A little over a week ago, some of the writers here at HSR got together and tried something new. Meeting up on a Google Hangout, we discussed our picks for the best games of 2014 so far. Mine was Infamous Second Son, the newest in Sucker Punch Studios’ Infamous series.
I’ve had quite the experience with Second Son. This game was the sole reason I bought a PS4. For weeks it was the only thing I’d play on the shiny new system, and because of that I’ve beaten it four times now. I’ve played my fair share, and admittedly enjoyed much of the experience.
But it didn’t deserve my vote for GOTY, and that’s because at the end of the day Second Son was a big letdown. For weeks I flip-flopped between opinions, but after replaying the Infamous series in its entirety, I’ve made up my mind. I’ve finally found the right words to explain why Infamous Second Son left me disappointed.
So, as we dive into my private thoughts on Second Son, what is Infamous? And more importantly, what should it be?
In short, the Infamous series consistently revolves around super powers and the people who have them, throwing you into a big sandbox with some fun toys to tinker around with. That’s what it is.
But not so consistently, it puts the player in a moral conflict, torn between good and evil. This explores the deeper aspect of what having super powers truly means. It begs the question of where you stand, and adds a sense of humanity to these charged up super-people. That’s what it should be.
Second Son has no moral struggle. Decisions are few and far between, and when they are present, they’re treated with a grain of salt. The only major difference between the good and evil stories are their endings.
Decisions seem important, but once they’re over you quickly realize it doesn’t matter what you choose. Your actions don’t leave consequence on the world around you, making Second Son‘s narrative feel the same both times you play.
For example, Delsin’s brother Reggie dies near the end of the game. Up until this point Reggie is an especially moral cop who takes his job very seriously. Nothing about his character suggests that he would be okay with his younger brother mowing down hundreds of innocent bystanders, so why does he tell Delsin he’s proud of him in both the good and bad playthrough? Contradictions like these make choice nothing more than a pointless gesture.
What’s even worse is the way in which this unimportant and inconsequential morality system ties itself directly to the gameplay. Like the two before it, Second Son allows you to upgrade your powers based on how good or evil you are. What made it work so well in the games before it was that new powers were actually new powers.
For instance, in Infamous 2 I could upgrade my regular grenades to cluster grenades, sticky grenades, ice grenades that freeze enemies…so on and so forth. It served a purpose and encouraged the player to push for good or evil karma.
While there is the rare cool improvement (being able to slow down time or instantly subdue an enemy with a headshot), they’re scarce in number. The bulk are just a decrease in how much of your “power bar” you use. Even then, the neater ones don’t compare to the variety Infamous 2 introduced, where you could practically customize your own Cole to suit your style of play.
In fact, I can’t help but feel that Second Son is a step down from the superior Infamous 2 in nearly every way. The entire point of a sequel is to improve on the entry that came before it, and Second Son doesn’t do that.
It lacks the originality of Infamous, and it doesn’t change or produce anything new for the series like Infamous 2 did, so Second Son is caught in some awkward place that lacks inspiration. Conceptually, things often seem new, like having multiple powers, but they’re never put to full use.
Second Son is a reflection of what the majority of next-gen gaming has been about so far: taking something we’ve seen before and making it prettier. Throw in a couple of minigames that make use of the touchpad and let’s call it a day.
And the shortcomings don’t end there.
For every fascinating character like Reggie or Augustine, there’s another who’s an underdeveloped cliché, like Eugene or Fetch. As pretty as Seattle is, it’s nowhere near as varied as New Marais, and why did they do away with UGC and side missions?
I’m sure that by now people still reading are convinced I hate Second Son, but they’d be wrong. I like Second Son. It’s an excellent display of the PS4’s power and one of the best exclusives on the system right now.
But how much does that really mean? Second Son is an important game to the PS4, but that doesn’t make its bare bone ideas work any better. At the end of the day, Sucker Punch has fallen from their perch.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think. Also, be sure to check out Tom’s review of Second Son.