Despite a stellar track record, there’s still an air of scepticism surrounding Sucker Punch. The small Seattle-based studio – which was officially inaugurated into the Sony Worldwide Studios family in 2011 – has fashioned some stellar software over the years, but it’s yet to land a smash hit on the scale of Uncharted, God of War, or Gran Turismo. As a consequence, few suspected that the Sly Cooper developer would be tasked with the responsibility of leading the PlayStation 4’s lineup – and yet it’s stepped up to the challenge in heroic fashion. Make no mistake, inFAMOUS: Second Son is the game that will convince you to own Sony’s next generation console.
Unfortunately, much like the title’s fictional resistance group, the Department of Unified Protection, we’re not in control of our demo of the open world adventure, but that gives us more time to gawp at the gorgeous graphics, rather than wrestle with the DualShock 4. Not that the controls are poised to be a problem here, as the first-party team has refined all of the inputs from inFAMOUS 2. “It’s much more fluid now,” a studio spokesperson excitedly informs us. We always felt that the series excelled in that area anyway, so we’re not sure how the mapping can get much better. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to find out for ourselves.
For those out of the loop, the sandbox excursion takes place approximately seven years after the cataclysmic conclusion of courier Cole MacGrath’s campaign. Following the activation of the Ray Field Inhibitor, the United States of America is under constant surveillance in order to stop a second bioterrorist outbreak. You play a twenty-something tearaway named Delsin Rowe, who discovers that he has smouldering superpowers after dragging a survivor out of a burning bus. Unlike the series’ former protagonist, though, the new hatted hero sees his abilities as a bit of fun.
“Cole MacGrath would get kind of contemplative over his powers,” continues the developer representative. “But that’s just not Rowe at all. His first thought is, ‘This is going to be fun.’” That attitude is best reflected in the title’s E3 trailer, in which the star is shown smirking at the camera while turning into a fiery phoenix and smashing up the surroundings of Seattle’s famous Space Needle. The character’s cocky attitude is already rubbing some fans the wrong way, but the studio doesn’t seem particularly phased. “He’s that guy that you see at a bar and think, ‘Wow, what an idiot – he looks like he’s enjoying himself.’”
And make no mistake, Delsin’s relishing every moment. The character animates with a telling swagger that underlines the technological advancements of the PS4. Stand quietly on the spot, and his denim jacket – decorated with a Sly Cooper pin badge – will ripple in the wind. Push forward harder on the stick and it will flap like an incensed beast, dancing more furiously than Batman’s trademark cape. There’s no question about it: this game takes garment physics to the absolute next level. Oh, the luxuries of enhanced hardware.
But it’s not just the creases of Rowe’s clothing that caught our attention. The fact that this is an open world release is frankly staggering. While we don’t get to see much of the city – we’re taken on a tour of the same environments from the E3 demo – the attention to detail is just mind boggling. Damp puddles on the ground show off the game’s realtime reflections system, which mirror vehicles and scenery like looking glass. In fact, you can see reflections of the water-based reflections, er, reflected in the paint work of cars. It’s a minor detail, but if you’re looking for evidence of improvements over the PlayStation 3, then this title is bursting with clues.
The exclusive looks unbelievably clean, too. Its predecessor was not a bad looking game – in fact, it was lauded for its achievements on current generation hardware – but it was plagued by pop-in and rough edges. There’s no evidence of a jagged surface during our demo, and while it’s obvious that the sample environment has been polished to perfection for the purposes of public consumption, it gives the developer an overall standard to sustain. Seriously, if the rest of the title looks this impressive, it’s going to absolutely blow your brown beanie off.
Alas, the technological improvements are welcome, but the art direction is also excellent. Much like in Killzone: Shadow Fall, the drab textures that previously plagued Empire City have been swapped out for rich, vibrant colours. The studio’s not being entirely candid at the moment, but there also appears to be a much greater emphasis on destructible environments, with lookout towers and walls eviscerated with a well-placed blast of Rowe’s newfound smoke powers. Collapsing entire scaffolding structures to take out a single lone gunman may not be the most considered approach – but it sure seems satisfying.
In fact, all of the powers look legitimately great. As we predicted in our superhero speculation post, the protagonist can travel up vents, offering speedy traversal solutions to the top of buildings. There’s nothing else in the character’s moveset that necessarily separates him from his predecessor – though everything is now complemented by a delicious heat haze as opposed to the glow of electricity – but we’re reminded that the character’s main skill is actually the ability to consume other conduits’ powers. As such, we suspect that the star will end up with access to several unique move sets, likely spanning other common elements such as ice. We asked, but the studio wouldn’t tell us more.
Still, we’re not sure that we really need to know all of the details. Despite not being a part of the initial launch lineup, Sucker Punch’s latest already looks way ahead of its peers. And even though the wait's going to sting more than a face full of cigarette smoke, we reckon that Sony’s making the right move by stockpiling the game's release until early next year. Product droughts have plagued previous platforms, but it’s clear that this is going to be the PlayStation maker’s trump card once the initial excitement surrounding its next generation system has passed. We always held a candle for the superhero series, but having seen the sequel first-hand, we’re ready to light a big, burly bonfire in its name.
Are you wheezing with anticipation for inFAMOUS: Second Son? What other smouldering superpowers would you like Delsin Rowe to possess? Cough up your thoughts in the comments section below.