Am I the only one that thinks that the typing of the title is really awkward? I am? Well, forget it, then. I’ll just keep typing “Infamous” instead.
A quick glance at Wikipedia tells me that the original Infamous was released in 2009, and its sequel followed in 2011. Since then, the franchise has pretty much established itself as one of Sony’s key products -- the “reason” to own a PS3, and more recently a PS4 considering how Second Son was revealed alongside it. (Though its reveal was pretty much a given by that point, I’d wager.) Collectively, is Infamous the best in the superhero game business? No. And not even individually; that honor belongs to 2005’s The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, seeing as how it nigh-flawlessly captured the essence of playing as the Hulk. Still, some props have to go to Spider-Man 2 for nailing the web-swinging; why the games that followed had to complicate the formula -- or forget it outright -- is beyond me.
But for what it’s worth, I’m ready to acknowledge Infamous as something praise-worthy. I like the concept. I like superheroes, and superpowers. I like that it at least tries to do something with morality, and gives the player the choice of playing as the hero instead of a growling, amoral twit (or worse, the ever-so-delightful designated hero). But as always, the execution is what proves or disproves the soundness of the concept. If it’s not done well, there’s a good chance I could find myself wishing that it wasn’t done well at all. Thankfully, the latest entry in the franchise gives a chance to iron out the flaws. This is the game that proves the worth of the PS4, and ushers in the promise of the new generation…at least to those that pretend the Wii U doesn’t count.
That’s what Second Son is primed to do. At least, I sure hope it is.
I should start by saying that as of this post, I haven’t finished SS. At one point -- i.e. when I wrote this post well in advance -- I hadn’t touched it at all. But I caved to my brother’s demands and gave it a whirl, even if that means putting Ni no Kuni on the backburner. AGAIN. DAMN IT. That aside, as you’d expect I haven’t finished it, so it’ll be a while before you see any full posts on it. And prior to my sto-and-go playthrough what I know about the game comes from A) info that’s been well-known for ages, and B) watching my brother run through it. Parts of it, at least. He’s cleared it -- on the chaotic/evil path -- so it falls to me to play hero. And see more than a couple of hours of gameplay.
Setting that aside, you’re probably wondering about the story behind SS -- or at least the context. It goes something like this: artist Delsin Rowe is in the wrong place at the wrong time and takes on the powers of a meta-human -- a Conduit in-universe -- which leaves him with the ability to summon, fire off, and even become smoke and embers. His goal? To use his new abilities -- and more, as he meets other super-powered individuals -- to get closer to main villainess Augustine and absorb her concrete powers to save his kin before the clock runs out on them. I’m under the impression that Delsin is ALSO doing it to liberate Seattle from the DUP (Department of Unified Protection), and so he can ensure the safety of his tribe. Yeah, tribe. Can you believe it? Delsin’s not just another brown-haired white guy. How ‘bout that shit, Cole?
From what I can gather, if you played the other Infamous games, you’ll feel right at home here -- and by extension, this is the perfect game for you if you’re a fan of the series. You’re still in a wide-open city, you still get to traverse walls and buildings with super-powered parkour, you still get to use your powers to fight off enemies, and you still have to scour the field for resources to recharge (suck up smoke from vents and busted cars, for example). All things that you’d expect.
Still, there are some tweaks to the formula; for starters, there’s an added emphasis on mobility, even beyond the parkour. At the start of the game Delsin has access to air and ground dashes, giving him options in and out of a fight. Likewise, there’s a bit more of an emphasis -- as far as I know -- on fighting enemies closer to you instead of getting shot at from assholes on rooftops. Not to say that that isn’t in the game at all, but if you didn’t like dealing with gunmen sniping at you from half a mile away (as was my case), then the issue has been lessened. This is a more up-close and personal game, on average.
Probably one of the bigger changes is the way powers work in the game. To an extent, at least; since I haven’t played the game I don’t know how much the control scheme has changed, but I’d assume that a number of the old mechanics are in place. What I mean specifically is that Delsin’s powers change depending on what he’s absorbed in an area, giving you a different set of abilities and (in theory) different strategies to capitalize on.
For now I’ll focus on two of the powers: smoke and neon. I’d guess that smoke is your bread and butter, but absorbing neon from lights -- which is surprisingly easier to find in the daytime than you’d expect -- lets Delsin speed across the ground and up buildings. Whatever the case, each power carries with it a unique Karma Bomb -- think Limit Break or Hyper Combo, and you’ve got it down. And expect a fair bit of damage…of the collateral sort, without question.
I’m under the impression that -- just like before -- you’re either going to go 100% good or 100% evil, because that’s the reliable way to unlock the best, specialized powers of either branch. That could be a problem to some, but personally I kind of like that; you can’t be wishy-washy with this game, meaning you have to commit to being a saint or a sinner. That aside, what I find supremely interesting is that in SS, you’re not just deciding Delsin’s alignment; this time, you get to decide the alignment of other Conduits. Clear a boss fight against the vengeful neon sniper Fetch (man, wouldn’t that make a wild subtitle for her), and you get to choose from one of two prompts: you can redeem her, or you can corrupt her.
As you’d expect, my brother chose to corrupt her. And from what I can gather, when SS says “corrupt”, THEY MEAN IT. Fetch’s life is messed up thanks to a quadruple-whammy of her Conduit powers ostracizing her, getting taken in by DUP to be a super soldier, having a blowout with them leading to a life of homelessness and drug abuse, and the death of her brother as a result. I’d like to think that Fetch could have handled a couple of things better on her end, but Evil Delsin twists her anger and sorrow to his advantage -- makes her cave to her dark desires, and turns her into an ally for his cause by extension. Originally she’s just in it to kill drug dealers, but Evil Delsin pushes her to take out anti-Conduit activists. The pained desperation Fetch has ends up getting replaced by manic thrills; she’s having fun in the worst possible way. It’s scary to think that the player can have an effect on other characters, but it’s definitely intriguing. I want to see what else can happen -- and what happens when you redeem instead of corrupt.
Taken at face value, SS is probably going to be a good game. There are a lot of ways it could go awry, but assuming you’re not nearly as obsessive and overly-critical as I am, then you’d be in good hands if you decided to go with a purchase. As for me? Well, I don’t want to bear the game any ill will just yet. Or at least not a LOT of ill-will. The game actually managed to pull me away from Ni no Kuni, so I expect my betrayal of that game to be worth it. But for what it’s worth, the game has me interested. I want to see more of it. And I want to finish it.
But maybe that’s a problem. I’m interested in it -- but even while playing it, I’m not excited by it.
It’s not as if I can hate SS just for existing. Not yet, at least. By default, there are worse games out there, and bigger wastes of time and money; merely by virtue of that low-hanging bar, SS gets a pass. But being a pass shouldn’t be enough. Nor should being the only title worth a damn on a console that (apparently) more than six million people now own, despite only having as many good retail releases as I do fingers on my hand. So let me do a little revisionist history. Taken at face value, at the end of my run I bet I’ll say that SS is a good game. The problem is that right now, I’m not convinced being “good” is good enough.
Good night, sweet prince...
SS is probably a good game because it has the framework of a good (if notably flawed) set of games to build upon; the others are the soil, and the latest installment is the beanstalk that sprouts from it. That’s fine, I suppose -- but I’d have a hard time recommending the game as THE system-seller right now. (Indeed, a friend who recently got his own PS4 was in no rush to get the game for himself, despite my goodwill suggestions.) On the surface, SS is pretty much “the same, but more.” The formula’s been tweaked, the effort’s been put in, and it’s not like there’s nothing to like about it. It’s just that there’s nothing exemplary about it just yet. If at all.
And when you start thinking about it, it’s VERY easy to start getting cynical about the game. For example: are there smoke and neon powers because the guys at Sucker Punch thought they could get some real mileage out of those skill sets? Or are they just there to show off some new particle effects, as Knack tried to do? Does Delsin mug for the camera during one of his Karma Bombs to show off his energy and personality? Or is he doing it so they can show off their new face-modeling tech? Did Sucker Punch choose to create a 3D Seattle because they thought it would be more exciting than a made-up city like last time? Or is it in there because it’s the chance to show how close we’re getting to the Ark of the Covenant that is “photorealistic graphics”?
I know it’s the start of a new console generation, and that this is the chance for devs to get familiar with the new technology, but there’s something that’s left me unsettled for a while: why does it seem like we’re going backwards instead of forward? Killzone: Shadow Fall might have good graphics and might have sold well (by virtue of being the one game worth buying at the time), but from what I can gather the most anyone can say about it is a triumphant “meh”. I’ve heard Knack described as playing something like one of the licensed games you’d see on the PS2. Meanwhile, in spite of having a Kinect 2.0, Fighter Within managed to be
borderline broken, to the point where using the
menus was a challenge. And the less said about Ryse, the better off we’ll all be.
I just figured we’d be over this by now. Whether there’s a grace period for the new console tech or not, I would have thought that there would be more mastery of the craft. Higher standards. If the games out right now are going to make such meager offerings, then maybe this generation and all its consoles -- the PS4, the Xbox One, and yes, even the Wii U -- all needed to wait a year. Maybe they collectively needed to get their act together, and offer up a stronger library from the get-go. If SS is going to win merely by being “the same, but more”, then I suspect that something has gone wrong. And even then it’s more like “the same, but more, but also with some glaring faults”. Or am I just supposed to NOT laugh when a random goon walks right in front of the camera as Fetch makes her big declaration of revenge? Or finding a car half-submerged in an empty alleyway? Was that part of the plan, Sucker Punch? Because to your credit, it had me laughing like a loon.
If you’ve read some of my other posts, you may know that where I’m especially worried about SS is in its story. Now, I will be fair -- this could be a good story. Great, even. I’m not going to set aside that possibility, because if nothing else it’s a game that actually tries to have charisma. But when you’ve got a government organization called DUP that can (and is) pronounced “dupe” by the characters in it, it’s implying that there’s going to be one hell of a fall guy in this game. Or in lieu of my time with the game, they ARE the fall guys.
Again, I thought we were past this. I thought that we were going to get something that at least tried to talk about real-world topics in a fair light, given that the reveal of the game painted it as something more than just swinging your chains against THE MAN. At the outset, I was inclined to believe that no matter what the game would have you believe, the DUP at large is in the right. They’re protecting people from you -- and even if you play good guy, you’re still doing collateral damage on a massive scale each time you indulge in using a Karma Bomb. But unfortunately, that’s counterbalanced by the DUP being as fairly-portrayed as the average Stormtrooper.
Beyond that, I’m not wholly convinced that Delsin is going to be a character I’ll like at the end of the day. It’s too early to say, I know, and reviews have named him as a likable guy, but his enthusiasm -- while appreciable -- threatens to swing too far in the opposite direction and become cloying. Some of his lines sound like something straight out of 90’s Kid’s repertoire, and that -- along with a healthy pinch of smugness -- shows up whether you play good or evil. Frankly, I’m having a hard time trying to pick out the differences between Good Delsin and Evil Delsin; having seen my bro’s run and my run, the changes in dialogue are…debatable.
Thankfully, some of the problems are mitigated by the presence of Delsin’s older brother Reggie, who acts as his mission control/foil (and how great is it to have a foil in a game?), but then again that could mean Reggie could go south in any number of ways. He’s ready to play the voice of reason/the good guy, especially if you go evil, so there’s some potential there. Then again, maybe I’m optimistic because he’s voiced by Travis Willingsham, AKA Guile. Part of me expects him to throw a Sonic Boom over the phone.
Admittedly, there’s a lot that remains to be seen of SS. I want it to be a good game, and I expect it to be in spite of my absurd standards. But as it stands, the ship has sailed on it being the herald of a new generation of games. I have a very hard time believing that -- barring a graphical downgrade -- SS couldn’t show up on the PS3. Granted, you could say that about a number of early-in-the-lifespan games (and even some late ones), but at this stage I expect more. I expect the lessons of the past to carry over into the future. And I expect that potential to be tapped as soon as it can. Am I asking too much? Probably. But if a game is going to try and single-handedly prove the worth of a console, then it has to do more than just be “good enough”. Certainly more than “safe”.
And that’s about all I’m going to say right now about SS. I’ll be finishing it somewhere down the line. And likewise, I’m hoping that it’s going to be something worthwhile; if nothing else, I’m thankful that you can try to play as a straight-up hero. I want to see that side of the story, and I’m happy that you can shun the rest. And who knows? I’m the type of person who sees a product as what it should be, and not always what it is. But maybe this time, things will be different. Maybe “good enough” really will be good enough.
Or maybe it’ll suck ass. Who knows? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.