inFAMOUS: Second Son hands-on preview

With inFAMOUS: Second Son, Sucker Punch has managed to diversify the superhero experience without adding undue complexity.

This is an important point for series fans, because–as Sucker Punch readily admits–the wealth of abilities and combos at Cole MacGrath’s disposal, especially in the final hours of inFAMOUS 2, made trying different attacks and playstyles a somewhat laborious process. The options were there, but they were buried within menus, often requiring a break from the action to look up a button configuration or combo series. But while new protagonist Delsin Rowe’s abilities seem no less varied or numerous, accessing them will be more intuitive and lore-friendly than ever.

It all starts with Delsin’s signature superpower of what I’ll call "absorption." Basically, Delsin can consume certain elements of the environment around him, changing his move set, strengths, and weaknesses in the process. By now, inFAMOUS veterans are no doubt familiar with his trademark smoke abilities: in Smoke form, Delsin can dash through some walls and enter building vents to reach rooftops in seconds, and his main ranged attack shoots fiery projectiles from his hand. But the city around him plays host to alternatives. In my hands-on demo at a PS4 review event, I learned that Delsin can absorb neon from appropriate objects, like building signs. After a visually stunning moment of transformation, I turned my attention back to the DUP soldiers I was fighting, only to find that Neon powers had dramatically changed the way Delsin feels to play.

The most obvious alteration was to my main attack. Instead of the fiery bolts of Delsin’s smoke form, R2 now fired streaking neon lasers with impressive range–not unlike a sci-fi railgun. My rate of fire was reduced–I could only squeeze off two or three shots in the time it took to fire 10 smoke projectiles–but higher damage meant enemies were falling faster. Without question, Neon represents a ranged playstyle for the folks who enjoy taking out targets from a comfortable distance. It’s not stealthy, by any means, and Neon absorption also grants a much faster and longer dash ability for putting distance between you and your foes–or running up building walls to reach any rooftop with ease. The changes with each absorption likely run deeper, as I didn’t get a chance to use the series’ signature ground pound or the special Karma Bomb ability in Neon form. But the impact is clear: absorbing different elements is like changing the very nature of your superhero identity, akin to swapping loadouts or changing your class. You’ll have to make on-the-fly absorption decisions based on the enemies you’re fighting, the environment, and what sources are available nearby. Without access to every power, all the time, Second Son’s gameplay feels significantly more manageable without sacrificing what could be a wealth of combat options.

I say "what could be," because Sucker Punch has yet to reveal other elements, though Development Director Chris Zimmerman promises there are more than two. Without much else to mull over in terms of gameplay possibilities, I found myself instead drawing comparisons between Second Son and its PS3 predecessors, building an idea of the series’ evolution where I could. The change I noticed first is actually pretty subtle: while you’re shooting bolts at enemies, rather than the game shifting to an over-the-shoulder viewpoint, Delsin still occupies center frame. This parlays well with another combat change: you no longer have to zoom in with L2 to fire bolts. You can shoot enemies from standing, running, and climbing positions without ever "aiming down sight" for precision. As a result, the game at large feels more fluid; not only because Delsin’s smoke powers are mobile-friendly, but because the camera rarely shifts from a centered perspective that lets you do all things, from running and traveling to fighting, effectively.

Sucker Punch jokes that all its protagonists are coincidentally gifted athletes, but on the whole, Delsin’s parkour abilities feel less important than Cole’s in the moment-to-moment experience. I didn’t feel immediately compelled to climb the nearest building and gain a vantage point on the DUP soldiers. Chalk it up to the demo’s reduced difficulty, but my varied combat options–including the ability to charge a short-range blast of energy instead of firing normal projectiles–felt plenty appropriate for dealing with simple enemy types. The Neon dash also made climbing a bit redundant, though a great deal of gameplay factors–including your preferred mode of travel–hinge on whatever element you’re currently imbued with.

From a gameplay persective then, choice is the order of the day. For inFAMOUS, a series built on the spectrum of morality and how you navigate what’s good and evil, I can’t think of a more appropriate mantra. Of course, Sucker Punch isn’t spilling details just yet on the game’s Karma system, though there most definitely is one. I’m expecting a more thoughtful approach to decision-making that doesn’t discourage you from making choices off your typical path.

What’s readily apparent is that inFAMOUS: Second Son looks fantastic. Particle effects positively pop with vibrant color and impressive density, while face and motion capture serve animations–both in and out of cutscenes–that are among the best I’ve seen in a video game. Other parts of my demo were less complete–one beat in particular, where the Triangle button would appear over enemies I had stunned with a headshot, was missing descriptions and final art, but the on-screen appearance of the face buttons, in the same place and style as inFAMOUS 2, teased finishing moves, or takedowns, that aren’t ready for primetime just yet.

inFAMOUS fans, rest easy: Second Son has everything I love about the franchise’s gameplay depth and flexibility, with accessible systems and a reboot plot that are sure to attract new fans. We’ll have more on inFAMOUS: Second Son in the coming months, so stay glued to PSU and catch up on our launch week PS4 coverage for more info about the console you’ll be playing it on.