There's something unmistakeably, what's the word I'm looking for... *cool* about pressing a button and having Delsin Rowe flick out a wrist and suck the neon out of the signs that adorn the streets of a dark and sleepy Seattle.
Sleepy, that is, apart from the swathes of anti-Conduit activists lining the pavements, and the gun-toting military nutjobs trying to blast you into chunky kibbles.
Still, draining the gaudy visions of urban excess of their fluorescent hues and then using the brightly-coloured energy to scale a 15-storey tower block in a second or two is pretty sweet. As is turning said energy into something of a beam sword, and using it to smash armed aggressors over the head in rhythmic, robust fashion that comes with echoes of Arkham-era Batman.
Superpowers are still as fun as they used to be, then.
Our aforementioned protagonist Mr. Rowe is a more youthful frontman for the inFamous franchise than the lightning-charged Cole McGrath, and he's a bit more versatile too. Rowe is able to pinch the powers off of other Conduits, meaning that eventually he'll end up like a superpowered pack of Skittles, with a new flavour for each occasion.
Our demo only yielded two -- smoke and neon -- but it was a promising start. The former allows Rowe to make dash jumps across small distances with a puff of smoke, and travel through steam pipes to pop out of rooftop chimneys. He can lob smoke bombs at people, his punches pack more weight behind them, and his area of attack moves are more powerful. Neon is a speedier, more agile power, gifting Rowe the ability to glide up and over walls, engage enemies with a disco-flavoured melee weapon, and pepper foes with rapid-fire pulses of energy, slowing time for a few brief seconds with L2 if you want to take a more precise shot.
It's all rather familiar, though, and the combat wasn't exactly enormously inspired, certainly not much of a step up from the action we've seen in previous games. But then that's always the way with a crucial IP such as this: do you play it safe and look to keep what worked before, or do you look towards reinvention, particularly on a new console with new possibilities?
The demo saw one scenario and two choices, and inFamous has always been a series that has dealt with the burden of power and asked moral questions of its audience. Do you become the hero and use your powers for good, or do you embrace your strengths and seek to exert your dominion over others? Delsin is a Conduit -- one of the few individuals on the planet who exhibit superhuman abilities -- and thus feared by much of the world at large. Anyone who's ever played any of the previous inFamous titles, or indeed ever read or watched any X-Men, will surely appreciate the capacity for violence, hatred, and fear that the unnatural and unknown can bring.
Delsin and his brother Reggie, a law enforcement agent, come across another Conduit, a girl named Fetch who exhibits Neon powers. Fetch has been killing drug dealers, and Reggie wants to hand her over to the authorities for murder. Delsin isn't too happy about that idea and steps in, barking that he decides what happens to Conduits they find. You don't get to choose to save her -- that decision is made for you -- but you do get to decide what happens afterwards.
The choice is pretty basic, and a rather familiar affair: do you teach Fetch how to use her powers to fight crime in non-lethal ways, or do you indulge her anger and mould her into a merciless killer?
We got to play through both versions to see how they differed. The former takes Delsin and Fetch down to the docks on a drug bust. Loads of armed criminals show up, and you beat them into submission, steal a bunch of evidence and mark the houseboats filled with drugs for Fetch to blow up. From there, we followed a drug shipment to a pick up point, gliding across the rooftops but staying out of direct sight. When the truck finally reached its destination, we dropped in to say hello, and unleashed a devastating area attack called a Radiant Sweep.
The "Corrupt" mission basically involved breaking up groups of anti-Conduit protesters, murdering groups of innocent civilians, and then waiting for the military to show up. This mission showcased a little more in the way of combat variety, thanks to some teleporting, armoured sub-bosses, but it wasn't exactly particularly inspired either. Eventually, you end up brawling your way through a traffic tunnel, strolling out the other side and triggering the end of the demo with a Radiant Sweep.
Two missions of differing moral flavours then, but both pretty much identical in terms of content: go here, beat those guys up, go there, unleash Radiant Sweep. It would perhaps have been a little more enjoyable had the melee combat felt robust and impactful, but it didn't really. There was a nice fizz and spark to the Neon-based ranged attacks, but the controls felt woolly at times and lacking in solidity. The run-and-gun style that's been favoured here is fitting, but it just doesn't quite feel particularly engaging or rewarding, and much of that (especially in the Redeem mission) was down to a lacklustre array of enemies as well as indistinct targeting. In this demo, anyway, I just didn't get much of a sense of being a superpowered badass. For all of the promise and potential we saw in the game's initial reveal, this demo made Second Son feel like a decidedly last-gen game.
There are limits to what you can do in an 45-minute demo, of course. To be fair, Seattle looks fantastic, and is simply begging to be explored. Second Son certainly looks the part, and nowhere is that more brilliantly evidenced than in the urban setting Sucker Punch have chosen for this third game in the series. We did a little Neon dash up the Space Needle just because we could, and it is to be hoped that Sucker Punch give us reasons to explore the neon-flecked urban jungle that they've created.
Delsin looks like he'll be a more engaging protagonist than Cole ever was, and that's helped along by some cracking work by Bioshock Infinite alum Troy Baker. We won't pass judgement on the script from the snippet we saw, but Rowe's youth and his counter-cultural persona lend themselves well to some pithy one liners that were evidenced even in this short demo, and delivered in cracking fashion by Baker. With the gameplay mechanics looking rather unchanged, characterisation and story will be more key than ever.
It'll be interesting, too, to see how deep the morality systems go. For every two or three goons we beat up, along came one with the option to restrain or execute -- in both the Redeem and Corrupt avenues we got to play through. Exactly how much of a bearing your behaviour on the fly contributes to the story, or to Delsin's appearance or mannerisms, still remains to be seen.
But I came away from my brief time with inFamous: Second Son feeling a little deflated. It is tough to deliver a brief look at an expansive game such as this in a manner that showcases as much as possible without spoiling things or taking up hours, but even on a fundamental level I didn't feel the thrill I got when I played Saints Row IV for the first time, or Prototype, or indeed even the inFamous 2 demo from years ago, where you basically got to rip New Orleans a new one. I can't wait to get my hands on the full game because I'm keen to see how Sucker Punch have upped their game for this new platform, rife with potential. But to be honest, the demo left me wondering if that's been the case at all. There'll be many who'll be perfectly happy with Just Another inFamous Game, but in truth the series has never instilled quite the same excitement as other top-grade exclusive IPs and a certain amount of reinvention would be nice, and though it's too early to tell, it might be that those looking for advancement or reinvention could be out of luck.
Time will tell, and it's worth noting that the developers have deliberately been keeping their cards very close to their chest on this one.