Gamers transform a street artist with illusions of grandeur into an epic superhero or supervillain in the eye-popping adventure Infamous: Second Son (Sony Computer Entertainment and Sucker Punch Productions, rated Teen, $59.99).
Much like its pair of popular predecessors, this third-person, free-roaming video game, exclusive to Sony’s latest entertainment console, the PlayStation 4, requires a player make choices throughout hours of action-packed game play that influences a character’s karma and the ultimate narrative.
However, instead of controlling Cole MacGrath as in previous iterations, a continuation of the story stars the 24-year-old Native American Delsin Rowe, a budding bioterrorist (or savior) exhibiting conduit (superhuman mutation) abilities.
A plot picks up seven years after McGrath’s heroic exploits and places a player in a beautifully designed, virtual version of Seattle as Delsin challenges the Department of Unified Protection (DUP) soldiers and its leader Brooke Augustine while helping his fellow conduits survive arrest and persecution.
Very quickly a player learns that Delsin can absorb powers of other super humans and has other core abilities such as healing, strength, incredible climbing skills (like Spider-Man if he was actually a spider) and telepathy.
His conduit powers continue to amass as a player locates core sources for Delsin to absorb. He is also in constant need to replenish conduit energy to keep the powers flowing, It always requires the siphoning of different types of conduit energy out of items found in the environment.
This leads to an amazing journey for the player as he explores multiple parts of the city, saving or killing as warranted, taking part in main and secondary missions and upgrading his genetic infusions (requiring finding glowing blue shards).
For example, Delsin attains a smoke manipulation power early on that allows him to harness burning embers from his hands to jettison quickly across areas, shoot those “on demand” embers at enemies and even dissipate in building ventilation pipes blasting out of the other ends.
His most dazzling trick with smoke is a called an Orbital Drop. The character flies up quickly, offers a cocky grin to the camera and dives straight back down into a Kamikaze attack. He then hits the ground with fire and brimstone that destroys everything in his surrounding blast radius.
Another conduit power allows him to manipulate the colorful gaseous properties of neon. He now has the speed of Flash, running up buildings and across areas in a wisp, wielding a chain that acts more like a lightsaber and unleashing beams of energy at enemies.
The neon trails Delsin leaves as he runs makes for some of the prettiest onscreen moments I have ever seen in a video game.
Sucker Punch Productions not only does a great job of cleverly bringing truly super powers to onscreen life (Delsin unlocks a couple more energy types that will astound including a karmic bomb tied to video pixels called the Hellfire Swarm) but harnesses the PS4’s graphic power.
From the reflections in the high-rise windows as Delsin climbs, to still puddles that look like mirrors, to stunning sunsets and sunrises over Seattle (while perched on the Space Needle no less) to fiery smoke particles that take a life on their own as they dance in the air, this game looks fantastic as every level.
I’ll point out a bizarre encounter with the mysterious conduit self-named “he who dwells” that really displays some visual complexity.
The developer also recognizes the potential of the Dualshock 4 wireless controller as a true companion to the multimedia experience.
Take the cases when Delsin replenishes his smoke powers by sucking smoke from stacks. A player places his thumb on the touchpad to initiate the transfer and the sound of sucking travels from the television screen right into the speaker of the controller.
Or, create some building graffiti using the controller like a spray paint can. It’s a magical moment every time I vandalized city property.
Additionally, toss in cell phone calls that ring through the speaker, use the touchpad for activating fingerprint security devices or deactivating gun turrets, use the device’s motion sensing to line up photographs of crime scenes and watch the controller’s headlight start to turn more blue or red as the player turns Delsin more good or evil.
It never got old watching and listening to the controller react.
Despite the buckets of positives of the action, deciding to turn Delsin very bad was rather confusing from a character study point of view.
Yes, I could still have taken the path of good, choosing positive missions, pointing conduits down the path of righteousness, subduing soldiers and protecting citizens, but who does not want to control a supervillain.
So, I found it very unnerving that Delsin so easily could become my favorite cold-blooded killer without any narrative to justify his ferocity. At least Anakin Skywalker had mother and inadequacy issues and Magneto’s mistreatment by Nazis was certainly a reason to turn against humanity.
The deeper I took this spoiled punk into the darkness, unmercifully causing brutal destruction and disintegrating citizens and soldiers trying to surrender into glowing embers, neon bytes etc., he continued with a barrage of seemingly out-of-character witty repartee.
His brother Reggie, by the way, pops in during the game to offer tips and mission help but barely noticed his sibling’s mass-murdering ways.
If a gamer can get past that oddity, and most will not care as they amass the marvelous mutated powers and unleash its destruction, he will find it a real pleasure to become part of Infamous: Second Son.
The game truly delivers an empowering sense of wonder and freedom and helps define what a next generation video game should be all about.
Note: On the launch of the game last week, owners were treated to a free download that added around an extra five hours of game play, including some side mission looking at Cole MacGrath’s legacy as well as a continuing side story to play out over the next six weeks with help from more free downloads.
Having been an enormous fanboy of the Infamous franchise and Sucker Punch’s work over the years, it’s wonderful to see Sony and Sucker Punch tossing players some extra rewards for sticking with the games and its consoles.
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