Sucker Punch's Infamous is one of those franchises that has always felt like it's on the precipice of greatness. While the first two titles in the series are solidly-constructed and by all accounts enjoyable, they seem to be missing that vital final hook – an iconic character, a best-in-class mechanic, a truly gripping story – that separates very good games from true system-sellers. Perhaps the fact that Second Son missed its PlayStation 4 launch line-up target is a sign that Sony wants to get things pitch-perfect this time, to elevate the series to proper marquee status.
New protagonist Delsin Rowe helps the company's cause. A spry graffiti artist sporting sleeve tatts, a beanie, and a denim jacket whose red and white silk-screened eagles act as a morality indicator, he appears to have a bit more nuance to him than Cole, but perhaps that’s just Troy Baker’s always-excellent voice-acting and the totally snackable new-gen facial animations.
As our hour-long demo begins, Delsin is arguing with his brother Reggie, a plain old non-augmented human who works as an officer of some sort for the overbearing Department of Unified Protection.
It’s night-time, and the pair have just apprehended purple-haired, nose-ringed vigilante Abigail "Fetch" Walker, a conduit who has been going medieval on drug dealers in the game's beautifully drizzly new setting of Seattle. It’s up to us to decide her fate.
That choice dictates the content of the following mission, and our approaches are polar opposites: we either have Reggie give Fetch up to us willingly by pledging to keep an eye on her, or we threaten to smash his face in and hit the bricks to Bonnie and Clyde it up with our new sidekick. No guesses as to which of these makes the banter between characters much more interesting.
The content of the following missions varies wildly too: the nice option sends Delsin and Fetch to the docks to sink three drug-laden boats (the fish will thank us later) before silently trailing a van and dealing to a particularly heavily-armed and armoured crim, while the evil choice has us beating down groups of conduit protestors and DUP officers, before facing off against a conduit with rock-based powers. Whatever the choice, despite their AKs, laser-sighted sniper rifles, and body armour, most enemies won't stand a chance against a pair of superbeings.
It’s already been revealed that what makes Delsin special is his ability to duplicate the powers of other conduits, and thus he has access to Fetch’s neon-based attacks as well as a smoke-based attack set he obviously procured earlier. Switching between the two is as simple as absorbing smoke from a chimney or smouldering car wreck, or ingesting neon from a nearby sign, and the animations of him doing so are pretty neat.
Smoke attacks are more powerful but less precise, and have Delsin thrashing dudes with a chain, shooting projectiles, or throwing destructive bombs. Neon attacks are weaker despite a cool-looking glowing sword, but the bomb here freezes enemies in mid-air, and there is the option of more accurate projectile biffing thanks to a time dilation effect whenever you enter aiming mode. Neon also allows Delsin to blaze about the shop Tron cycle-style, and it's particularly satisfying painting a bright pink trail along the gloomy skyline while tearing from rooftop to rooftop.
While combat feels a little too lightweight – there's no real sense of Delsin's monstrous strength despite the onscreen pyrotechnics – his conduit abilities are really awesome-looking; bright, bold, and clear. Seattle also looks sharp despite its heavy Northwestern rain; there’s a lot of crisp detail here – particularly for a sandbox title – and the draw distance is pleasingly lengthy.
However, it’s clear why Second Son’s release was pushed back: it’s possible to get the camera stuck in tight corners and lose track of Delsin, and the animations for a particularly huge and cinematic attack aren’t yet finished (Sucker Punch claims its hiding the details so nothing is spoiled, but we’re sceptical). Also, jumping into ocean stops the game cold and offers up a return to shore prompt that ruins fight continuity and resets enemy position – something we’re hoping won’t feature in the final build.
Regardless, the first new-gen Infamous title is looking quite tasty indeed. If Sucker Punch manages to augment its glossy visuals and tight gameplay with a tale well-told, it will surely have a winner on its hands.
We’ll know for sure when Second Son launches exclusively for PlayStation 4 on March 21.