Aside from Killzone: Shadows Fall, Second Son is the only major release for Sony since unveiling the PS4 back in November. Because the game was built for the new hardware rather than being a PS3 port developers were able to take full advantage of the system's upgraded specs. What resulted is a game that is visually stunning in almost every aspect. From the intricately detailed models to the fluid particle effects and physics, Second Son is undeniably beautiful. Not only is the open sandbox environment aesthetically believable, but it's also the first time Sucker Punch has chosen a real world locale for their story. The fictitious Empire City and New Marais have been replaced with a faithfully recreated version of Seattle. Although the digital city isn't an exact replication of its real-life counterpart it does have several noticeable landmarks such as the Space Needle and even the famous Lincoln’s Toe Truck. In addition to the iconic tourist spots the dreary weather effects also hugely contribute to the city's authenticity. Swirling rain clouds and reflections from taillights as cars pass over puddled streets add a whole new level of realism. The immense detail is a crucial aspect of the game with so much emphasis being placed on exploring the open environment. Sucker Punch's reimagining of Seattle will certainly encourage players to scour every inch of the beautifully rendered world.
One of my biggest concerns going into Second Son was my initial reaction to Delsin, the game's protagonist (or possibly antagonist). Based off early trailers and other media releases I got the impression that Delsin was, for lack of a better term, a douche. But surprisingly enough, I actually found myself growing to like the smug little punk. Delsin's character design still resembles something torn from the pages of Tiger Beat, but the acting more than compensates for his blatant fashion shortcomings. The voice work and range of emotion captured with subtle facial animations does wonders for the character's likability. Although he's still a brash, irresponsible teenager you can't help but connect with him as he struggles to adjust to his new powers. The relationship between Delsin and his brother is also extremely well done and ends up being one of the most enjoyable parts of the narrative. However, their strong performances do somewhat overshadow the less pivotal characters who's lack of development almost makes them seem like an afterthought.
From a functionality standpoint, I found our hero and his newly acquired skill set to be quite easy to navigate. Fans of the series will immediately feel at home with the controls as they function almost identically to those of the previous installments. There are a few noticeable gameplay changes that include the use of the touchpad to drain supply sources and the ability to teleport via Delsin's smoke powers. Not only are the smoke effects beautifully done, but players can also quickly scale buildings by entering pipes connected to rooftop vents. This makes traversing the city much easier as players aren't forced to parkour their way from ledge to ledge when climbing structures. For those that still prefer the Altaïr approach, the controls do seem a little less responsive than in previous inFAMOUS games. You'll certainly notice that Delsin is a lot less graceful than Cole when he awkwardly vaults himself off a wall in the wrong direction.
A familiarity to its predecessors does bring the game a lot of successes, but it also seems to be where Second Son stumbles a bit. As with other entries, the Karma system plays a huge role in the narrative as well as the gameplay mechanics. Again, we see that different story arcs occur depending on whether our character has "hero" or "infamous" status. Your status also affects which powers can be unlocked and even alters Delsin's appearance. The design on Delsin's back will change slightly with every karmic benchmark to help players track their progress, but all it really does is draw more attention to the fact that he's wearing a denim jacket. Apart from the jacket players can also gauge their status with the usual red and blue meters found on screen. Even though the Karma system is at the center of the inFAMOUS universe, its lack of reimagining in terms of its presentation makes it feel dated. Not only do the visuals seem stale, but it leads to a huge gap in the overall story. We're all on board with why a someone that has recently acquired superpowers would become a hero, but there's very little to suggest why Delsin would choose the dark side. Delsin's main driving force is to save the people in his community so it makes sense that he would do anything, good or bad, to help them. Where the game falters is the lack of rationale and morale accountability for why he would feel the need to set innocent civilians ablaze (assuming the player chooses to do so). Even though Delsin is an angsty teen with an affection for vandalizing public property there is nothing to suggest him as having a hatred for humanity. I guess it's entirely possible that some people's reaction to having superpowers might be to run amok and wreak havoc on innocent bystanders...or maybe Delsin was just picked last in gym class.
Despite the aging presentation of the Karma system it does increase the game's replayability substantially. The divergent paths definitely warrant a second playthrough just to experience both sides of the narrative. Combined with addictive gameplay and a massive world to explore players should have plenty to keep them busy with Second Son. Sucker Punch's latest offering in the series is certainly the best from a graphical standpoint, but some fans may find themselves longing for the days of Cole MacGrath. Regardless of where you stand in terms of which entry was better, Second Son breathes some new life into the franchise and paves the way for future releases. And with a limited number of native PS4 titles available it's definitely a game that shouldn't be missed. Whether you're a returning fan or a newcomer to the series there's never been a better time to flex your conduit superpowers. But remember, with great power comes great responsibility. You can choose to spare the Seattleites as you bring real bio-terrorists to justice and save your people or simple demolish everything in your path and reign in infamy.