The first few hours: Infamous Second Son

CURRENT STATUS:  I’m around 3-4 hours into Infamous: Second Son; I’ve acquired smoke and neon powers; I think my karma is whatever Level 3 Good is called (“Champion”, perhaps).

ON THE ONE HAND, Infamous Second Son is a graphics whore’s delight.  It is, without question, one of the most beautiful-looking games I’ve ever seen.  It is so pretty, in fact, that I now feel fully justified in upgrading to a PS4.  I don’t know how to articulate the game’s beauty in a technical sense, so I’m linking to Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry analysis of the game’s first hour in case you need to know how and why.  What I can tell you is that even in spite of some minor frame rate jitters, the game is jaw-dropping to behold.  Seeing neon light reflected in puddles – or even just the way the ambient light fades as you absorb the neon from a nearby sign – is stunning.  The animation is also quite spectacular – there’s so many subtle details in the way the main character Delsin moves, or how his hands articulate as he runs (or even as he stands still).

And while I still wonder why Sony feels it necessary to make sure that every game uses the Dualshock 4’s touchpad whenever possible, at least it’s used wisely here – and by “wisely”, I mean “very quickly and very infrequently.”  The game also uses the controller in a novel way whenever Delsin starts tagging, Banksy-style; it’s a little gimmicky, sure, but it’s not offensively gimmicky.

And I’d also be remiss in mentioning the supercharged move you get when you max out your karma combo meter specifically with the neon power – it feels like a summons right out of Final Fantasy, except it’s you doing it, and it’s spectacular.

ON THE OTHER HAND, though: the game is really, really difficult and frustrating.  I expected this sort of thing in Dark Souls 2, and even though it’s part of the experience it annoyed me so much I nearly broke the game disc in half.  But I didn’t expect it here, and that’s what’s so dumbfounding – especially since, unlike in Dark Souls 2, a lot of my deaths feel horrifically unfair.  Regardless of how many superpowers Delsin might absorb, he can only take a miniscule amount of damage – and the enemy is really good at juggling you in place so that you can’t escape.  When I die, I die a lot, and it makes me feel less inclined to explore and do certain side activities, at least until I’ve powered up my abilities a bit further – and I haven’t seen anything in the way of upgrading my defensive abilities, like taking more damage or the like.  I find myself stopping a play session not because of time, or because I ended in a chapter break, but because I’m frustrated and can’t figure out how the hell I’m supposed to defeat this wave of enemies without getting chopped into bits.

And while the virtual Seattle on display is absolutely gorgeous, I don’t really have a good feel of the city since a lot of my travelling is along rooftops and such.  It’s the same sort of disconnect that I had with Saints Row 4 – the city feels abstract because I’m not really in it the way that I am in, say, GTA V‘s Los Santos.  I suppose at some point I should write up a thing about cities in open-world games and why some of them work better than others, but in the case of I:SS it’s really just that I’m constantly moving around and so I don’t really have a sense of where I am at any given point.  A waypoint appears on my map, and so I head in that direction.  There’s no home base, no point to return to, and so the experience of being in the city is somewhat ethereal and transient.  I’ve already been to the Space Needle, the harbor and a bunch of other places but I couldn’t tell you how I got there, or how I’d get back.

I’m not quite sure what to make of Delsin as a character.  After about 10 minutes it becomes clear that the developers couldn’t hire Nolan North, so they hired a sound-alike; the problem is that Delsin is all over the place as a character.  He’s charming, he’s a wise-ass, he’s well-meaning but very high-strung and confrontational, he’s bad-but-also-good.  He changes from scene to scene but not in any noticeable direction, so there’s no sense of journey or arc; almost as if his interactions with other characters were written by completely different people and then shuffled out of chronological order.  I’m still early in the story, so there’s certainly plenty of room for him to eventually land, but right now it’s hard to relate to him.  (I’m not even sure I know how old he is; his older brother, a cop, looks 20 years older than him and in the pre-release trailers I thought he was Delsin’s father.)

The graphics go a long way towards keeping me engaged, and I’m certainly going to stick with it for the foreseeable future.  I just wish I was having a bit more fun.

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