Even though this review is a few months late, there still aren't a bevy of exclusive titles for the Playstation 4. Whatever the situation may be now, though, this was even more true back when Infamous: Second Son released. As the second big exclusive for the new system, Infamous had a lot of hype leading up to its release. The added pressure of the game's impressive pedigree meant it had to be an especially exceptional game to truly meet expectations. Does Infamous: Second Son achieve greatness, or will it ultimately be lost amongst future releases?
It won't take long for players to notice one of the few inarguable truths about Second Son: the game is beautiful. The characters are almost boring in how much they look and act like real people, and Sucker Punch's take on Seattle is visually impressive from the moment you reach the city. The same level of detail extends to the powers exhibited by the characters in the game, making the limited selection of abilities fun to look at from start to finish. It's too bad the impressive visuals exist mostly at surface level only. For instance, the game starts you off on the shore of a Native American reservation, yet Delsin doesn't leave a single footprint in the sand. The same can be said for what happens when Delsin walks through puddles. Not only do they not ripple when his feet make contact, but he doesn't leave wet footprints behind him afterwards, either. While the game is a pleasure to look at, even more so after the Picture Mode update, it falls apart in small, but noticeable, ways once you actually start playing.
You play as Delsin, an outcast from the get-go, and he looks and acts the part. It feels like pop culture has moved beyond this counter-culture style character at this point, but after an hour or so Delsin doesn't even fully commit to this identity anymore, making him much more tolerable than one would initially think. The story takes a few interesting twists and turns, but it's over far too fast. The short length of the game can be partially attributed to the lack of any meaningful side-quests, but the story itself, while pretty good, doesn't have much depth to it. What is there, though, is well-executed for the most part, with great voice-acting and some good boss fights - especially the final one -, and the powers you get throughout are all fun to play around with. The side characters get the shaft in terms of development and screen time, and unfortunately the final power comes only once you've beaten the game, and even if you take the time to play around with it, it is easily the shallowest of the three.
Seattle may be beautifully rendered, but Infamous: Second Son is in desperate need of more life within the city. There are only a handful of naturally-generated activities, and they all involve either saving someone or hurting someone. The collectibles are much more attainable than they have been in past games, but this also means it takes far less time to fully complete the game. One of the biggest crimes the open city makes, though, is taking away the Space Needle as a climb-able building. You only climb it once in the story, and then you can never scale it again. There isn't a ton of verticality in the city to begin with, so taking away the city's tallest landmark is a shame.
What remains is all scalable, though the climbing mechanics are the worst they have ever been for the series. Often times, trying to climb without using your powers means fighting with Delsin every step of the way, as the game has a hard time figuring out which objects he should be clinging to, and you can forget about getting around any abutments. The neon power largely negates this frustration, but it's unclear how Sucker Punch can be struggling with the urban exploration aspect of their game at this point.
There isn't much to do once you finish the story for Infamous: Second Son. The best thing left is to raise the difficulty and play through making the exact opposite choices you did the first time. The differences between an Infamous and Heroic playthrough are largely superficial, but it's fun to see the different ways Delsin interacts with people throughout the storyline, and they way the crowd treats you. Unfortunately, your powers don't change much - you have access to one or two different variations based on how you are playing - which is a standard set by earlier games in the franchise. An Infamous playthrough should grant you more brute-force powers, while playing as a Hero should give you more ways to figure things out in a nonlethal manner, but this isn't the case, nor does the game make it matter.
Infamous: Second Son isn't as good as the other two games in the franchise, which hurts it more than it probably deserves. Were this an original IP, it would be a great launch-window title for the Playstation 4. In reality, it is just a decent third entry in Sucker Punch's series. There's a lot to like, from the visuals to the tight combat and the well-done story, but the lack of depth means most people will be trading this game in well before another major exclusive is even available, nevermind once there are a ton of choices for the console. Play Infamous: Second Son now, because it will be hard to appreciate the game in a year.