Monday, July 28, 2014

On Infamous Second Son

So, my gaming history went something like this, 

  • Roller Coaster Tycoon 
  • Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness
  • Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos (and associated expansion packs)
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2
  • Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
  • Fallout 1 & 2
  • Planescape: Torment
And ... that's pretty much it. I wasn't much of a bowler, if you know what I mean. So my introduction to modern console games were the 7th generation games BioShock and Infamous (years later I did fall in love with New Vegas and Deus Ex). I loved the former for the story, I loved the latter for it's ability to reach into my deepest fantasies of being the least qualified superhero ever and allowing me to rampage around a city. Granted, I must have liked something else otherwise I'd have probably preferred Prototype ... but I didn't, so moving on.

I'm always a little dubious about sequels. In this day and age, can you really blame me though? I could spend multiple reviews waxing philosophical and ANGRILY TYPING IN CAPSLOCKS about how tired I am of sequels, remakes, franchises, reimaginings, spinoffs, shared universes etc.

But, I have to admit, I was actually pretty excited about Second Son. So, does it hold up to my pretentiously high standards and expectations?

Most Idiotic Review

"[Second Son] speaks to an attitude reflected in the main character: 'We're far too cool and alternative to be put into your little boxes, man! Not like those nerdy spods over there, with their dungeons and Star Wars and all the other shit we pretend we don't know anything about.' But it's all delusion! Second Son stands obliviously in a box clearly labelled 'current-gen'. As in 'same as before but shinier and there's less of it'. Less sandbox, less missions, less of everything except arrogance. Can't see much point in it unless they found a way to erase the previous games from history. Like, say, by making a new console not backwards-compatible with– oh." -- Yahtzee Croshaw (Zero Punctuation)

Well, Yahtzee keeps popping up in my reviews in this section. Surprising. Again, I'm a huge Zero Punctuation fan, but oftentimes I just can't agree with him. I doubt that would bother him. This particular point I chalk up to Yahtzee being a hipster. I can't help it. Maybe it's the goatee and the fedora he so commonly sports, but this part of his review really just sounds like the rallying cries of the hipster population. Maybe it's my Vegas upbringing and the people I surrounded myself with. 

We were an eclectic group to say the least ...
But ultimately it's just a matter of opinion, so I'd best leave it at that. I can't personally agree with Yahtzee on this one, but I can still see where he's coming from.

Most Accurate Review

"While Second Son’s individual beats and characters are well executed, the plot that strings them all together is frustratingly straightforward and limited in scope, depriving the bit players of the chance to make a meaningful impact on the core conflict."

I find myself favoring reviews that appeal to how fun the game is, but how much more the game could have been. There's the shame of wasted potential, but not to the degree that the game we ultimately received was still a lot of fun. 

What I Say

So what is this story trying to offer? We have Delsin Rowe, a twenty-four-year-old Native American who lives with his more conservative cop brother in a fictional Okamish conservation, before he discovers he's a conduit or bio-terrorist who can absorb powers from other conduits he comes in contact with. Delsin is also your regular ol' Juvenile Delinquent, but, being voiced by the Baby-Jesus in real life Troy Baker, he's nothing but charm. 

The antagonist of the story is Brooke Augustine, the director of the D.U.P., a government organization bent on controlling the so-called bioterrorist threat, and the crux of this story involves Delsin trying to absorb her own conduit powers over concrete in order to save the people on the conservation.

This was the first major problem I encountered. I was under the impression that, when Augustine suspects Delsin of hiding something, she hurts the people closest to him and ... leave him behind? Behold the makings of the classic revenge plot that we've all seen a million times. He goes on a quest to get stronger so that he can return home with the chalice and a new sense of self. While it is a classic archetypal story, it rings very tired in this case, no matter how much new characters try to spice it up. 

After that the story pretty much plays out as you'd expect. I won't spoil it, but I'll be honest, it doesn't go anywhere truly surprising, even if it's nicely done.

The characters though are certainly a step up from previous installments. While I never had particular issue with Cole McGravely pants, I certainly see why he's not going to be lauded as revolutionizing video-game characters, he's a MacGuffin in and of himself created in order to get to the gameplay of the stories. That's about it.  

Here, whether you find him charming or grating, Delsin is a pretty fleshed out character, and not too detached from the situation not to enjoy the gameplay as much as the player. He has some pretty solid relationships with the people around him too, especially Reggie, his brother, who goes along with a lot of Delsin's harebrained schemes with a sigh of weariness, hinting that, while Delsin hasn't had powers for very long, this behavior is nothing new. 

Reggie is actually really interesting. The fact that he has an inherent distaste of bio-terrorists supplies the game with some pretty sincere drama as it causes friction between the two brothers, and it also allows the player a direct insight into the minds of those who are antagonistic towards Delsin (and being an action game, there's quite a few). Also, the game works hard to not characterize any of the alternate viewpoints. To some degree, I can see this world legitimately existing.

Fetch is one of the other main Conduits we see in the game, and she's not nearly as interesting as I expected her to be. Actually, outside of the two main characters, most of the rest of the cast is woefully underdeveloped. Fetch has a really interesting backstory, but it really doesn't go too many places. She, like Delsin, seems more like a response to needing a new powers source than as a character called upon by the story. Now that said, her dialogue and voice acting are a lot of fun, and her relationship with Reggie and Delsin are entertaining, I just didn't feel like she was utilized to her fullest extent. 

In a way, she (and Eugene, who was the other main conduit in the the game, who I really don't have a lot to say about) was what I feared The Avengers would ultimately be. I understand Delsin the protagonist, but I remember having a similar sensation during Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, right at the very end of the game which was the moment someone uttered the line, "Only you can stop the bad guy, rescue the damsel, save the world," ... or something like that. I instantly thought, "Why am I the only one? Why can't we call on an army to do the world saving?" 

Lastly we have the antagonist. I still don't really get Brooke Augustine. Her initial backstory is pretty nice, and while I won't ruin it, I found it pretty interesting ... and completely inconsistent with the character we and Delsin face for the majority of the game. It felt very schizophrenic truth be told, which hurt my overall enjoyment of the story. 

The spectacle of the game though is where the game really shines. The various powers, Smoke, Neon, Digital, and Concrete. While they're visually stunning, they really stretch what constitutes 'elemental' powers. I mean, the moment Angels started flying around their recreation of Seattle ... well, it's not done poorly, it's just a little out there.

Gameplay is smooth and fun, and really builds on what the developers learned in previous Infamous games, but ... it really doesn't add too much knew, in terms of gameplay or story. It's fun, it's flashy, it's enjoyable, and really there isn't too much more to be said. 

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