The struggle between good and evil is a common story in video games. In a few circumstances you're evil fighting good, or at least evil fighting not-so-evil, but most of the time you're good fighting some insurmountable evil.
It's not often that the struggle between good and evil exists within your own player character, but it's something the Infamous series has become renowned for. In the earlier games Cole's struggles manifest over and over, culminating eventually in the events of Infamous 2, where the player decided once and for all what sort of fictional super-person they were going to be.
In the end, because the two choices resulted in such disparate results Sucker Punch were forced to make a decision - they had to choose one of the endings to be "canon", rendering the other false by default. They chose the evil version, activating dozens of conduits around the world in a plot device resembling that scene in the first X-Men movie where the senator becomes a flabby Aquaman.
Instead of removing all of Cole's powers and making you start over though, Sucker Punch instead opted to introduce a new player character - Delsin. In my hands-on with Infamous Second Son, Delsin's abilities involve Smoke and Neon - he's able to absorb these 'elements' from nearby sources to enhance his combat and movement.
Essentially, if you move near a neon sign you can suck up its energy and use it to fly up walls or across wide gaps.
At the beginning of the playthrough we're confronted with a choice. Fetch, the Conduit with Neon powers (who Delsin stole his abilities from) has been killing drug dealers and your brother, a Sheriff, wants you to do something about her. She's a murderer in his eyes and so he wants nothing to do with her.
Here, Infamous' choice system returns. You can either redeem Fetch or corrupt her further, and both choices have dramatically different gameplay implications. Redeeming Fetch, which I chose first, compels you to show her a better way to go about her war on drugs. The two of you head down to a known drug area (some docks) and you start destroying drug shipments. Obviously the drug dealers - literally scores of people - don't want you to ruin their stash, so they attack you.
The combat and controls take some getting used to, but once your Infamous muscle memory kicks in, the game is as fluid as ever. More fluid, in fact, because Delsin doesn't need to aim with the left bumper before firing off projectiles. Switching between your conduit powers, Neon and Smoke, isn't immediately easy. While full of Neon you've got no room for Smoke, so you wind up having to choose between the two. In practice Neon seemed to be better for moving, allowing you to get in close to incapacitate enemies, while Smoke let you whip out huge area of effect attacks very quickly, allowing you to excel at all forms of combat. Eventually other conduit powers will appear, and I'm sure other powers will be more appropriate for certain tasks.
Because you're attempting to redeem Fetch you wind up incapacitating and restraining most of your enemies, though you're still free to kill whoever you want. I found it interesting that the game highlighted the option to restrain and hid the execute option away - in the scenario where I chose to corrupt Fetch further the effect was inverted.
There are truly comical numbers of drug dealers on these docks, but eventually you'll have beat them all up and you'll go on your merry way, apparently content with showing your new protégé that violence is still the answer, but everything is better in moderation.
To be completely honest, I wasn't blown away by the "good" mission. Delsin doesn't die if he falls in the water but he can't swim either, so fighting across docks was a bit of a pain in the arse when I was still getting a handle on the controls. Also, I realise games like these are built around combat, but I struggle to see how beating the shit out of a bunch of drug dealers and only accidentally killing some of them is redemptive.
The evil mission, where I corrupt Fetch more - now that was more like it. Instead of fighting drug dealers we head across the city - a gorgeous rendition of Seattle - to fight the DUP (the Department of Unified Protection) and to beat up/kill people who are protesting the existence of Conduits. We get to go Magneto all up in that bitch.
Now I have the whole city to play in, and Delsin's powers of traversal are unleashed properly. Here, using Neon, I'm able to scream up the walls of buildings like a flamboyant Batman on a zipline. The gorgeous neon colours flow behind Delsin as he moves around, and I find myself pushing the limits of what the power can do. Neon needs to stay close to a surface to move, so while it's perfect for climbing buildings it requires some clever pathfinding if you want to stay on top of the world.
Smoke can't climb walls at all. Delsin's a fairly competent urban climber, as most open world heroes seem to be these days, but if you want to get to a roof using Smoke you need to find vents. Once on top of the roof you're firmly in control. Smoke glides quickly through the air in a manner similar to Cole's electricity glide from the first two games, so with Smoke Delsin is able to 'fly' significantly further.
I very quickly became adept at switching between the two powers depending on my needs. Instead of finding a route with small gaps to maintain my Neon powers, I'd climb to a rooftop, find some Smoke and glide across. In combat you can draw in Smoke from damaged cars, so I'd do quick damage to the lighter enemies using Neon, beat up a car and switch to Smoke for the beefier foes.
Once you start thinking about your powers as finite interchangeable tools the game opens up significantly. Fights make you feel like a modern day warrior mage instead of a superhero/supervillain, and the use of lighting and particle effects plays off the perpetual wetness of Seattle in a spectacular way. Moving through the city starts to feel like the essence of Parkour as you seek out the perfect lines, your Neon or Smoke effects leaving a trail behind you like a less cartoony Jet Set Radio.
And yes, killing protesters and their DUP protectors is far more satisfying than simply beating up drug dealers on a wharf. The DUP show their hand a little more in these fights too, sending Concrete powered conduits at you in force - perhaps alluding to another of the powers Delsin will eventually absorb. Being 'evil' is easier than being good - you can be more careless with your powers and the powers you get through upgrades show little concern for collateral damage - so you'll apparently almost always get a more challenging fight experience if you choose infamy over... famy.
Still, I struggled to work out whether killing the foot soldiers of an oppressive regime and their bigoted supporters was truly 'evil'. Was it really more evil than killing/assaulting drug dealers? Not all drug dealers are bad people, after all.
One of my biggest problems with the first two Infamous games was that the good and evil choices were too binary. Do you steal the candy from the baby or do you punch Hitler? In Infamous Second Son, the choices seem far less rigid, and there seems to be room for interpretation - even if your progression system isn't innately aware of it. Once the full game drops on March 21 we'll get to see where Sucker Punch goes with it.
Joab "Joaby" Gilroy is a huge fan of sports games, racing games, first-person shooters and 4X strategy games. He's awful at fighting and real-time strategy games although he'd love to get better. He thinks the Halo universe is hollow and that Arkham City was the real game of the year in 2011 and that AusGamers' managing editor Stephen Farrelly only gave Skyrim the nod because he is a filthy Marvel fan. His top three games of all time are (in no particular order) Deus Ex, GTA: Vice City and DayZ.
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