoke power and some rudimentary melee abilities, which can be upgraded via blast shards. However Smoke isn’t the only power that Delson uses in the game and to its credit Second Son throws new powers, and new abilities for existing powers, at you at a fairly steady clip. Which is good because at the beginning of the game combat is painfully dull, only opening out as the game progresses and presents you with myriad options and potential tactics for tackling the DUP forces of Seattle. There are four power trees for Delson to make use of, although one of them is only unlocked during the final mission of the game, and Smoke, the starting power, is easily the least inspired and boring one of the bunch. Neon and Video powers are unlocked as you progress through the game and give you more varied options for fighting.

You will quickly settle on a preferred power set once you’ve unlocked the main three (for me it was Neon) that’s going to depend on how you want to play the game. Each power set functions slightly differently from the other. For example one of the unlockable abilities that comes with the Neon power allows you to target specific enemy weakpoints with your standard ranged attacks, allowing you to make specific shots at highlighted parts of enemies to subdue rather than kill them, earning you good karma. Or you can use the same ability to perform a headshot and instantly obliterate your opponent for evil karma (more on the Karma system in a moment).


Combat is easily the most fun aspect of Second Son, despite its slow and boring start, the tougher the enemies become and the greater their numbers the more thrilling and downright fun it is to fight them. During one mission I was ambushed by three enemies who could be fairly compared to The Hulk. The resulting battle was epic, taking place across the rooftops of Seattle across about a quarter of the entire map as I dodged and blasted them while they leaped and charged at me. It’s to Second Son’s credit that it really imbues the feeling of having superpowers, both in its combat and in the way you can traverse the city of Seattle, which differs depending on which power you have active.

Second Son’s gameplay isn’t without its problems though, and the biggest of these is in the boss battles, which are simultaneously boring, frustrating, protracted and just a downright chore. Whereas battles in the open world are non-linear and exciting, boss battles take place in the usual “boss” arena. You know the one; big and round (or square) and lacking in any tactic other than dodging your enemies highly telegraphed attacks and spamming the attack button until the giant health bar reaches zero. If the linearity of these fights weren’t bad enough (and certain main story missions suffer from the same fate) these encounters are also absolutely devoid of any creativity whatsoever. Dodge the telegraphed attacks, counter attack with the correct ability and rinse and repeat until the boss is defeated. And you’ll know which ability is the correct one because 95% of the time you’ll be limited to a single power during these fights.


Worse still is the length of time bosses take to beat, as their health bar depletes at an insufferably minute rate with each successful attack, meaning that boss encounters can take upwards of 10 or 20 minutes. And that’s if you don’t die, which you really don’t want to do, as being killed at the hands of a boss will send you back to the beginning of the fight. And probably to your nearest electrical shop to replace the controller you just snapped in half as the frustration of having to grind for another 20 minutes hoping not to get stuck on some scenery and obliterated sinks in. The only mercy is that boss battles are few and far between and there are only a small handful of them in Second Son.

Being an open world game means that Second Son’s map is divided into districts and littered with side activities. Complete the side activities and the DUP loses a small percentage of control of the district. Complete enough and you can instigate a district showdown, forcing the DUP to send an army at you which, if you successfully defeat them, results in gaining control of the district and forcing the DUP patrols out of the area. Unfortunately the side activities, aside from mobile command post assaults and the showdowns themselves (both of which make use of the excellent open world combat), are terrible. You’ll find yourself repeating the same 6 or 7 menial tasks about 20 or 30 (or more) times (or 200 in the case of finding and collecting blast shards), by the time you get to your 15th Stencil Art or your 100th surveillance drone you’ll be sick of your life and wondering why you’re putting yourself through this (damn completion complex).  Not only do they feel utterly pointless but there’s little to no interaction required to complete them.


Stencil art has you spray paint a particular wall with some Banksy-esque shit, asking you to hold the PS4 controller sideways and colour inside the lines (the name of the trophy for completing all instances of the activity FYI). After doing this 2 or 3 times and being left with some abstract colour pattern the screen fades to black, we hear some spraying and then we see Delson has sprayed a much more complex, actually complete piece of art on the wall. What, it was too much trouble to allow the player to colour in the whole fucking picture? Collecting shards is as easy as following blue dots on the map, which are surveillance drones, and one-shotting them down and sucking up the shard inside their broken shells. Secret Agent has you pick out an undercover agent hiding in the crowd using a picture of them, once you spot them they attempt to escape and you shoot them once in the back and be done with it. Except there are so few NPC character models in the game that they’ll start repeating at about the midway point. Minor side activities that yield either good or evil karma are sometimes as easy as walking up to a group of thugs kicking in a helpless “suspect” and pressing triangle. Job done, mission accomplished. The amount of repetition and lack of basic interaction with the world that these side missions perpetuate is borderline insulting and begin to wear thin very early on.

Karma plays a big part in the game, but it’s more of the same binary morality system crap I’ve long since been sick of. There are maybe five moments in the game where you get to choose either blue or red (those are literally the colours the choices come up in) and what’s most frustrating is that there’s no nuance to these choices thanks to the way karma ties into the gameplay systems. Being good or evil unlocks different abilities within the power trees, and unlocks different special attacks, which means that to ensure you’re getting all of the powers you need that you are forced to pick either blue or red the entire game. No exceptions, unless you want to severely handicap yourself later in the game. The choices themselves all boil down to do either killing or corrupting person X, because good stories are always made up of two extremes.


This lack of nuance translates into the games story as well, which is nothing you haven’t seen or read a thousand times before (more if you read comic books). Troubled delinquent rebel gains superpowers and learns that with great power comes great responsibility, there’s nothing new here. It’s a frustrating narrative as Second Son has the potential to tell an interesting story about fascism and the big brother state, as well as being about how people with superpowers could integrate into our current, post-9/11 society, and whether such a thing would even be possible. Infamous even looks as if its setting up to tell exactly this type of story but it just doesn’t follow through on its own premise, instead telling the same old story of a troubled young man embracing his newfound abilities and learning important life lessons to become a better man. To its credit the story it does decide to tell is well told, even though it’s entirely familiar, with all of its twists and turns easily guessed well in advance, I still enjoyed it and was eager to see what was going to happen next, even if I did already know what that was. As a newcomer to the series I always knew what was happening and never felt as if my inexperience with the Infamous games was hindering my enjoyment of the story in any way.

Infamous is aided in no small part by it’s incredible voice acting, which is seriously some of the best I’ve come across in a game for a while. Every single one of the voice actors does a truly terrific job, aided by some very well written dialogue, and its the cast of characters as opposed to the story that you’ll truly enjoy. The next-gen graphics help too, as the level of detail captured in the characters makes it so you’re watching a performance rather than a bunch of talking heads. All of the characters are expressive, both in their actual facial expressions and in the way they move. The city of Seattle looks gorgeous and is fantastically realised, something you’ll notice keenly as you’re going to be spending a lot of time on rooftops or navigating the city from quite a height. An early mission that sees you scale the Space Needle will leave your jaw planted firmly on the floor. Your actions during the game have an excellent permanence to them as well. If you destroy a DUP mobile command post then its shattered remains will remain shattered for the rest of the game. Same goes with any scanning games, checkpoints…even the occasional road. Everything you do to the city in the game is permanent.


Although this post may seem highly negative towards Second Son it still is a good game, albeit one that has several glaring and not insignificant problems that are difficult to overlook. When it gets things right it feels like everything is clicking into place and the game soars, much like its protagonist. However the game frequently gets things wrong and there’s usually a moment waiting just around the corner to bring you crashing back down to Earth. It’s a credit to the spot-on gameplay on display here that Infamous: Second Son manages to just about rise above its issues, and I did enjoy my 15 or so hours with the game, because that gameplay is the only thing that will keep you invested enough to see the game through to its end.