Infamous: Second Son (stylized as inFAMOUS: Second Son) is the third entry in the Infamous series. The basic concept of Infamous is this: you are a Conduit. Conduits are humans with a naturally occurring genetic mutation that lets them absorb, control, and project various types of energy. Each Conduit specializes in a certain type of energy, but it is sometimes possible to acquire powers from other Conduits. You can choose to use this ability for good, protecting the people of your city as a hero, or you can choose to be selfish and reckless, gradually sliding into supervillainy. While the core gameplay of the series remains pretty consistent, Second Son features new protagonist Delsin Rowe, a new setting (Seattle), and four new powers.
Infamous: Second Son is rated T for Teen. There will be blood—and drug references, and sexual references. So, while this game definitely has some content unsuitable for younger kids, Second Son, unlike some sandbox games, has a karma system that offers lots of opportunities to discuss moral and ethical issues with more mature teens.
In layman’s terms, Infamous is kind of like Grand Theft Auto with superpowers and a moral compass. That is to say, it’s an open-world (sandbox) game: you’re allowed to wander around the Infamous version of Seattle doing missions or side activities. Or you can just go around leaping buildings with a single bound and traveling faster than a speeding bullet—whatever superheroes/villains do in their spare time. As far as how fun all of the activities in Second Son are, it certainly gets my stamp of approval.
There are basically two things you’ll be doing in Infamous that I believe constitute the bulk of the fun to be had in the game. First, you’ll use your superpowers to move through the environment. Each power has a unique Dash ability which allows you to navigate the city in really cool ways. For example, the first power you get is Smoke.
The Smoke power’s Dash ability allows Delsin to turn into a cloud of smoke and surge forward through the air for a short distance. This also allows Delsin to move through pretty much any obstacle that isn’t completely solid. Fallen trees? No problem. A locked steel gate? May as well be an open door. Air vents? Sounds fun. And it is fun, as well as being your primary way of climbing buildings. Usually whenever I needed to get somewhere from street level, I would start Dashing in the general direction of my destination while looking for the nearest air vent that would take me up. The vents blow you up a pretty good distance into the air too, so from there I would continue Dashing through the air while looking for more vents to launch me. This also comes into play during the course of the other major source of fun in Infamous: plowing through armies of enemy goons.
There are a good number of fun combat abilities in Infamous as well. In more difficult fights you’re going to end up combining those abilities with your movement abilities so that you can zip in and out of the line of fire to let your health regenerate while you take out as many goons as you can. Each superpower has a slightly different set of abilities, but for the most part it plays like a third-person shooter with a very flashy twist. You have your basic aimed shot, a grenade-like ability, a larger “missile” shot for which ammo is less plentiful, and a couple of melee abilities.
That said, the different powers definitely and distinctly affect the way you play the game. For example, the Smoke power excels at medium-range combat for three reasons: smoke missiles are relatively slow moving but they explode, the only real crowd control ability you have is your Smoke grenade (which basically works like tear gas), and (I’m pretty sure) you can’t be shot while Dashing. On the other hand, one of the powers that you get later in the game has invisibility instead of a grenade ability and its melee attack is really strong, so that one tends to work best in close range. Anyway, whichever power you happen to be using, you’re going to be using your various abilities a lot. Zipping around between the tops of buildings and the street while constantly using all of your flashy abilities really never gets old.
But this brings me to my next point: while it never really gets old, I still can’t help but feel this game could be a little bit more complex. As I mentioned earlier, machine gun fire from your basic goons isn’t all that avoidable. This forces you into a pattern of zipping out of cover to attack, getting shot a whole lot, and then running away to let your health regenerate. While this is part of what creates the “zipping around” effect during combat, I found myself wishing that there were more dodgeable attacks so I would have to actually pay attention and strategize a little more as opposed to falling into a pattern for each power and using that until all the goons have been dealt with. Some of the boss battles help to break this pattern up a little bit, but if you ask me, only two of the bosses are really all that memorable. Maybe I shouldn’t complain. Most open-world titles are not exactly tuned very tightly for difficulty.
Because the best part of the game is zipping around and visiting wanton destruction on whatever army happens to be arrayed against you, it can disrupt your rhythm when you’re trying to play as a True Hero instead of a Supervillain. Why? Because protecting people is hard when you destroy the turret-equipped Armored Personnel Vehicle shooting at you and the explosion kills three civilians. Whoops! Not only do you lose True Hero karma (which, long story short, messes with your character progression), but it makes it a lot harder to use what I like to call your “Supermove.”
See, each power has a distinct Supermove, but really what they all do is take out a whole lot of bad guys in a really short time in a really spectacular way. It’s pretty fun. When you play as a Hero, you gain ammo for your Supermove by performing acts that grant you Hero karma. That wouldn’t be so bad because you can gain Hero karma by just incapacitating goons and not killing them (which is pretty easy)–except you lose all of your stored up Supermove ammo if you perform any actions that give you Evil karma. That means that accidentally blowing up civilians makes you lose your Supermove opportunities. I also lost a lot by accidentally shooting goons that were surrendering. With all that zipping around, I wasn’t really pausing long enough to check if any particular goons had recently dropped their weapons and reached for the sky.
Supervillains have nothing like that to worry about. It’s enough to cause a pretty significant power disparity between the two styles of play. I’ve noticed that it tends to take a lot longer to get through any given fight as a Hero than it does as a Supervillain, if only because I don’t have to be careful about avoiding civilians and can just blow everything up. Add the Supermove problem into the mix and it’s even worse. All you have to do to get Supermove ammo as a Supervillain is kill people (civilians count too!) which, as I was just saying, is easy to do whether you’re trying or not.
There was a great example of this shortly after you acquire your second power. You have to fight your way through a tunnel packed with turrets and goons. As a Hero, I had a hard time because it’s not so easy to run away when you’re stuck in a tunnel and you have to aim really carefully to avoid killing. As a Supervillain, I don’t think I even got hit. I just snuck up to the first goon in the tunnel and assassinated him. He exploded into pure energy which started a chain reaction of exploding people, killing five more goons and a crowd of 24 civilians. This gave me a Supermove, which I used as soon as I ran into the next group of goons. Then I just continued moving through the tunnel and blowing up the cars that the goons were hiding behind until I got more Supermoves, and chained them in that fashion until I was out of the tunnel.
It is possible to play Infamous in such a way that the morality really begins to resemble Grand Theft Auto more than a superhero game like the Batman Arkham series. However, unlike Grand Theft Auto, Infamous: Second Son subjects the player to some very stern finger wagging for making Evil choices. In fact, I could criticize the evil versions of Second Son’s characters for being almost cartoonishly evil and lacking in depth. Evil Delsin really has no good reason to be as evil as he is—he’s just portrayed as being an immature kid who has a problem with authority, which somehow translates to mass murder, I guess. He’s not a sympathetic character at all, and it ends up feeling more like a “this is your brain on superpowers” cautionary tale than a good story.
As a result, the characters that are supposed to act as Delsin’s conscience end up coming off a little trite. Considering what they have to work with, it would be hard not to. But at least there’s no disputing that, if you try to play this game like Grand Theft Auto, it will do its best to make you feel bad for doing so. And you have to listen to what it has to say, because none of the cutscenes are skippable. Thankfully, Delsin’s character seems to fit the Hero storyline a lot better, so the good karma cutscenes aren’t nearly as cringe-worthy. Really, what all this means is that there’s a lot of story incentive to play as a Good character.
All in all, Infamous: Second Son delivers a lot of fun for teens mature enough to handle and critically examine its T for Teen content.