Infamous: Second Son is, quite clearly, the gem of the PlayStation 4 line-up for the immediate future. Certainly The Order: 1886 is planned for later this year and several multi-platform titles are also looking wonderful, but Sony's really positioning Infamous as their early 2014 standout. It's no surprise then that Second Son was featured during Sony's PlayStation media event this past Monday, where the press was shown a developer-led demo and that were able to play the game themselves for around 40 minutes.
It should come as no surprise that Infamous: Second Son looks outstanding. It wasn't just the detail with which Sucker Punch had sculpted their in-game version of Seattle, features like the Space Needle often prominent in the background, but how the city is illuminated and so brought to life. Yes, the most striking aspect of Infamous: Second Son was the lighting and the effects used to accent that.
Two powers have thus far been revealed for Infamous: Second Son's protagonist Delsin, the power of Smoke and the poker of Neon. Both powers are quite clearly designed to be eye-candy. From how smoke's particle effects dance and scatter how neon's light sparks and streaks across the screen, using powers is often more gratifying visually than from a combat perspective. Who wants to fight soldiers? I'm just littering the ground with grenades to see the forthcoming rainbow.
At least in the level I played, where Delsin marked houseboats being used as drug transports with graffiti, there were instances of repeated asset use. The houseboats, the docks, they all looked identical and all rather dismal -- especially in contrast to the lighting effects I cast across the scene. That's excusable to an extent due to the game being an open world game, but I still found it an odd choice for a demo level.
Overall PlayStation 4 owners should be very pleased that, at least visually, Infamous: Second Son is certainly an experience that will be unique across all platforms. Few titles have impressed me so much, even on PC.
The visuals were where I found my priorities lied, but Sucker Punch had others set for the demo. Specifically, the dev team wanted to showcase how the player's choices in-game would affect not just how the story would progress, but also how gameplay changed in the immediate sense. Thus, the demo began with a very static choice, whether to "save" the recently capture Fetch and to teach her to user her powers for good, or to "corrupt" her into using her powers for wanton destruction and petty revenge.
Sucker Punch ran us through a quick demo of the second choice, where Fetch is "corrupted" and Delsin takes her to silence some anti-Conduit protests.The key here is that Delsin's quite malicious in his actions and so that's reflected in how combat plays out. Delsin shoots to kill, you can say. He blows innocent people up, gaining an unclear evil currency of some sort, and executes NPCs that can't fight back.
On the other side, the "save" option was what I experienced hands-on. The missions for this side of the choice involved blowing up drug-running houseboats while taking care to save innocents. Thus, I was tasked with incapacitating foes rather than killing them. Finishing foes without killing them also earned a currency of sorts. These currencies were represented by standard dueling concepts: red vs. blue and a dragon vs. a dove.
From the perspective of a player, while I can respect the ability to choose who Delsin is as a character and thus how he plays, it's a rather boring design choice. Perhaps further down the line as the player progresses through the story these choices will have more impact, more meaning, but the one I experienced was uninspired. Neither, whether it was fighting drug dealers or clearing out protestors, felt impactful. I never felt like Delsin or Fetch as characters progressed in a significant way due to the choice.
Gameplay was something else entirely, especially when taking into account the dichotomy of experiences due to that initial decision between saving or corrupting Fetch. Delsin's powers, for those unaware, cannot be used at the same time. He has either absorbed the smoke power most recently or he has absorbed the neon power, which then becomes his one current skill-set. Yes, it is quite a bit inhibitive, since neon is especially good for movement and fire for combat.
Equipping power became doubly annoying when playing through the "save" option for Fetch. It may have been my inexperience, but finding appropriate combinations to set enemies up to incapacitate them felt limited. That's compared to the "corrupted" option we watched where the developer tore through enemies with little issue. Combination after delightful combination played out with violent exuberance. I regretted picking the save option after my demo wrapped up.
When things came together they felt very nice. For instance, the neon power was great for climbing buildings and general travel. Plus, rooftops are littered with smokestacks for players to switch back to their other power. Similarly, street-level Seattle has plenty of neon signs for players to switch. Sucker Punch has built the city to encourage players to switch powers as necessary. It just must have been a fluke that my houseboat mission seemed to be missing these points for switching powers.
I still believe that both the good and evil sides of a player's choice should be equally enjoyable experiences in similar ways. If fast, exciting combat ends up being the heart of the evil side then pity to the good players, punished for trying to experience a story they find preferable only to get less compelling gameplay. At the same time, 30 minutes isn't much for me to have confidence in my assessment. Maybe I just didn't have a deep enough understanding of the gameplay to respect it for what it was. We'll see.
Combat be damned, we all know the open-world exploration side of the game will be glorious. Nothing beats climbing the sides of buildings with superpowers. Delsin's got that part down.
Altogether I'd say my experiences with Infamous: Second Son were very positive. It's unfortunate that I chose an option that resulted in a style of gameplay I didn't enjoy. I chose to "save" Fetch so I could see both paths in the demo, only to find I liked the first much more and should have stuck with that. Who would have thought the option that gives the player more freedom to do as they please would be the more exciting choice? I should know better by now.
That doesn't change the fact that virtually everything surrounding the combat and gameplay enhanced the experience dramatically. I loved Delsin and the entire cast's voice acting. Dat Troy Baker, guys. He's a rather talented fellow. Him and Fetch's actress both helped create this tension in this world, where super-powered Conduits aren't accepted into society with open arms. That's also quite the understatement. I want to know more about this world because of their efforts.
Then there's the visual. I'm still just very damn impressed. My favorite example is when Delsin's peering at a barricade lined with soldiers and Fetch uses her power to skip lightheartedly over their heads, leaving streaks of bright pink and purple light in her wake. There you are, blinded by headlights, pink lining the sky, and Delsin kicks in his smoke power and everything turns to fire. I can't wait to create situations like that across the world of Infamous: Second Son. Just leave the house-boats at home.