Infamous: Second Son review: over-powered

Infamous: Second Son takes the series to the new console generation, but the ambitious power-stealing concept hews too close to previous games. Our review.

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After two (and a half) games, Sucker Punch has the core of Infamous down to a science. Firing off shots, lobbing bombs, and roaming an open city in Infamous: Second Son is as fun as it ever was in the prior two games. In fact, it's all so immediately recognizable that it feels as if the series has hit a creative rut, even as the fundamentals remain solid.

The familiar feeling is a double-edged sword. Prior Infamous games starred Cole, who sported electric powers. A new hero with new abilities really shouldn't feel exactly like him, especially given that Delsin can absorb powers from other Conduits. The central conceit implies a vast degree of differentiation, but I was left disappointed by how each of the four powers play more-or-less the same as each other. Each has some minor variations--the speed or type of shot, or how it handles vertical climbs, for example--but the basic suite of abilities is barely distinguishable.

Sometimes the mechanics are so lifted from the previous games that they fail to even make sense in this context. Cole could heal citizens with his electric powers for good karma, which made a certain kind of comic book logic thanks to the existence of defibrillators. But why can I walk up to an ailing man and heal him with neon?

These similarities seem to largely be a practical consideration of the gameplay. Delsin can only use one power at a time, and swaps between them by absorbing them from the environment. Since you could have any of the powers equipped at a given time, it would feel unfair to run up against enemies while using a less combat-focused power, or to need to travel at speed with a less mobile power. So instead of differentiated abilities with freedom to swap at will, we get light variations on a similar pattern.

One area Sucker Punch has seen definite improvement in, though, is characterization. Cole often came off like a scowling jerk even if you made the good karma decisions. Delsin, by contrast, is naturalistic and playful. He's a bit of an impudent putz at the start of the game, fancying himself a revolutionary in the way you might expect from a spoiled teenager, but his arc lets him go through a believable journey to responsibility while hanging onto his rebellious side. His banter with his brother Reggie is always well-done, and the two share some genuine comic moments. The faces are especially well-realized during these scenes, as the two communicate a lot through subtle non-verbal cues.

That presentation carries into the city as well. Perhaps because the series has moved into the realm of real locales, or maybe because this location happens to be in Sucker Punch's backyard, Seattle just feels more lovingly crafted than cities in the other games. The architecture looks vibrant, full of life, and it's really a sight to behold when swept over by rain, fog, or the orange glow of a sunrise. The visuals on the powers are just as impressive, to the point that I'm half-convinced Sucker Punch chose smoke and neon for their ability to play with particle and lighting effects.

If the power of the PlayStation 4 has helped the studio realize its vision in a visual sense, though, it did trip over some of its odder applications of the new system's qualities. Some contextual commands are uselessly relegated to swiping the touch pad when a button press would have done the job. Delsin's hobby as a graffiti artist is exercised by turning the controller sideways, shaking it to make the "can" rattle, and then spraying into a stencil. This is actually a pretty neat application and the art he produces is good for some laughs, but the novelty wears off quickly if you chase down all of the tagging points.

Those graffiti tags can be good or evil, to give the citizenry hope or fear. Infamous has gotten some well-deserved flack for its binary choices in the past, but the karma choices in this one feel a little more earned. By making Delsin more charming and morally ambiguous, most of the decisions are understandable either way. Of course, you're still really best off picking a path and sticking with it to max out your abilities, since some of them unlock at different karma levels.

The main story missions essentially revolve around Delsin preparing himself for the battle ahead. He hears about a Conduit and tries to find them to absorb their powers for use against the primary antagonist. Meanwhile you have to fight through the anti-superpower D.U.P. agency, taking out bases and soldiers at a regular pace. Each region of Seattle also has a handful of side-missions available to liberate it, but these only come in a few flavors and can feel like busywork. That may have been an attempt to pad the length, since I was surprised when the credits rolled. I had assumed I was about 3/4 of the way through the game, and suddenly I found myself in the thick of the final encounter.

Despite that surprise, and my reservations about borrowing liberally from previous games, I was left satisfied. This is an Infamous game through and through, and I'd like to have seen Sucker Punch venture further from its comfort zone. Still, Second Son holds its own as a fundamentally sound entry that makes great strides in presentation thanks to a new console. [7]


This review is based on retail PlayStation 4 disc provided by the publisher. Infamous: Second Son will be available on PlayStation 4 on March 21 for $59.99. The game is rated T.

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From The Chatty

  • reply
    March 20, 2014 7:00 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Infamous: Second Son review: over-powered.

    Infamous: Second Son takes the series to the new console generation, but the ambitious power-stealing concept hews too close to previous games. Our review.

    • reply
      March 20, 2014 7:44 AM

      attention red2lucas

    • reply
      March 20, 2014 8:57 AM

      Shacknews Reviews: We Will Eat Your Heart While You Die

      • reply
        March 20, 2014 9:19 AM

        Seriously, I feel like nothing can satisfy the Shacknews team. I'd like to play the game they give a 10 to.

        • reply
          March 20, 2014 9:23 AM

          We're not just gonna go handing out 10's freely like Costco samples. A game's gotta truly earn it, man.

          • reply
            March 20, 2014 9:24 AM

            I applaud you guys for doing this. I mean, I kinda had a discussion with some of the people at TA because I felt giving a 4.5/90 to Titanfall was a bit too much for what Titanfall really is.

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            March 20, 2014 12:28 PM

            Quick question: While I admire the Shacknews commitment to try and use the whole scale, I'm interested to know how you feel about the effects of this kind of "protest" if you will against the standard trend of review scores typically being skewed toward the top end.

            I mean this in regards to the numerous reports over the years of developer bonus's often being negotiated in regards to metacritic scores - logically these bonuses will be negotiated taking in to account the skewed review scores, and so in effect by actively trying to avoid skewed scores it means that your reviews have the potential to put people out of pocket.

            To clarify I'm not criticising you or Shacknews for this, it's just something that occurred to me since noticing that Giant Bombs five point scale means a 4/5 gets 80% on metacritic, whereas on a 10 point scale they would perhaps have awarded in a 9.

            Is it something that ever occurs to you when reviewing a game, or something that ever influences the way you review games?

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              March 20, 2014 12:32 PM

              Hopefully no reviewers are ever considering the jobs of the creatives in question. The reviewer should serve the reader, not anyone else.

              • reply
                March 20, 2014 12:39 PM

                I just find it interesting in the sense that implementing a different scoring standard to what's traditional has the potential to have negative consequences for developers.

                From the Shack reviews I've read, I understand that something that scores a 6 or a 7 on the shack, might well potentially be received as a 7 or and 8 on websites that use scores as they traditionally have been. Reviews from both websites might be trying to portray a similar level of enjoyment, but purely by going against the grain in scoring methods it could cause developers to lose out on money.

                And to clarify before I get shackpiled or anything for this, I don't think the Shack should do it differently. I think it highlights the flaw in publishers using metacritic to gauge success and bonus's.

                However I'm just interested as to whether or not this is something the reviewers ever think about, or whether it was something the Shack staff thought about when deciding score games in this manner.

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              March 20, 2014 1:11 PM

              I personally like the 5 point scale. To me, it seems less vague. For example, most people who see something scored 3/5 understand it to be something rather enjoyable and satisfying. 4/5 is great overall, but still flawed, while 5 is about as close to perfect as possible, with only minor flaws that are easily ignored. 1/5 = shit, and 2/5 is generally unenjoyable. But the difference between a 6 and a 7, is harder to define. Also, 3/5 is the midpoint on a 5 point scale, but also 60% of the maximum score, so an "average score".

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              March 20, 2014 2:50 PM

              We made our rubric because it made sense to us and how we reviewed games. Oddly, "fitting in" with Metacritic was never our intent.

              Also, built into our process is that the reviewer doesn't attach the final score. Instead, the rest of the team reads the review to see what the text reflects. That way, instead of "writing to a score," we make sure that the score reflects the text.

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                March 21, 2014 3:55 AM

                Honestly, seen IGN, Kotaku, Metacritic review scores... Shacknews is the most accurate. I mean that in their reviews, their writing and critique is the most professional. It's journalism done properly. That's why I keep reading.

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                  March 21, 2014 4:29 AM

                  You can tell their reviews are vetted. They don't try to have crazy headlines and outlandish first paragraphs just for the sake of clicks.

            • reply
              March 21, 2014 8:29 AM

              It's not the Shack's fault (or any websites that you say go against traditional scoring) that Metacritic scores factor into dev contracts now.

        • reply
          March 20, 2014 9:31 AM

          To be fair, my last paragraph says "I was left satisfied." A 7 is a pretty good score by our rubrick.

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            March 20, 2014 9:42 AM

            People are used to scales where the bottom 50% of the scale is never given out. That's why people freak out about a 3.5star/7/70 being given to a game, it's a "bad" rating perception. Hell, even Meta-critic will qualify that as a "mixed" review.

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            March 20, 2014 9:52 AM

            Don't get me wrong, I think you guys are giving much more realistic and honest reviews than most places, even though I totally disagreed with Oz's South Park review. It's just funny
            IGN - 11/10!!!
            Gamespot - 8.5/10!!!
            Polygon - 4.5/5 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9/10 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays!!!
            Shacknews - 7 I guess, it was good but I didn't looooove it.

            • reply
              March 20, 2014 9:53 AM

              Each review should end with you guys flicking a cigarette butt at the camera.

              • reply
                March 20, 2014 10:04 AM

                Ahahaha.

                I am snapping my approval of this concept.

                I agree that realistic reviews are nice, but sometimes I'm just baffled by the general negativity. I mean, shit, south park was stupidly, hilariously, fun. This is from someone who hasn't watch the show in years! Based on the infamous review, I will really like it.

                Between infamous and MGS5, I suddenly have plenty of PS4 material. And Watch Dogs isn't too far away!

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                  March 20, 2014 10:09 AM

                  What kills me is how some sites will talk about how the game is derivative, and doesn't do anything new, and this and that are poorly implemented. Then you get to the score and it's like 11/10!!!!!!

            • reply
              March 20, 2014 10:00 AM

              Yeah, we save the higher scores for games we truly love, because we've been hurt in the past.

          • reply
            March 20, 2014 1:19 PM

            bunch o' rubricks round heeyah

            • reply
              March 20, 2014 1:27 PM

              I liked The Shining of course, but I think Eyes Wide Shut is unfairly maligned.

        • reply
          March 20, 2014 10:26 AM

          Why should satisfaction earn a 10 rating? I'm glad they don't piss their pants over everything.

        • reply
          March 20, 2014 1:13 PM

          There's nothing wrong with a 7 or an 8.

      • reply
        March 20, 2014 10:03 AM

        I like it. Review score inflation can eat shit and die.

        As long as they are rigorous (as much as you can be, I guess), they can be as picky as they choose.

      • reply
        March 20, 2014 10:04 AM

        I blame the long shadow cast by our Fickle Lord Remo.

      • reply
        March 20, 2014 10:47 AM

        It's a good way to get noticed on Metacritic though, which could drive angry fanboy traffic to the site when people come here to post and complain.

    • reply
      March 20, 2014 10:49 AM

      Sounds like an infamous game. Fun powers, good campaign, little else. It's kinda like they didn't listen to the complaints about the last two, which is disappointing.

    • reply
      March 20, 2014 11:45 AM

      Man, I hate reviews out of 10 specifically because of Metacritic.

      Metacritic is ruining the gaming industry.

      • reply
        March 20, 2014 12:03 PM

        It provides a useful tool for consumers. I would sooner see it reform its scoring system than disappear entirely.

        • reply
          March 20, 2014 1:35 PM

          Me too, actually!

        • reply
          March 20, 2014 1:59 PM

          They also seem to have weird rules about who they let in their club. Like we (TrueAchievements) were specifically told they only take up new sites for review in December, yet Shacknews got added in the middle of last year. When we followed up with them, we were told they were happy with their critics list for the time being and would not be adding any new sites this year.

          However, so far not being on Metacritic hasn't gotten us turned down for a review copy that I know of.

          • reply
            March 20, 2014 2:48 PM

            We were in discussions with Metacritic in December, but we weren't able to get our act together to actually implement a score system we were happy with until the summer.

            Moral of the story: we're lazy.

      • reply
        March 20, 2014 12:11 PM

        Shack Reviews are pretty great though. You can barely tell that there's a score assigned to each review.

      • reply
        March 20, 2014 1:15 PM

        So what you're saying is you hate metrics for measuring things

        • reply
          March 20, 2014 1:57 PM

          What I'm saying is that a review from one reviewer does not mean the same as a review from another reviewer, yet Metacritic combines them together as if they were equivalent?

          Fucking retarded.

      • reply
        March 20, 2014 1:47 PM

        I think the trend of splitting it up is OK, as rotten tomatoes had to. user reviews split from "journalist" reviews.

      • reply
        March 20, 2014 1:57 PM

        Metacritic is fine, it's just how publishers are using Metacritic to gauge the success of a video game and determine the future of the IP that's the problem.

        Although I will say that a lot of the reviewers have screwed up the "out of 10" rating system too, with an "average" game being around a 7.5 or an 8, rather than a 5, which is usually considered to be a terrible rating. The only time I ever see games rated below a 5 is when they are absolute pieces of shit, and that shouldn't be the case. Seems like most reviewers don't actually rate on a 1-10 scale, but a 5-10 scale. It's kind of ridiculous, and it's the reason I don't take number ratings on reviews seriously anymore. I usually just read the review and watch gameplay footage, that's enough for me to know if I will enjoy the game or not.

    • reply
      March 21, 2014 3:46 AM

      First Impressions: Awesome graphics, sometimes unbelievable. No jaggies. Turning into vapor and going through vents is tight. 60 frames a second. Facial expressions are impressive. I let the tribe live. It's quite fun.