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EGM Review: inFAMOUS: Second Son

Posted on March 20, 2014 AT 07:00am

Feel the power

I love the inFAMOUS series. It’s done something few other games have managed—it’s made me feel like a superhero. Sure, I can kick the Joker’s butt in the Arkham series (and I love doing just that), but these are the games that make it feel like I’m the badass, not just the guy controlling him. The first two entries kept me occupied for hours, practicing my acrobatic skills while collecting blast shards and sniping enemies from rooftops. The combination of an enthralling, comic-style story and fast-paced action held my interest, despite the somewhat repetitive gameplay.

So when Sucker Punch announced the third game for the PlayStation 4, the thought of a next-gen inFAMOUS sounded irresistible. Finally, a reason for me to own a new-gen system (well, this and Titanfall).

Second Son picks up seven years after inFAMOUS 2, building on the Heroic ending as the now-canonical conclusion to that chapter. Over time, fear of Conduits has escalated to the point where fearmongering becomes a national pastime. So much so, in fact, that the government forms the Department of Unified Protection to round up and imprison anyone with powers, whom they dub “bio-terrorists.” But when a van transporting three of these powered-up prisoners crashes in a small town outside Seattle, new protagonist Delsin Rowe discovers he can absorb the abilities of other Conduits, setting in motion a series of events that throws him into a war with the DUP and its leader—who possesses abilities like those she’s charged with fighting against.

Since Sucker Punch decided to introduce someone new here, it’s nice that they created such a different character. Delsin starts off as a bad boy—not evil, per se, but someone who doesn’t really try to fit into society. He lives in a small Native American community where the people seem close and wary of outsiders. Delsin seems most concerned with his art—stencil graffiti, à la Banksy—and not much else. It’s always refreshing to see a non-Caucasian lead character in a big game, and unless I’m mistaken, Delsin signifies the first Native American protagonist since Prey’s Tommy Tawodi in 2006.

Second Son follows more in the footsteps of the original inFAMOUS than it does the sequel in that it sets the stage for a new hero, Delsin, to take the spotlight and change the world for good or for ill depending on how he chooses to use his newfound powers. But to avoid treading on territory already covered, Sucker Punch foregoes the standard origin-story structure in favor of something more personal to their new protagonist. As such, Delsin’s adventure, while incorporating familiar gameplay from previous iterations, manages to expand upon them in a way that feels not only natural but still fresh.

Likewise, while the first two titles concentrated on elemental powers, such as lightning, fire, and ice, Second Son is grounded in urban motifs. Delsin’s first powers revolve around smoke and can be replenished by drawing from the many smokestacks—as well as things like destroyed cars—throughout the city. The handful of additional powers he acquires are similar in their understated, unconventional nature compared to typical comic-book fare.

This is exemplified with the new setting. For the first time, an inFAMOUS game is set in a real metropolis: Seattle. Meticulously modeled, the Emerald City feels familiar and alive with landmarks (you get to scale the famous Space Needle early on) and a bustling population. There’s not a huge advance in citizen AIpeople still wander aimlessly, apologizing to you if you bump into them. But all of the hustle and bustle makes the city feel more authentic.

Fortunately, the beautiful graphics help, with detailed models, fluid animations, and realistic (and depressing) rain. Things always feel natural, however—in fact, I wasn’t sure how much better these graphics were until I popped in the original inFAMOUS to take a look. The lighting and shadows really bring new levels of detail to the game, as do the spectacular particle effects. It’s unlikely Sucker Punch would’ve been able to do smoke-based techniques in the previous generation and have them look right. Here, when Rowe uses his powers to zip up a vent on the side of a building, he quickly dissolves and reforms with aplomb.

On the downside, I also experienced an inordinate amount of clipping issues, enough to distract from the game at times. Delsin frequently appears to phase through solid objects, an effect that can be disorienting and dangerous if you’re trying to take cover and aren’t sure what parts of you may still be exposed. At one point, I tried to jump in a boat, and it looked like I succeededonly to get the prompt to hit a button to go back to shore. I didn’t look like I was in water, but I clearly was. This occurred with enemies as well, with some even getting stuck in objects and making it impossible to incapacitate them rather than kill them outright. Fortunately, I never got stuck anywhere requiring a reset, so at least there’s that.

I should mention these issues led to a long discussion among my fellow EGM editors, two of whom didn’t really notice these problems at all. When prompted, one editor was able to repeat some of my experience but still wasn’t sure how much it bothered him. So, I leave this as a “YMMV moment.”

In addition to the increased graphic fidelity allowed by the PS4, Sucker Punch also incorporates some of the DualShock 4’s features here. The touchpad is employed frequently (but never obtrusively) to do things like open doors and containers, while the motion controls help Delsin practice his graffiti skills (shake the controller like a can of spray paint). My favorite? When you get a phone call and the speaker in your hand rings. It was all I could do not to hold the controller up to my ear and say, “Hello?”

As for the general gameplay itself, it falls into the inFAMOUS mold. Delsin gets superpowers, takes on groups of bad guys, and liberates the city, district by district. Each neighborhood has a list of objectives that act as side missions. These don’t vary from area to area, but you’re free to explore as you see fit and tackle them in any order—whether you go after the next story mission or kill some time by liberating a district, the choice is yours. If this sounds repetitive, that’s because it is, but no more than any other game that offers collectibles. Sucker Punch somehow manages to craft these so well that I never mind taking some time to tackle them.

The most innovative change is how Delsin’s powers advance. Since he can absorb the abilities of others, his upgrade tree is larger and more diverse than former protagonist Cole MacGrath’s. You’ll still collect shards, but now you can use them directly to upgrade powers on the tree. As the game progresses, you’ll have to choose which powers you want to upgrade and when, though if you’re meticulous about completing side missions, you should have enough shards to unlock just about any power you choose.

All of Delsin’s powers are a blast to use. Whether it was sniping DUP soldiers from a rooftop or soaring into the air for a Comet Drop, I never tired of unleashing a flurry of insanity across Seattle. I don’t want to go too deeply into the different powers, since finding and testing them is a high point of the experience, but I honestly believe there aren’t any duds among them. It actually got to the point where I occasionally had a problem deciding what power I wanted to use, just because I was having so much fun.

Of course, this wouldn’t be an inFAMOUS game without the Karma system. As before, your actions dictate not only what sort of person you are, but also some of the power upgrades you can tap. Second Son does a better job of giving you options to subdue your enemies rather than kill them, which adds a layer of strategy as you try to either gain good Karma or bad by how you face a situation. The game even offers missions that revolve around either good or bad Karma, which helps keep the gameplay fresh. On the whole, Second Son’s Karma system  is a step up from the previous games, and it’s something I’d love to see more of in the future.

In fact, the game excels in its mission variety. Sure, you’ve got the chase and fetch missions you’d expect from any open-world game, but it seems like Second Son always strives to give you something new to tackle—enemies, situations, and even ways to look at the city around you. And all of this is done while remaining true to the story, which is a rousing comic-book yarn—just as it should be.

inFAMOUS: Second Son doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but the new characters, diverse powers, and intriguing story are enough, particularly when combined with the power of the PS4. Fans of the inFAMOUS series will absolutely love diving into this new-gen iteration. It’s definitely my favorite inFAMOUS game—and favorite PS4 title to date.

Developer: Sucker Punch • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.21.2014
This new-gen installment of the inFAMOUS franchise offers a new hero, a new city, and tons of new powers. But this is still inFAMOUS at heart, and it’s filled with familiar—if refined—open-world gameplay. Protagonist Delsin Rowe’s story is more interesting than former leading man Cole MacGrath’s, and his powers are more fun to use, too. As far as I’m concerned, this is the first must-play PS4 title.
The Good Delsin’s powers are a blast (so to speak) to use throughout the game.
The Bad Terrible clipping issues frequently break the illusion.
The Ugly Concrete adds unwanted pounds.
inFAMOUS: Second Son is available exclusively on PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Sony Computer Entertainment for the benefit of this review.
Marc Camron, Senior Editor
Marc Camron somehow survived E3. The crowds were big, the games were loud and somehow he managed to get a sunburn on the top of his big, bald melon. Yet, despite all of this, he had a blast, seeing people he only sees once a year, playing all of the new games, and staying up way past his bedtime. Next year he might even have a beer.

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