The inFamous series has a simple concept, one you’d think was a dime-a-dozen in the video game industry. Sucker Punch has created an open world game where you are the city’s superhero/villain. Surprisingly, this concept has not worn out its welcome with few games such as Crackdown, Prototype, and the most recent Saint’s Row approximating the feel of this series. So the idea of an open-world superhero game is somewhat unique, and the story possibilities for such a game are practically endless considering the types of stories found in the average comic book. inFamous: Second Son is a game full of interesting premises and characters, but Sucker Punch fails to actually create an interesting story to tie these all together.
For the record, I really enjoyed inFamous: Second Son, finding it to be easily the best in the series. However, it is far more interesting to critique a game for its faults rather than find new synonyms for good. Therefore, dear reader, attempt to avoid defensive reactions during the next few paragraphs.
Firstly, I want to discuss the characters. Most of these are complete one shots, who either don’t impact the story arc or do so in the most insubstantial way. Most characters in the game are introduced in the most ham-fisted way ever – a short motion comic that tells you their entire backstory. This is a cheap way of building character, and feels laughably childish at times. For example, you may notice while skimming message boards that some people find the game takes a weirdly hardcore stance against drugs as if it were a PSA. Part of this comes from one of the early character introductions that may as well be a saturday morning cartoon it is so black and white.
Only two characters in the cast stand out, but damn do they stand out. Lead Delsin and his brother Reggie played by perennial Troy Baker and the fantastic Travis Willingham are brilliant. They are instantly likeable, banter in an effective manner, and actually make me care about what happens to them. It’s these two characters that make the others seem so weak. Unfortunately, while developing these two characters, Sucker Punch forgot that they don’t constitute a plot.
Remember when I said the premise of inFamous hadn’t outstayed its welcome yet? Well its story progression has. What you basically have is one big inciting event, then you collect two powers in Seatle before a final showdown. There’s a single hiccup right before the final showdown, and this is the best part of the game, but other than that, this is a very basic plot structure. If you’re looking for surprises, twists, or interesting settings and events, you’re out of luck.
This is an open world game, not an excuse to cut out plots. Characters that come in should provide conflict of tension as the main goal – so clear and reachable at the beginning – becomes obscured and difficult. Delsin should grow and change from his interactions with these characters and be a better or worse person in the end. To Sucker Punch’s credit, they understood this last bit. However, only one event seems to have any impact on Delsin at all, and it’s that pre-showdown event I praised earlier.
Let’s step back and look at Grand Theft Auto 3’s plot. It was the father of all modern open world games after all. Your character is betrayed at the beginning and they want revenge. However, you have no idea where this person is or how to get to them so you start combing your way through the criminal underground, looking for leads, allies, and opportunities. It’s not fantastic, and loses itself sometimes, but you can see how there is much more to this plot than simply get two power ups and beat the game.
That’s the crime. This is a superhero game. The availability of even clichéd plots is staggering. Delsin knows what to do from the very beginning. He knows where his enemy is, and the only thing stopping you from going directly to resolve the plot is his claim to needing more power. This rings hollow in a skill-based video game because gamers know they could waltz right up to the villain and flatten her without much thought.
Somehow, Sucker Punch decided to forgo any semblance of a decent plot and to focus on characters instead. As mentioned, this works with Delsin and Reggie, and horribly backfires with the entire rest of the cast with the possible exception of the villain. These aren’t characters they are lowest common denominator premises. Each seems like they will change you and affect the plot, none do. This is especially egregious with the character Betty, who acts as a mother figure for Delsin. She acts as the inciting force, and calls Delsin a few times in the beginning before disappearing completely from the story until the very last scene.
Thinking about it, I think that it’s the simplicity of the plot that really ruins it. There is no mystery or suspense. You always know where the villain is, and you never deviate from your path. There isn’t an opportunity for doubt, or struggle, just fun mayhem, which the game delivers in spades. Sucker Punch provided an interesting premise with some half-hearted characters standing behind two very good ones. However, even the best character doesn’t excuse a bad plot, and Second Son has a bad plot.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer