PS4 sales have been off to a strong start, and a new chapter from a beloved series meant high expectations for the development team of Sucker Punch as the first team to showcase the power of the console. While "InFamous Second Son" is visually stunning, the gameplay lacks the originality of the previous installments.
The previous lead character, Cole MacGrath, is out, and newcomer Delsin Rowe takes the reins. Delsin is a troublemaker with a penchant for graffiti art. He lives on the Akomish Reservation outside of Seattle with the rest of his family. A truck carrying three captured conduits -- the name given to those with superpowers -- crashes on the property. While attempting to track one down, Delsin comes into contact with him and absorbs his power.
The Department of Unified Protection (DUP) is quickly on the scene to apprehend the escaped conduits. The leader of the DUP, Augustine, who also is a conduit, tortures members of Delsin's tribe for information. The only way for Delsin to heal his family is to travel to Seattle and steal Augustine's power.
"Second Son" nails its ambitious production values. The virtual re-creation of Seattle is vibrant with glowing neon storefront lights and a constant sheen from recent rainfall. Facial details of the main cast look lifelike, and the impeccable voice work of Troy Baker as Delsin adds to the character's humanity. This game has all the appearances of a next-gen experience.
But it's the gameplay that feels all too familiar and occasionally stale. "Second Son" does little to evolve the formula of "InFamous 2." Delsin starts with smoke projectiles and has a chain for close melee attacks. He eventually learns two new powers from different environmental elements, but combat is barely altered by these new abilities. Projectiles have a visual change, but the mechanics feel the same. After the game's midway point, combat feels like a rudimentary exercise.
Delsin can wield three powers, but they can't be changed on the fly. He needs to absorb the power-specific element to harness that power. Problems arise when these elements are difficult to find, especially in the middle of a battle. If a specific element is needed, Delsin will likely have to leave the area and return fully charged after locating it through a neon sign or a television screen. Going on a scavenger hunt when powerless interrupts the game's flow, and it's more frustrating than fun.
The method of travel was groundbreaking in the first "InFamous" building scaling, but climbing buildings feels less polished this time around. Many buildings' roofs are nearly impossible to scale due to an obstruction at the top. Later in the game, modes of travel are unlocked so players can hold down the circle button and zip over and around buildings. What's fun at first wears out its welcome.
"Second Son" continues the series trademark of choosing good or evil in the karma system. The choices that face Delsin aren't likely to alter a player's chosen path because the game never presents a situation that inspires any meaningful reflection.
There are plenty of sights to see around this version of Seattle. The city is massive and littered with activities such as spray-painting locations and other creative ways to disrupt the DUP. It still feels like less than the offerings of the previous games; completing the main story and about 80 percent of collectibles took about 10 hours.
"Second Son" has all the appearances of a next-gen game, but its gameplay and stunted karma system appear dated. Delsin is a more sympathetic character than Cole, but the simple choices he's faced with fail to develop his character. This game has a gorgeous exterior, but that shimmer fades when digging deeper.
Max Parker writes as The Game Guy at communityvoices.post-gazette.com. Twitter: @GameGuyPGH.