CHARLESTON, W.Va. — From a purely visual standpoint, the latest generation of video games populating the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hasn’t quite raised the bar the way many, myself included, expected. I haven’t been surprised by the relative lack of game play innovations — history has shown that those often come much later in a console’s lifecycle, after the previous-gen ports have ceased and developers focus all of their resources on the powerful new machines — but launch window titles have generally served to showcase whatever fancy new graphical tricks a cutting-edge console was capable of.
And to that extent, the first wave of PS4 and Xbox One titles haven’t exactly wowed me. At least they hadn’t until I played “InFamous: Second Son,” the PlayStation 4 exclusive from Sucker Punch Productions. From racing up the side of buildings in a flash of neon to simply walking down the streets of a meticulously detailed virtual Seattle, “Second Son” looks the part of a next-gen game. The lighting, the particle effects, the character models ... this is what I expected next-gen gaming to look like. Each of protagonist Delsin Rowe’s powers are presented with such flair that I sometimes found myself getting caught up in the glorious visuals and losing sight of the task at hand.
Thankfully, “Second Son” is more than just eye candy.
Set in the Pacific Northwest seven years after the events of “InFamous 2,” “Second Son” features a new lead character in Rowe and a much lighter tone than its predecessors. Rowe, himself, is a big reason for that tonal shift, as his sharp tongue and quick wit help provide the game with a sense of humor. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its serious moments — the interaction between Rowe, who we’re first introduced to as a bit of a troublemaker, and his sheriff brother, Reggie, is a definite high point. So, too, is the relationship between Delsin and “Fetch,” one of the other Conduits he encounters early in the game.
While I found the story to be a strong point — though the moral decisions again lacked real punch — what kept me coming back to “Second Son” was the open-world game play that has long been the series’ calling card. Navigating a character with super powers through an otherwise ordinary world may not illicit the same feeling of awe that it did when the genre was in its infancy with games like the original “InFamous” and “Crackdown,” but it remains an unbelievably fun experience. And “Second Son” nails the fun factor, giving players a powerful character, tougher-than-average enemies and a fully realized city in which to explore or otherwise wreak havoc. There are still issues within the open world, such as how drug deals — an activity Delsin can disrupt to gain positive karma — continue to occur in the same places over and over again (bad neighborhood, perhaps?), but by and large the sandbox you have at your disposal and the tools you’re given to play with lend themselves to having a good time.
“InFamous: Second Son” is a fine addition to one of my favorite franchises and a great showpiece for the PlayStation 4. And if “Second Son” is any indication of what players have to look forward to this console generation, it’s going to be a great time to be a gamer.
“Infamous: Second Son”
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Available for: PlayStation 4 ($59.99)
Rating: M for mature