5 Superheroic Things About inFamous: Second Son (and 5 Super-Failures)

By Kyle LeClair in Daily Lists, Video Games
Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at 6:00 am

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Art by CitrusKing46

Seven years have passed since the events of inFamous 2. Some of the Conduits (read: Superpowered folks) still remain, and with the public in a panic over these potential threats, the Department of Unified Protection (D.U.P.) is sent to round them up. When three Conduits escape close to Seattle, rebel Native American Delsin Rowe comes into contact with one and discovers that he's a Conduit himself, who can absorb the powers of others. Unfortunately, D.U.P. director Brooke Augustine then pops by looking for the escapees, and ends up torturing Delsin's tribe for any information on them, leaving them in a condition only her powers can cure. Determined to copy Augustine's powers and save his tribe, Delsin heads out to Seattle to find the D.U.P. settled in, and proceeds to get what he needs from them any way possible...

Three years have also passed since inFamous 2 itself, and along with a whole new generation of Conduits comes a chance for one of the PlayStation's biggest successes of the previous generation to shine again in a virtual superhero epic. So does it end up capturing the glory of, say, a George Pérez comic, or is it more akin to a comic that needs to be burnt atop some sort of imaginary wall? Let us find out...



Second Son's Five Super-Failures


5. Gratuitous Touchpad Bits

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With every new videogame generation comes new technologies, and with those new technologies comes that awkward period where we try to figure out exactly how to properly use them. This brings us to the PS4 controller's touchpad, presumably added simply because tablets are a thing now and Sony wanted something at least similar to them. But what to actually do with it in a game? Well, in Second Son you press the touchpad to refuel your powers at nearby sources, swipe it to open prison doors, hold on to it to help destroy Mobile Command power cores, etc. But whenever something like this popped up, I had the same reaction I did with about 80% of all Wii games that threw in motion controls, that being "What do fancy controls accomplish here that any ordinary push of a button couldn't?"

Now, in no way did I ever find these features to ever be a hindrance or an annoyance, just puzzling. They pretty much just exist solely as gimmicks designed to sell a "next generation" game instead of just, you know, letting the rest of the game speak for itself. Much like the average special addition to a Pizza Hut menu these days, it's basically throwing a cheesy but harmless new addition onto an otherwise fine produ...okay, maybe that wasn't the best metaphor. It's just kind of a pointless addition, is all.

(And yes, I'm aware I kind of forced that screenshot in. But can you blame me? There are at least ten Sly Cooper Easter Eggs in this game; how could I not resist?)


4. The Climbing Is a Bit Wonky

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As you quickly learn early on in the game, Delsin has some notable skills in the art of climbing and parkour. And while this allows you to climb up virtually any structure or building in the game, it doesn't always go off quite as smoothly. More than a few times, Delsin will find himself having trouble grasping on to a ledge that appears to be climbable, taking a few tries to hoist himself upon it. Other times, you might find yourself trying to jump onto a platform and end up pulling off a balancing act on a nearby beam or rail. And then when you get your powers later on, you might think being able to zoom up the side of a structure makes things easier...except for when you need to travel up a more narrow structure and find yourself flying off of the side.

I remember these kinds of bits being a slight problem the first game as well, and it definitely got annoying at times there. Again, this really isn't a gamebreaker, not in the slightest...it just kind of makes me sad that it's been nearly five years and Sucker Punch still hasn't fully mastered the art of climbing in that time. Next time, can we just invest in a grappling hook?


3. The Ham-Fisted Bits of Social Commentary

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Compared to the previous games' more traditional comic book feel, Second Son supposedly contains a more realistic world, plot, and overall tone (well, as realistic as one can get with a game where you can run around at super speed and leave Tron-style neon trails). And with the real-world setting comes the obvious allusions to real-world issues and problems. And oh, does the game love to shoehorn these in at times. Shall we run down the checklist of said issues the game's story tries to tackle?

- The war on terror and how hypocritical and unethical actions such as torture are used at times during it? Check!

- The NSA/sacrifice of freedom to remain secure in a post-9/11 world? Check!

- Speaking of which, the allusion to the events of previous games as a 9/11 parallel? Check!

- Something something the use of drones? Why not? Check!

- Bullying, drug use and various other subjects taken out of the after-school special lineup? Check!

- The use of Conduits and their persecution as a metaphor for the struggles of homosexuals or any other civil rights movement? Check, right down to the point where they pretty much quote several bits seemingly taken from various X-Men stories. In fact, you can pretty much cut and paste a good chunk of X-Men and the social commentaries that go with them, right down to the final boss blatantly being an X-Men villain expy.

Again, a lot of this never really harms the game much, but it does end up slathering the story in a thick coat of Velveeta at times. It comes off as trying too hard, attempting to come off as deep, thought-provoking and super-super-cereal in a game where you can sprout virtual wings just so you can glide to an area where you can spray paint a kitten on a wall before you nail a guy who's throwing fireballs at you by wrapping him in glowing neon chains. It's just obviously wedged in a game that otherwise tries to be more light-hearted, creating an awkward contrast. Speaking of which...


2. The Weak Morality System

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Pictured: Seattle's scum of the earth, apparently.

Relating back to Daniel's list on Telltale's The Walking Dead last week, in the most recent episode of that, one of the most difficult decisions the player has to make is choosing what table to sit at for dinner. I know that sounds like a joke, but it is indeed a legitimate, difficult, gut-wrenching choice that you have to make with only seconds to make your decision. I can't explain why this is the case due to spoilers, but trust me, it's a simple yet affecting scene.

My point is that with a good morality system in play, a skilled developer can make even something as seemingly insignificant as where to sit down into something much more; a true challenge for the player that makes them ponder what they think the right answer is, or if there even is a right answer.

As you may have keenly observed by the fact that we're still counting down the negative aspects of the game, Second Son does not have that good of a morality system. Despite one of the series' big selling points being the ability to choose either a "good karma" path or an "evil karma" path that affects your powers, the series hasn't been particularly well known for presenting the choices that affect your karma that well, and Second Son continues this tradition.

A good morality system in a video game should present equally valid choices that each make good points in one way or another: a gray-and-gray system as opposed to black-and-white. And while Second Son tries to present its choices like that, it doesn't really succeed. Basically, it simply boils down to letting everyone live and go free = good, killing them or anything that would harm them = bad. Not exactly complex, to say the least.

Outside of story-based choices, the ways you gain karma are silly as well. Good karma is gained through healing injured people, freeing unjustly imprisoned suspects, and busting drug deals, but evil karma? Again, you basically just kill civilians. But the specific civilians they highlight include anti-Conduit protestors, bullies, and...street musicians and sign twirlers? The hell?? Why does the game suddenly want me to kill these seemingly random yet specific people? What's my motivation for doing so? Better yet, what's Delsin's motivation for doing so? Did a man wearing a sandwich board kill his parents or something?

But I could easily put up with all of the above when it comes to a morality system if it weren't for the fact that the game straight up tells you what the good and bad choices are. Not only does the game color-code your choices as red or blue, but during story bits it just flat-out tells you which choices lead to being a hero or not. And that makes it worse, because much like Dishonored's equally half-assed moral choices, it means I no longer find myself making the choices I think are right and what I want to do, but rather find myself doing whatever gets me the good or bad ending. In a genre known for giving players insane amounts of freedom, chaining them to a dual-choice system results in some counter-intuitive parts that end up being a bit of a buzzkill. I'd say it's like Delsin has a cartoon angel and devil on his shoulders the whole time...except that summoning angels and devils depending on the path you take is an actual power you can get. Subtle, guys. Real subtle.


1. The Car Boost

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I couldn't find a picture of the Car Boost, possibly due to it being too lame. So here's some in-game lollipop graffiti instead! Yay!

So early on in the game before you even reach Seattle, Delsin winds up gaining the Car Boost, a power that allows him to stand on top of a car and launch himself into the air. This power is basically used to cross a wrecked bridge leading into the city (which has individual wrecked portions divided up that conveniently each contain at least one car on them. Imagine that), after which it becomes completely obsolete the second you reach Seattle and immediately begin gaining more powers.

Now, my beef with this isn't that it's a completely useless power thrown in to essentially pad out a training exercise. No, rather my beef i that the mere existence of this power baffles the f*** out of me. I mean, when they were throwing around idea for super powers that players would love to have, who said "Hey, you know what would be great? Having the power to jump about twelve feet into the air, but only when you're standing on top of a car!" I mean, who would want to have that power? Why is it so specific, like being able to shoot fireballs from your hands, but only if you're eating radishes at the time?

Did any other Conduits have this power? Was it the only power they had or knew about? Were they one of those Legion of Superheroes rejects like Color Kid or Arm Fall Off Boy? Did he have a superhero name? A costume? This power is just so damn silly, but like I said, its mere existence keeps me wondering how the hell it fits in! It is maddening!! Arrrggghh!!


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