'inFamous: Second Son' Is Refined, But Not Revolutionary

I’m a sucker for games that turn you into a superhero, or supervillain, and cut you loose on an open world to screw around. As a result, I’ve been a big fan of the inFamous games since the series launched, and while inFamous: Second Son is a refinement in the formula, not a step forward for it, it’s still a great one.

New Man, New City

The tone has shifted, somewhat; Cole McGrath is dead, and Delsin Rowe, a Native American street artist, is our protagonist. Also gone are the alternate reality cities the previous games took place in, replaced by a lovingly recreated post-Conduit Seattle. Delsin, it turns out, can absorb the powers of other superheroes: Cole’s sacrifice only killed most of the Conduits. This also, not coincidentally, means you don’t have to transfer two games’ worth of save files from your PS3 to your PS4.

That said, if you’ve played an inFamous game, you know the drill: You hop from rooftop to rooftop, making good or evil decisions, building to an ending and unlocking different missions, and once you unlock a city sector, you’ve got a bunch of sidequests you can fulfill, which generally involve some sort of karmic decision. Sticking with inFamous tradition, most of those side missions unlock useful goodies and are generally more interesting than the main quest, making this game something of a time suck. They’ve even brought back the side mission when you beat up buskers for being annoying.

Powers, Powers, Everywhere

So the bones of the game are the same, but there are a few crucial tweaks. First of all, there is no “secondary” power set, unlike in inFamous 2; you start with smoke powers, which are useful in of themselves, and acquire other powersets throughout the game, although you’ll spend most of your playtime on smoke and neon. Switching is as simple as finding a vent or a neon sign and charging up.

It’s a seemingly minor tweak that makes an enormous difference; in the middle of a fight, being able to go from the precision of neon to the crowd-clearing abilites of smoke can often make the difference between winning and losing. It also lets you have more fun with encounters, especially if you’re repeating them.

Also overhauled is the melee system; it’s not God of War but getting in close and kicking ass is a useful option and it means you’re never without a tool for fighting back. Which is a good thing, since inFamous takes the refreshing position that superheroes don’t take cover. The karma system, meanwhile, unlocks new moves for your power sets; often the differences aren’t glaring, but experienced players will probably want to sort through the powers and make some calls.

So it’s the game you know, but more thought out and generally better. That said, there are some changes that the series could have made, and didn’t, which limit the game.

The Road Not Taken

For example, it’s still a linear path of good or evil; if you don’t commit all the way to one or the other, the game is going to get difficult, fast, as you won’t get the abilities you need to clean house and the game won’t have the tools it needs to keep the plot on rails. It would have been nice to see Delsin be able to max out both, but have to decide between, say, good powers on one level or evil on another.

Also odd is how short the main plot is. While this game has hours of gameplay stuffed in it, the overall plot is just twelve missions, which can be anything from a few minutes to half an hour. If the PS4 has the horsepower and memory to host an epic story… why not use it?

Finally, the game’s “organic” missions feel just as basic and limited as the ones from the previous games. With the PS4, it seems like a golden opportunity to run across Conduits with their own agendas just going around the city, possibly starting fights.

In the long run, inFamous: Second Son is a ridiculous amount of fun, and that’s really all that matters. But the next step will hopefully bring more than just small changes to the franchise.