Review: ‘Infamous: Second Son’ for PS4

A few weeks back Melissa borrowed “Infamous: Second Son” from a co-worker; as she had monopolized our time with “Thief,” the previous game she had borrowed in this fashion, I made sure to start playing right away. I’ve played all the way through it — it’s the second PS4 game I’ve completed after “Knack” (and Infamous is a significantly better game than Knack), and I have to say I am enjoying it quite a bit. The game allows you to take two divergent paths — good karma or evil karma, dependent on the choices you make in the game (typically revolving around the characters you decide to kill or not kill). My first play through in normal difficulty was on the good karma path, and I’ve started a second play through on expert difficulty on the evil karma path.

What I like:
• This is a very pretty game. The game has an impressive draw distance, and some of the views you can get from certain vantage points in the city are just beautiful.

• I liked the characters. Delsin Rowe’s a well-developed protagonist, and his brother Reggie provides a grounded balance for him. Even the game’s main villain became somewhat sympathetic by the time the game wrapped up, which I thought was interesting. I’ll be curious to see how the ending differs with evil karma rather than good karma.

• The control scheme is straight-forward and the game does a good job of slowly doling out your powers to give the player a relatively flat learning curve. The game is easy to control, and once you are comfortable with firing off your various smoke-powered moves you’re pretty much set for the rest of the game, even through the three power shifts.

• The side missions are fun. The graffiti missions are a neat touch, and I very much enjoyed the “kill the DUP spy” missions. Neon power made these more enjoyable; oftentimes you could locate and assassinate the spy without getting close enough to trigger his flight response and start a chase through town. However, I sort of felt like the game needed one additional collectible layer to encourage exploration of Seattle’s various towers and tunnels. I’ll be forever spoiled by the Riddler trophies in Batman: Arkham City.

• I like that the trophies all seem obtainable if you put the time into the game to earn them. My biggest frustration with the Batman: Arkham series is the insistence on making you grind the sidebar combat scenarios to earn a significant volume of the game’s trophies. I don’t enjoy playing that kind of content, let alone farming it. Those side missions are entirely separate from the main game and are in no way required to progress, and as a result they have effectively walled me off from even wanting to chase the platinum trophies. Second Son isn’t like that at all — you can earn every single trophy by simply playing the game. I love that. I definitely have an opportunity to have this game be my first platinum trophy, which is going to be pretty cool if it happens.

• Related to that point, the game is challenging but not difficult. It’s a game that you can beat if you have some competency with video games and decide to put the time in to play it. There were two boss fights I struggled with, but that was more a matter of execution on my part than the fights being too challenging for me to complete. But in general the game seemed difficult enough to feel like I had to put effort into completing it, but not so difficult that there were points that frustrated me to a point where I was tempted to quit.

• Delsin’s travel abilities are so much fun to use and the scenery for the game is so great that I essentially ignored the fast-travel option.

What I didn’t like as much:
• I was hoping for more divergent play styles to emerge from the different power sources; there are some distinctions but for the most part the four different powers play essentially the same. For example, neon’s only real difference from smoke is to make you a more effective sniper (which is great); video’s only real difference from neon is that you move from sniper to stealth melee as a secondary way to kill enemies (which is fun but only useful situationally, and you can’t stealth-assassinate heavily armored enemies); concrete is essentially the same as smoke but forces you to chain-kill your enemies so you can move from one to the next and drain them for power. Beyond those minor differences, Delsin primarily fights as a mid-range caster with some heavy-ammo abilities for taking out vehicles and armored mobs in all four power configurations throughout the game. He has melee abilities, but they are far more suited for situational use in defensive situations; Delsin’s certainly not meant to be a primarily melee damage-dealer.

• Once you get concrete, if you still have side missions to complete there’s really no reason to choose any of the other three power sources. You burn through your resources faster, but concrete hits so much harder and gives you a travel ability that’s so significantly better than the other three powers that it doesn’t make sense to not use it.

• I didn’t feel that there was enough punishment for killing civilians once you went down the hero path. If there was a group of DUPs with one civilian in it, there wasn’t much hesitation to using a rocket to take out the whole group and deal with some collateral damage. I didn’t do this often just because I was making an effort to stay in the blue, but there seemed to be effectively no consequences for the occasional accidental killing of a civilian. I didn’t want to test it too thoroughly, because it seemed like the bump you got from a busting an individual drug deal — the only way to farm good karma other than healing injured people — seemed similarly insignificant and I didn’t want to see how many drug busts it would take to balance out a grip of dead bystanders.

• For me the control schemes took awhile to get used to. The timing and positioning of smoke-dashes to use the red vents for vertical travel took me awhile to figure out, and it’s really only on my second play through that I can jump right into them without fumbling around and charging into the wall a couple of times before successfully finding my way into the vent.

• Enemy AI is a little weak in some places; you can bait some of the DUP troops into running back and forth between the same two cover spots which can make them easier to take out.

• You can get juggled in some of the boss fights — taking a series of repeated hits that you aren’t given time to recover or move in between — which can get frustrating.

• There’s effectively zero penalty for getting killed, other than whatever pull you’re working on gets reset when you pop at the respawn point. At first this seems like a plus, as it somewhat emboldens you to jump into situations where you’re crazily outmanned just to see if you can pull it off, but by the time you get to the second island it serves to encourage sloppy play.

• There’s a dead spot in the environment in the underground lair where you confront Eugene and get the video power where the game slows to a crawl and the game freaks out a bit if you try and approach a certain video monitor.

• I wish Delsin would’ve had a chance to meet the DUP phone operator to whom he places the crank calls announcing he’s defaced the billboards and triggering the zone-defense missions (which in general I felt were all too easy). Solid opportunity for future downloadable content there, Sucker Punch.

• The free mission that’s available with the download code in the package isn’t available for purchase on PSN. Since we borrowed the game, and the code had been used by the original owner, I’m unable to play that mission. I would’ve paid for a download without hesitation. Hopefully that’ll be included in the game’s inevitable DLC.

• There are exactly enough powered shards in the game for you to drain as currency for your ability tree as you need to max out your skills in all four power trees. And since you do not get concrete until you defeat the final boss, there are significantly more shards available to you than there are moves to spend them on in the first three power trees. It means you can stockpile shards until you hit the correct hero/villain level to unlock new powers and fully charge them immediately, and there are no legitimate choices to make regarding your powers. For example, while you certainly can make a decision to delay a four-shard upgrade in order to chase down one more drone and take a five-shard upgrade first, the shards are so easy to acquire that you likely wouldn’t feel much of a pinch by simply taking the four-shard upgrade and then farming up five more shards in relatively short order.

The negative things are mostly nitpicks; I really enjoyed this game. It’s one of the very, very few games I’ve ever played that I knew without question I would replay once I finished it for the first time — not only for the experience of going down the opposite karma path, but also because it’s just fun to play.

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