Feature: How You Helped Shape PS4 Sequel inFAMOUS: Second Son
Posted by Sammy Barker
Enjoy your power
inFAMOUS: Second Son would have been a very different game without you. While you may not be aware of it, the upcoming superhero sequel was designed in direct response to your actions, with both your narrative choices and playstyle culminating in crucial decisions during the construction of the release. It’s uncommon for a title to be shaped so directly by franchise fans, but as we sit down with developer Sucker Punch following a brief hands-on with the hotly anticipated adventure, it’s instantly evident that the company feels confident in the direction that it’s taken. It may be hesitant to use the word ‘reboot’, but this is very much a new chapter for the property.
"That's a dirty word to us," brand development director Ken Schramm stresses when we accidentally utter the above expression. "This is still a continuation of the inFAMOUS franchise." Instead, the outfit prefers to think of the PlayStation 4 exclusive as a refresh which revisits the core staples of the series – action, adventure, and ethical intrigue – but presents them in a slightly different way. And having worked our way through a 30-minute sample of the impending excursion, we can confirm that this definitely does feel like a continuation of the comic book inspired series – it’s just been heavily refined.
Our concise cross section begins with newcomer Delsin Rowe caught at a moral crossroad: does he drag his pink haired pal Fetch down the dark path of destruction, or attempt to redeem her by showing her the right way to behave? As with previous instalments, this is an entirely binary quandary that lacks the kind of ambiguity that Quantic Dream founder David Cage is so eager to bleat about, but your decision will still have implications on the entire affair. For starters, it’ll not only impact your morality meter, but also the types of missions that you’ll encounter. Furthermore, if its anything like its predecessors, it may also change the shape of the franchise moving forwards.
"The interesting part about that is that we didn't make that choice," Schramm continues when we ask why the developer opted to refresh the series, paying particular attention to our use of words. "It's the Trophy data for the previous game that took us down this path." That won’t come as much of a revelation to those of you that have been tailing the title since its announcement at last year’s PlayStation Meeting press conference, but what you may not know is that creative director Nate Fox originally had a very different direction in mind.
"The funny thing is that when he wrote the good and bad ending of the release, he wrote the evil path as canon," we're told, prompting us to ponder what the sequel could have looked like. "It was never made, so we'll never know," smiles Schramm. "We looked at the data [for inFAMOUS 2] and it was overwhelming – people clearly wanted the good ending. That means that Cole's dead, and we have an opportunity for a new hero, with new powers, a new city, [and] a new story. That's why 'inFAMOUS' is little [in the logo] – this is a brand new title."
However, killing off a character of previous protagonist Cole MacGrath’s stature seems risky, forcing us to ask whether he’ll put in an appearance at some point during the campaign. “He’s dead, man," a forceful Schramm reiterates. "We're not into reincarnation, or sci-fi, or anything like that. This is a realistic game, and we're trying to make everything as real as possible. That’s so that when we throw the powers on top, you'll believe in them, too." Instead, the skin-headed hero’s story will be referenced by the people of new setting Seattle, ensuring that his supercharged presence will still be felt.
Assuming that the developer’s not actively attempting to, er, sucker punch our scepticism, it means that you’ll be playing purely as rough-and-ready twenty-something Delsin throughout the whole affair – and the studio is eager to point out how this hero has been shaped by the way that people played the previous games. "Cole was a little disgruntled, and he thought that his powers were a bit of curse," Schramm says. "This time we looked at the new character and we learned things from watching our fans play. When they pick up the controller, they love breaking and destroying whatever they can find – but at the same time, they are also saving people."
Gone are the moody monologues, then, with the trendy newcomer seeming to embrace his absorbing abilities. We get to try out two of these during our hands-on, with the menacing smoke-based power set contrasted by the more long range neon attacks. And as we dispatch a slew of Department of Unified Protection troops in a water-based estate, it’s evident that the protagonist is enjoying himself; Cole MacGrath would almost certainly roll his eyes at the idea of thwarting the operations of a cartel of lowlife drug smugglers, but our new hero hollers his way through the whole affair.
Granted, his reckless persona is not going to appeal to everyone, but it’s easy to buy into the thought process behind the decision; you can believe that this character would cause mischief with his newfound powers, even if there is a vulnerable sensitivity behind his surface bravado. In truth, a lot of that comes through courtesy of The Last of Us star Troy Baker’s outstanding voice work, but the emphasis on facial animations also helps. This, according to Schramm, can largely be attributed to the power of the PS4.
"The facial animations have really changed the way that we're able to tell the story," he points out. "Remember the first inFAMOUS? It was all 2D cut-scenes. We added a few more 3D scenes in inFAMOUS 2, but we pulled the camera really far out because we weren't doing the motion capture. Now, we’ve got loads of close-ups, because of that facial motion capture." It really is one of the most striking things about the game, but the environmental detail is equally impressive.
Our demo takes place at night time, and the drizzly Seattle skyline is a glittering tapestry of neon shop signs and car headlights. However, perhaps the most impressive asset is the way in which each of these individual light sources is reflected across the surface of the tarmac, giving the whole world an exaggerated sense of depth. Incredibly, the attention to detail seems to spread for miles, too, with the studio eager to take advantage of the opportunity to recreate its home town.
"How many times does a development team get to make their own city?" ponders Schramm. "I don't know of any. So it was pretty cool for us to do it. That's not to say that you can't get in a car, drive to a city, and take a ton of reference shots, [but it's not the same]." The developer's even gone to great lengths to license a selection of local landmarks, including the Crocodile Cafe and Elephant Car Wash. Sadly, those of you hoping for an equally appropriate grunge soundtrack will have to make do with Sony’s own interpretation of mid-90s rock, as there'll be no Nirvana in the release.
"Here's the thing, I would have loved to have had an entire montage in there: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains – you could go through the list, right?" Schramm exclaims. "I'm right there with you, but it gets expensive, and we've got to be choosy." Instead, the developer's left the audio to the platform holder's internal team, and it's super happy with the results.
However, while our demo sees us prancing around like a biker at a Mudhoney concert, we can’t help but feel that we haven’t seen much of the game. That’s intentional, according to Schramm. "We're going to give you something to get you excited about, but we're not [going to give everything away]," he expands. "With inFAMOUS 2, we pretty much said, 'Here's the game' – and there were no real surprises left as a result. We looked at that internally, and we didn't want to go down that route again. We wanted to save some powers and characters; we wanted to save a lot of the story and the world. And we did that so that when our fans pick up the title on the first day, we want them to feel excited."
It's not that the release's lacking gigantic set-pieces, then – they’re just being kept under wraps. "Delsin is Mega Man, so he's absorbing powers from other enemies," adds Schramm. "Let's just say that those conduits aren't going to give him those powers." Outside of the abovementioned smoke and neon abilities, though, we still don’t actually what other techniques will be in the game. "If you're trying to guess, look at it in this sense: it has to draw from the environment," he adds. "If you can't draw it from the environment, it's not going to be a power in our game."
However, while Schramm wouldn’t comment on our water prediction, we can assure that the confirmed powers control like a dream. Sucker Punch has always excelled at crafting slick button layouts, and our hands-on emphasises how the DualShock 4 has allowed it to tweak inFAMOUS 2’s existing scheme. There’s no longer an emphasis on manual aim, with Delsin able to shoot from the hip at any time. Moreover, common abilities such as grenades and rockets have been mapped to the L1 and R1 bumpers, meaning that you’ll no longer need to press multiple inputs in order to launch your special moves.
In spite of this fine-tuning, though, the studio has tried to make each individual power feel unique. “The smoke is great for close combat, but if you need to get from A-to-B in the city's map, then you're going to want to drain a neon sign because you can really fly with that thing,” reveals Schramm. “I can't even talk about the other powers, but trust me, you're going to feel the variety with those, too.”
Still, as the studio has stressed on multiple occasions, we’re going to have to wait until the title’s actually in our hands before we can appreciate exactly what he’s referring to. In truth, it’s a little strange being this close to a major release without knowing all of the details, but there’s promise in the sequel’s explosive action that leaves us eager to learn all of its secrets. And for Schramm and his colleagues, that’s going to be an anxious moment. “We spent three years of our lives on this thing, so we want everyone to have as much fun as we're having with it internally,” he concludes. “Once it goes out to the masses, that's where the nervousness comes in. However, the overwhelming feeling is excitement, because we know what we've got.”
Are your fiery fingertips burning with desire to play inFAMOUS: Second Son, or has the next-gen sequel failed to impress you so far? Absorb all of our abilities in the comments sections below.