inFAMOUS: Second Son is my crack. My tattered-jean-vest, beanie wearing, neon powered addiction. It rocks me gently into a flow state, to which I wake up stupified and confused. Hours disappeared while I was playing it, but if you asked me to have an opinion about the game I would just wind-up saying: “It’s really good.” It’s even deserving of the five Austin laid on it, but inFAMOUS: Second Son isn’t an interesting game, or even a memorable one. It’s flawed in a lot of ways, yet all the same, it executes on the one thing Sucker Punch’s ad campaign promised by creating a game that is simple, immediate, and achievable.
I hesitate to call what Sucker Punch did with inFAMOUS: Second Son genius, because like previously stated the game is deceptively “good.” However, there is a sort of science behind the design of inFAMOUS: Second Son, and as a caveat I’ll add that this particular kind of design doesn’t work for everyone. Personally, I have grown fatigued of side missions that feel like fluff, especially Grand Theft Auto V’s brand of side missions. I like the feeling of completion and the enjoyment that comes along with that elusive feeling. My life has become hectic — work and family take up the majority of my free time. I usually find myself avoiding games with massive time investments in favor of something quick and to the point. I fearfully thought inFAMOUS: Second Son would also fall by the wayside — I was wrong. They somehow took the immediacy of a game like Luftrausers and injected it into a AAA game. Take the fact that, like Luftrausers, inFAMOUS: Second Son loads immediately into Seattle, and be it stencil art, finding a secret agent, or hunting down tracker drones, there is always something within reach of the player to interact with.
There’s a rather robust parkour system at the core of inFAMOUS: Second Son — it has its hiccups, and some surfaces have an invisible magnetism that sucks Delsin into objects like a black-hole. Nonetheless, Sucker Punch ignores it, and provides rather exhilarating forms of transportation — specifically the neon powers. I can’t imagine the amount of work that went into building, animating, and debugging the parkour system, just to circumvent it with powers, but enjoying said powers is of the utmost importance. Sucker Punch mitigates the frustration of ascending a building simply by allowing Delsin’s abilities to scale them. It makes traveling from these different interactions not feel like a chore. It feels like there’s an imaginary line guiding you from activity-to-activity without the player even realizing it. Two hours later they have cleared an entire portion of the map. It’s that flow state I was speaking of earlier. Everytime I picked up inFAMOUS: Second Son it lulled me into it without me knowing, and whenever I “came to”, I had an overwhelming sense of accomplishment for completing so many tasks.
Simplicity is a really tough design line to teeter. Go too far in that direction and your game is doomed to the pejorative “casual.” Yet, Sucker Punch tip-toes that line masterfully. For instance, by far my favorite distraction (because calling them a side-mission is a bit misleading) within inFAMOUS: Second Son is the stencil art mini-game. In fact, it is the first thing the player will do when playing inFAMOUS: Second Son. The mini-game involves the player turning the controller sideways, shaking it, then holding down the right trigger, and using the gyroscope to paint a unique stencil.
It’s a clever use of the DualShock 4, and is the best analog for spray painting I’ve ever seen in a game. But what makes the chore of shaking your control, holding down a button, and using the gyroscope to apply a stencil to a wall so enjoyable is the length that which it lasts. Usually, the player only applies two coats to the stencil, taking less than ten seconds, and Delsin takes over and applies the final touches. It lasts just the right amount of time. A fraction of a second longer and “stencil art” would become tedious.
In addition to the unobtrusive, cleverly designed mini-game, is the carrot. I have a theory; I do not think it is actions that make players tired of mechanics, or interactions, but results. Through good and bad karmic playthroughs in inFAMOUS: Second Son, the stencil art mini-game uses unique art every time. Taking a quick, intuitive mechanic and rewarding players differently for engaging with it.
Admittedly, the stencil art mini-game is unique in its enjoyability. The other distractions throughout inFAMOUS: Second Son rely solely on length and immediacy. Take the hidden camera distraction and try to dissect, or criticize it, and immediately it reveals itself as shallow. The player is, more or less, given the location of the camera in the feed on Delsin’s phone — most of the time you can turn around and instantly see it staring at you. Albeit, that shallow immediacy works in its favor. Most side missions in the open-world genre get in the way of the critical path, or attempt to become the critical path, side missions in inFAMOUS: Second Son offer an enjoyable interaction that fills in the path between A and B. This is what most of the side activities in the game are hinged on, and it’s the first open-world game I have gotten one-hundred percent on since, well, ever.
Sucker Punch wants you to feel powerful in all facets of their game. They want you to read the trophy list, and say, “I can do that.” They want you to to play through all of their content; most developers do, and trophies are in a way fluff that can detour a player from trading in, or selling, a game. Sucker Punch takes their philosophy of enjoyment, completion and simplicity one step further with trophies. I can unequivocally say I am not someone who hunts trophies. But I am currently sitting at seventy-six percent completion of inFAMOUS: Second Son with every intention of “platinuming” the game. Trophies are at their core supposed to give the player a sense of accomplishment, and most developers make some of their trophies insurmountable — i.e. Skyrim. Assuming that the challenge of the trophy is more important than “platinuming”the game, I beg to differ.
inFAMOUS: Second Son takes the power of completion and combines it with well-designed busy work, and first-rate traversal to create something that begs players to get the platinum trophy. It’s a strategy that takes a different route to players feeling accomplished, and it is bound to see the words easy and casual thrown around whenever someone mentions it. Nevertheless, it is successful at being the very thing it set out to be: enjoyable.