How Second Son Really Hurt The inFamous Franchise
Having just finished inFamous: Second Son (finally), I can’t help but feel underwhelmed. I’m not as underwhelmed as I was the first day I played it because things do pick up a little toward the end but for the most part this game lets inFamous fans down in this writer’s opinion.
I don’t mean to take anything from Sucker Punch, they’ve made a fine game here in many respects. It is buttery smooth, the mechanics are much more reliable than previous entries, and you can tell there is great attention to detail in everything. The problem is that so much has been scaled back or made easier instead of developed further we wind up with a product that follows everybody else down the rabbit hole of mainstream appeal, leaving fans of the PS3 games behind.
At first I just thought I didn’t like the new protagonist and that was clouding my mind. He’s a cheesy knucklehead compared to Cole’s dark everyman. It turns out it’s more than that. The story in general has very little to it. If I were writing a plot dealing with people with special powers the first thing I’d do is stay away from retreading the same ground that X-Men has been walking for years. If I did do that though, I’d probably try to think of something more original or that contains more twists and turns than your basic government oppression route. Delsin’s origins felt like an afterthought as well. Cole, the Ray Sphere, Kessler, The Beast . . . they all made for a dark and interesting comic book style plot. Delsin getting upset that Grandma got some concrete on her legs… not so dark and brooding. It’s a good guy versus bad troops (who make for very few enemy types) story and very little happening in between. The improvement in storytelling through dramatic scenes from i1 go i2 (after help from Naughty Dog) was palpable. With Second Son it’s like none of that ever happened. It smells of PG13 Hollywood now.
It’s not the worst story, as I said things pick up a bit toward the end, however the gameplay pulls back too. Seattle may be lovingly recreated but because of the way it plays the city precludes itself from being a star of any kind. InFamous grew out of the Sly Cooper franchise where platforming was the order of the day. Cole was a climber and parkour lover. Climbing and platforming made the city a jungle gym, and when things moved to New Marais that was made more interesting with varying landscapes in and around the city proper like floodtown, the graveyard and the marshes. Seattle is Seattle, it’s just a city that isn’t much changed. What makes it a problem is the new lack of platforming. What made Prototype an inferior copy was the ease with which one traversed the landscape. When you are always zipping by, cruising through, or otherwise avoiding direct interaction with the city, you never the sense that it is anything more than a set of obstacles and scenery. That defeats the purpose of having a sandbox game in the first place. Sure, you can still run and climb around if you want to but the missions aren’t structured around it, aren’t as varied as they once were, and Delsin is more like a hovercraft than a person that grips their surroundings (Cole).
Probably the biggest drawback is the lack of powers in addition to their being streamlined. The biggest draw pre-launch was that Delsin was like Megaman, he absorbs other cool powers and goes to town. So naturally I assumed I’d have access to something like Cole’s powers times 3 or 4. Instead we get these cool base conduit powers which have very few applications. With electricity it was like I was built to destroy. Grenades and rockets and various projectiles, shields and forces and boosts, sniping and homing and hookshot and gigawatt blades! Half the fun was just laying waste by stacking power after power against oncoming hordes of enemies. The extent to which you can do that in Second Son is much reduced. We can’t switch base powers on demand, and each one of those has just a few things attached to it. There’s a projectile, a thrust, and a missile. They vary a bit here and there with sniping attached to neon, a shotgun blast attached to smoke, and a sneak attack attached to video. Without the ability to switch on the fly there’s just very little you can do to attack but mix up the same 3 moves. There are the super special moves which are very cool but are much more difficult to earn.
Atop these observations is the general appearance that there is nothing about this entry which makes it a next generation experience beyond the graphics. By my estimation there was a great deal more to be done with side quests and karma than continuing to beat on protestors and chase secret agents. I had also expected a more realistic crowd experience on the street.
After the first game blew me away I pre-ordered the second game and for the first time in history bought the collector’s edition of a game. With Second Son, I am finished with giving the franchise my undivided attention. No more day 1 purchases, I’ll just wait like I do with other series that have opted for simplicity over content. I know my single purchase won’t make a difference but it is unfortunate to see another great experience given over to decline.