Right after Sony officially announced the PlayStation 4 in February 2013, a sequel to the PlayStation 3's Infamous series was also announced. The press conference devoted a generous chunk of time to the game's public debut, establishing support from an already successful exclusive franchise.
So while the first batch of exclusive PS4 games failed to make the splash early console adopters were probably hoping for, Infamous: Second Son represents another chance at giving the PS4 its first true must-have exclusive. And of course, in what's probably no coincidence at all, it sees a release that closely follows Xbox One's first mega-exclusive, Titanfall.
Does Infamous: Second Son give the PS4 the same positive jolt that Titanfall has seemingly been able to do for Xbox One?
The answer is a bit of a mixed bag. Second Son is a solid game, but its core mechanics are beginning to turn stale, regardless of the game's impressive next-gen makeover that includes breathtaking visuals and top-notch motion capture and acting. If you played and enjoyed the original two games, odds are you'll like Second Son, but you might not be blown away by it.
In this evolution of developer Sucker Punch's universe, you'll play as Delsin Rowe, a 20-something stencil graffiti writer who has a problem with authority and a cop for an older brother. Through a chain of events, Delsin inherits an array of smoke powers that turn him into a conduit -- someone with special abilities. The events of Second Son take place seven years after Infamous 2, and carry the storyline of the "good" karma ending.
Unfortunately for Deslin and his kind, the public doesn't see these people as conduits as much as they see them as "bio-terrorists," a negative connotation reinforced by an all-powerful quasi-military force known as the D.U.P. At the reigns of the D.U.P. is the game's antagonist, who is also a conduit herself.
A lot of the game's story mirrors the relationship between the mutants and humans in some of the X-Men story arcs, especially the idea that this universe's mutants (conduits) aren't all evil, despite the government's desire to have them all locked up.
Of course, making its return to the game is the series' staple mechanic, the karma meter. Being good or evil will dictate a sizable amount of your game's individual story. Which side of the karma meter you fall on is based on binary decisions made throughout the campaign, in addition to whether or not you kill or save innocent civilians, or subdue enemies who have surrendered.
After a few initial hours of tutorial and set up, you're let loose in the Seattle-inspired city to roam free, perform side quests or carry the narrative along through story missions. The city is set up in sections that each have a checklist of objectives that need to be performed before its D.U.P. control can be overturned.
It's all a format that you've likely seen before, and not necessarily just in an Infamous game. There's a decent amount of variety in the game's side quests, though you'll likely choose favorites among the bunch. I became partial to the series of stencil graffiti mini-games you can perform, though I wish there was the option to do some custom work. It's only so much fun to continually cribbing Banksy's aesthetic over and over.
You might also get tired of encountering the same types of enemies and their occasionally dumb-as-nails AI, or get sick of the surprising monotony of the Seattle cityscape. The environment tends to bleed together at times, save for a few landmarks that break up the cookie-cutter setting.
When I criticize Infamous for its general lack of innovation beyond its predecessors, I do think there are some strides taken that bring the game to a level that's expected at this point in its lifetime. Deslin has the ability to absorb more than just one conduit's powers, something not possible in the previous games. Each power has a skill tree, so there's a satisfying amount of upgrading that can be done depending on which path you choose to walk. You'll also unlock different abilities based on your karma, so there's a significant amount of replay value built into the two-way campaign.
While it may not be the change of pace or innovation that die-hard Infamous purists are probably after, Second Son is still an aptly executed game that's worthy of your attention. There's a good amount of fun to be had here, but there's no shame in making it a weekend rental or waiting for a discount a few months down the road.
CNET verdict: Your power may vary
Infamous: Second Son won't blow the lid off your PS4, but it's still an entertaining excursion that will keep franchise loyalists happy. It's not the must-buy title PS4 owners were clamoring for, but will still make for a respectable addition to their budding collection -- even if that purchase comes after waiting for a discount down the road.
Be sure to also check out GameSpot's review of Infamous: Second Son