Infamous: Second Son is one of those tightly packed open-world games that brings focus to the sprawl. Your objectives are clearly marked, easily attainable, and satisfying to complete. Right around the time that you start to think that you might not want to search crowds in another secret agent mission, it ends. The story is entertaining, even if it does delve into some well-worn mutant-versus-society tropes. The powers are fun to use, even if the different power sources more or less translate into the same basic attacks and traversal abilities with different colors and properties. And it all looks positively fantastic, with loads of little details and effects that help the city of Seattle and its inhabitants spring to life. The side stuff could use more variety, and the karma system that governs if you're "good" or "evil" lacks nuance, but none of that prevents Sucker Punch's PS4 debut from being a really good time.
Though it's set some time after the events of the previous game, Second Son isn't a traditional sequel. There are vague references to the past, but this game is about a new set of characters dealing with a new set of problems. As such, this third Infamous game is a solid entry point for new players, while existing fans will probably enjoy seeing the impact made by events of Infamous 2's "good" ending. Either way, players take on the role of Delsin Rowe, a small-town miscreant with a sheriff brother and a penchant for stenciled graffiti. Delsin's life is changed when a military transport hauling three conduits--the game's term for humans with various super powers--crashes right in front of him, allowing the mutants to escape. This is also when Delsin learns that he, too, is a conduit when he touches one of the escapees and gains his smoke-based powers. As this is a world where those conduits are more commonly referred to as "bio-terrorists" and are locked up in a special camp simply for having these abilities, this quickly turns Delsin's world upside-down. After a government agent on the hunt for the missing conduits tears through the small town, crippling many of its citizens with her own special powers, Delsin vows to make it right by going into nearby Seattle, where the agent--and the missing conduits--have set up shop. What he finds is a city under the watchful, prying eye of government surveillance, from checkpoints to mounted cameras to an army of troops with special powers, all trained to catch the remaining conduits. As Delsin, you'll smash it all to bits and take it back for the people... or yourself.
Karma once again plays a role in this third Infamous game, but it again lacks nuance. The choices you make are very binary and helpfully color-coded. Making blue choices slides your karma in the good direction, and red choices are evil. In-game, this means that you can do things like subdue enemies in a non-lethal way or obliterate them with animated takedowns, head shots, and so on. A small batch of choices also manifest during the story, letting you decide if specific characters live or die, giving other characters different motivations to either help society or help you wipe it out, and so on. The people in your life treat you differently as you proceed, and the citizens of Seattle will either laud you as a new super hero or cower in fear. Actually, even if you're a good guy, most of the citizens will cower or scurry away if you use a power in front of them, which seems sort of strange since they all seem to know who you are and what you're capable of after you've established yourself. As you push further and further in one direction, different abilities become available to you. Going evil opens up with lethal options while staying blue gives you options to better subdue your opponents. While it might sound a little boring, the blue track still gets plenty of entertaining abilities to use in combat, so opting to not murder everyone in sight doesn't make the combat feel weak. It mostly just means that you shouldn't shoot at civilians, if you can help it, and you'll be aiming for footshots instead of headshots. The game has enough little, repeatable karmic events to make up for any mishaps you might make along the way, and I didn't have any trouble getting to the top of the good side's power tree by the end of the 15-or-so hours it took to complete the story and 100 percent of the side content.
The powers at your disposal are pretty recognizable if you've played previous games in the series, even if the power sources are different. You'll still shoot bolts from your fists, you can briefly hover and glide, toss grenade-like attacks, and so on. The properties of your powers make those attacks a little different, though. You'll start out with smoke-based power and get the ability to toss grenades that cause nearby enemies to start coughing, leaving them open and letting you quickly deal with them. You'll also get a heavy projectile attack with each of the powers, and this is useful for taking out helicopters, APCs, and heavy troopers. While you'll start with smoke, you'll eventually encounter bosses and earn the ability to use additional power sources. You can suck energy out of the various power sources around the city, so hopping up to the rooftops and finding chimneys is a great way to replenish your smoke abilities, and so on. You can only have one power source active at a time, and you switch between them by siphoning off of the different power sources. It's an effective way to switch things around, but it makes the progression a little bland since you'll rarely want to switch back to an older power source once you get something new, especially once you've invested some blast shards--which are strewn about the world and easily marked on the map--to make your abilities a little easier to use. If you collect all the shards, you'll have exactly enough to purchase every upgrade, save for the ones that get locked out due to your alignment.
The game has main, story-progressing missions that you'll need to complete, but the whole city is open to you right away. Seattle is broken up into districts, and the map tells you precisely how many collectable shards, breakable cameras, graffiti spots, and other side content is available in each district. Clearing out a district triggers a "takeover" mission where you have to fight off a handful of troops. Doing this clears out random patrols of enemy soldiers and enables fast travel to that zone... but since you have to travel to a fast travel point to actually fast travel, I think I used that twice throughout the entire game. Overall, the game has a lot of great main missions, and though the side missions and collectables are very easy to handle, the side content isn't unique at all, and simply gets duplicated across every district in the game. It's a portion of the game that doesn't overstay its welcome, and I ended up completing 100% of the game right around the time I got tired of tracking down secret agents and engaging with the very simple graffiti stenciling mechanic.
One of the biggest draws of Second Son has to be its graphics. This is a fantastic-looking game, from the character models to the animation to the world itself. Delsin and the other main characters are extremely well-animated, allowing the models to convey proper, subtle emotion. The world and its lighting really goes a long way, too, especially in the opening sequences and the game's larger setpieces. Even outside of cutscenes, the characters have a level of detail to them that you don't see in a lot of other games, and the whole thing runs at a good, stable frame rate. The performances from the voice cast really come through in the visuals and the main characters are very well-performed, even if it occasionally feels like Sucker Punch went out and hired the most common and frequently used voice actors they could find.
Infamous: Second Son is brief, but engaging. The combat itself is interesting enough to cover for some of the repetition in the side objectives and it looks really great. If you're looking for a sprawling open-world with a billion little things to do, this isn't going to float your boat, but Second Son's tight, focused approach definitely still holds plenty of appeal.