This week, Zero Punctuation reviews inFAMOUS: Second Son.
I was a younger brother, you know. Presumably still am, but I haven't checked lately. Nothing worse than sliding out of the womb and finding that some asshole has already staked a claim on the best tit, like a German tourist leaving a towel on a sunbed. But that's just the start of the frustrations; there's the rivalry, the bullying, and all the bloody hand-me-downs (that was my brother's word for holding me down and farting on my face). My only source of comfort in those days was my ability to shoot fireballs out my hands. Well, thank you, Sony and Sucker Punch, for creating a game that almost could almost have been specifically made for me! A story about a younger brother who badly deserves to be set on fire.
Historians will remember that I liked inFamous 2 quite a lot, particularly its ending, and said that if they made a sequel, I'd slap it so hard that its tits went concave. But that's only if they made a direct sequel; inFamous: Second Son is not a direct sequel and effectively distances itself from the originals, firstly by being about different characters, and secondly by not being very good.
Several years after Cole MacLovely killed all the Conduits or Cole MacBastard killed all the humans, there are still both humans and Conduits, so good or evil aside, I guess Cole couldn't have had a strong work ethic. Conduits are now routinely imprisoned and relabelled "bio-terrorists", because these days saying the word "terrorist" to Americans is like uttering the word "din-dins" at a dog pound. Three of them escape to a Native American community where a snarky young graffiti artist and tearaway (who stops just short of carrying a slingshot in his back pocket) discovers he has the ability to absorb Conduit powers from others. Y'know, like that one bloke in Heroes who looked like a partially-deflated sex doll based on mid-'90s Hugh Grant.
An evil government Conduit lady tortures the Native American community half-to-death looking for the runaways, and our hero, Delsin Rowe, vows to travel to a government-subjugated Seattle to leech her powers and un-torture the community back to non-death. But the issue's not so urgent that he can't spray a few Banksy rip-offs around the place and then skateboard away as he smirkingly gives the middle finger to a community support officer on a pushbike. And this being an inFamous game, Delsin Rowe, presumably named after a street in the posh gated community he actually lives in, can be either Del-ightful-sin Rowe or Del-inquent-sin Rowe And , again, this being an inFamous game, one wonders why they feel they have to ask us which one we want at every single juncture because there's only two endings and no point in trying to be in the middle-sin Rowe (Mid-del-sin– never mind).
But unusually for an inFamous game, there's also no point in maxing out good or evil karma. Traditionally at that point, you'd gain access to a massive devastating collateral damage jamboree power, or the ability to cuddle up to twenty cherubs to sleep at once. But while there are a handful of powers unique to each karma path, when you max it out the game just goes "Well done, you are now a true hero/supervillain! Here's a colourful jumper!" You see, my usual problem with binary moral choice is that all it does if force you to play the game twice to see all the content, but that's barely the case here! Both Delsins remain at maximum "engorged bellend" on the cock metre, and the events are all the same bar the ending, and whether random passersby go 'Yay, there's Captain Bellend, our hero!" or "Boo, there's the bloke who indiscriminately murders passersby, I should probably stop standing next to him loudly voicing my innermost thoughts."
Still, the range of elemental powers on display are pretty creative, although the word "elemental" is getting stretched like a mozzarella bumhole at the novelty sausage gala. (What am I on about?) We're past all your fire, lightning, and ice, granddad! The cool kids now use smoke, concrete, video, and neon (which, admittedly, is an element). Also, there's someone running around with paper, but the game wouldn't let me do the associated quest until I'd set up some kind of account on the inFamous website, and fucked if I was doing that! There are too many businesses with my contact details already; I still get emails from Vlad, and I haven't bought a white slave in years. Really, though, the nature of the elements doesn't matter so much; they're all basically just a colourful thing that kills people and lets you move very fast (like spiked ecstasy tablets) with variations on attacks and movement powers. Also, each power has a super-duper clearing attack that were all pretty impressive the first time (or, more to the point, in the trailers), but kind of lose something when you're watching the mandatory 20-minute animation rattle off for the twelfth fucking time that day.
And this being a PS4 exclusive, there are, of course, the standard clauses in the development contract:
- If in doubt, reduce gameplay, boost graphics
- More particle effects than there are smallpox blisters on the child of an anti-vaccination campaigner
- And crowbar in a use for the fucking touchpad thing or we'll kill your dog!
And what did they come up with? Contextual button presses, the incontinent, scabies-ridden puppy of videogame controls; the one left behind when the rest of the litter has been sold off and quick-time events have been taken behind the bins and shot. Awkwardly stroke the unwanted puppy to open this/smash that/absorb the other, stroke it and hold it to lift the control core out of the enemy van and then mash right trigger to ineffectually flail limp-wristedly at it until it breaks out of pity. But that's not all the tortured hardware gimmicks; there's also the Banksy side missions where you create stencil art by holding the controller sideways, giving it a little masturbatory shake, and hold the trigger button to spray imaginary paint on the stencil. The controller even makes a little hissy noise. Blimey, total immersion VR can only be days away! Hopefully this will tide me over until Nintendo announce Mario Paint HD.
I suppose the go-to backhanded compliment for inFamous: Second Son would be that it's just another inFamous game. But inFamous 2 had strong characters, and the leads in Second Son all seem to be stereotypes of what someone in their thirties think young people are like these days. The character with the video powers is a gamer, and you'd think if any medium wanted to avoid insulting stereotypes of videogamers it would be videogames, but there he is! In his big glasses and spots, and longing for the day he finally moves past pubescent bum-fluff so he can finally grow his first neckbeard.
It 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.
- Down with the kids: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Is there some connection between being an urban superterrorist and wearing too many layers of clothing
- I guess morality doesn't include hideous mistreatment of walls