For a game to be considered truly exemplary, it has to excel in practically everything it attempts. This much is obvious – if you have the best story possible but no gameplay to prop it up, you can safely say it’s not going to be classified as a gaming gem any time soon. Yet it’s this fact that becomes the core of my issue with Infamous: Second son – it’s a game that does things well, but also a game where its attempt to become a classic become dulled by the problems I see contained within.
The first of these problems comes in the form of the sandbox world that you’re thrown into. Seattle itself is beautifully realised, there’s no doubting that – it’s a visual treat, and being able to throw the effects of your own powers into the mix provides an excellent feast for the eyes. For a time, navigating it is also fun – using smoke powers to shoot through vents initially feels new and exciting, as does unlocking new powers and suddenly finding yourself able to soar from building to building. But when this initial appear wears off, which is certainly does, you realise it’s a strangely dead world to be unleashed in…
There’s little scope for you to create your own fun away from the side quests scattered around, and also no real room to get inventive. Games such as Grand Theft Auto 5 and Just Cause 2 were perfect at doing this – you spent a lot of your time messing around in the world, coming up with new activities and challenges for yourself. Here, there’s very little scope for that; there’s nothing drastically reacting to your actions, and nothing interesting to bounce ideas off or plan around, which is even more amazing when you consider you’re playing a character with super powers. It’s like being thrown into a literal sandbox with only a spade – you’ll have some fun at first, sure, but soon enough you find yourself hoping that someone will thrown a bucket in there too.
My second key gripe with the game comes from the morality system. The story itself is solid enough, and certainly manages to strike one or two powerful chords as it draws to a close. But choosing the path of good and evil seems like a distant second thought to this, and doesn’t tie in well at all. For instance, your brother is a cop, and continuously helps you and says he’s proud of you… Even if you’re on the evil path and killing hundreds of cops a minute. All you’ll ever get for being evil is a light scolding, before the dialogue snaps immediately back to exactly how it is on the good side of things. My second playthrough was far more disappointing than the first, because it felt like nothing had changed but the faces of the targets I was shooting at.
The actions of your character outside your own gameplay choices were a bit jarring as well, especially in (once again) the evil plot line. Throughout the story, you do callous things, sure, but there’s always some sort of twisted motive behind it… You set out for revenge against a gang called the Akuras, for instance, who are campaigning for genocide of those with super powers and have seemingly acted on this idea before. Your choice to attack them isn’t the right course of action, but one you could certainly build an argument for. Yet in the final cutscene, you get firmly scolded by a member of your own tribe as you return home – and your character immediately jumps into the air and promptly kills them all. This being a tribe that, even if you go evil from the start, you’re still setting out to help. It’s all a bit jarring, and just gave me the sensation that someone was holding my hand down the road they wanted to go, no matter how hard I pulled in the other direction.
In essence, Second Son felt to me like a strange light show, one which you certainly enjoy at the time, but one that you never really feel compelled to go back to. That’s fine and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that – but considering the concept of the game and what reviews were saying at the time, I kind of expected more. When Infamous: First Light rolled around, it tried to squeeze out a bit more from its lifespan with the arena mode, an endless fight against increasing hordes of enemies and with many a high scores to chase. Yet it suffered the same fate – it all became too repetitive too quickly, especially when I realised missiles were king and could pretty much pull you through any situation. It’s such a shame, because what both games do they do well enough – but to me they’ll always be infamous simply based on what could have been.