Infamous, the experiment in developing an original Superhero with the freedom of creating abilities and lore that’s untied to any pre-existing superhero universe. Two surprises from the PS3 generation was the ambition of Infamous and Prototype in creating an original open-world Superhero universe, but it would seem that Infamous had the staying power between the two with its 3rd installment released on the PS4. While the first 2 followed Cole and his very Spiderman-like origin story and his various continuous acts of self-sacrifice throughout the two games, we move on to Delsin and his X-Men-like origin story. The game tweaked a few aspects from the past few games but still did a great job at creating an original identity to both Delsin and the game instead of just another iteration of the same franchise. That doesn’t mean that everything went well, which is the topic for discussion to see how the experience can be overall different.
Why are you making that face at me?
Much like Metal Gear Solid 5 and L.A Noire, the cinematics for the game employ a very detailed FAcial CAPture, FACAP, to help make the characters feel more realistic as they provide the acting and dialog for a scene. With the soon to be legendary (if not already prolific) Troy Baker leading the cast as Delsin, Travis Willingham as his brother Reggie and Christine Dunford as the nemesis Augustine, the FACAP technology helps bring a different energy to a scene over the hand-made manipulation that artists would have used in the past. But the drawback is that the scenes are only as powerful as the facial acting that the actors can portray. This might seem to also put a bigger emphasis on using facial expressions to deliver the majority of the emotion in a scene instead of using the whole body overall. I mention this because most scenes where tension was at its highest, you’d get these extreme close-ups just to make sure that the player understands that “This is how a character is feeling at the moment. Do you see it? Here it is.” I’m not necessarily knocking it because TV and Movies do the same trick to get you to sympathize more strongly to the situation, e.g. most death scenes or scenes of betrayal including some close-up of “E Tu Brutus” or “Gotcha Bitch” so you too can feel the sudden but inevitable betrayal in HD clarity.
Even though the FACAP helped bring the drama and the gravity of a situation, or clarify the emotions between character’s relationships, I started to expect it in more locations of the game. We see these cutscenes in the bookends of a handful of Story Mission as well as the bookending the game, but the overall time with these cutscenes amounted to maybe an hour. This isn’t to say that an hour’s worth of cutscenes is too short, especially since the last game I talked about, MGS, is notorious for long, consecutive cutscenes, but it showed an extreme contrast between handling story with the in-game engine and the use of cutscenes. Dialogue delivered with gravity but while actions are user-controlled makes the dialogue seem contrived, like you’re listening to the dialogue track of a movie but it’s out of sync with the visuals; you’re watching an intense driving sequence where you’re weaving between cars and buildings but two people are having a crystal clear conversation with no resemblance of effort from movement in their voice and only a hint of sound that alludes to the driving occurring. Or watching two people stand around having a conversation, but with generic idle animations making their dialogue being delivered through animatronic voice-boxes from Chuck-E-Cheese or some other childhood babysitting restaurant. It would’ve been nice to have more of the FACAP if there was any reason for people to have a face-to-face conversation, but I can also understand that it might be overkill and a hassle to model and get the MOCAP done correctly in these instances. Cost can stifle creativity just as much as restriction and oversight.
This is what a superhero feels like
When the war between Infamous and Prototype started, Infamous won the war by having a strong emphasis of making the story feel like a superhero story while Prototype came with a strong sense of making you feel like a superhero as you interacted with the open-world environment. Cole MacGrath in Infamous had major mobility problems, something remedied in Infamous 2 but his abilities still felt limited. But when moving from Infamous 2 to Second Sons, Delsin feels more like a Class 5 Superhero while Cole feels like a Class 3 Superhero. Infamous 1 and 2 let the player feel what it was like to have super powers, but was still only on the next tier of the food chain, but Prototype and Infamous SS let the player feel like you were super-powered, closer to the top of the food chain at times. Prototype did this a bit too much, so the excitement died was lost pretty quickly, but I:SS did a much better job at balancing the overly-superpowered feeling with the normal superpowered feeling that Delsin has. Part of this is due to the use his ability of absorbing other Conduit’s abilities giving him the arsenal of 3 power types (Smoke, Neon, TV) throughout the game until you get your fourth during the final conflict and the other was with the use of Karmic Attacks.
The ability to absorb other Conduits’ energy types was a great addition to the series because it allows for the developers to be evermore creative with how your abilities should work but also introduces a favoritism towards one class over another. For myself, once the Neon ability opened up, I almost exclusively kept this ability throughout the game unless otherwise forced to switch out. Even the TV-ability felt necessary for certain phases, even if not required, but I kept away from Smoke as much as possible because of its inefficiencies in my playstyle. During most skirmishes, I tried to build up “Karmic Actions” by incapacitating enemies instead of killing them in order to build up charge to perform Karmic Attacks, which are large scale area attacks that clear the vicinity of enemies quickly. The Neon ability allowed me to build this up the quickest by sharpshooting non-vital locations to enemies in order to incapacitate them, and the other abilities seemed just too slow in doing this. But also the Karmic Attack for Smoke just seemed too ineffective in clearing the scene, and didn’t give me the payoff of the extra work required to clear the skirmish in a humane way instead of straight murdering everyone, but Neon was a much more rewarding feeling. You essentially go Jean Grey, levitating all of the enemies in the general area and switch to Jubilee and shoot a barrage of fireworks in all directions in which they explode in sequence causing a sense of actual reward by the light show of mini-explosions that you get to enjoy as the vanquished enemies fall flat onto the floor.
The particle use for this game was probably the most satisfying thing to experience for the current console generation thus far. The game had a strong use of lighting within the game, portraying a stary-skied-like beauty to the cityscape of Seattle, but magnified during combat and traversing across the city with the streaks and particles that you left behind. The Neon power alone won me over with the Light Trails that you leave behind as you explore the city which created a better artistic sensibility to the game. Because of this maybe it makes the game feel less realistic in a sense, but a comic-book world doesn’t have to feel like an alternative-history of this world; it can have visuals and elements that only make sense in their world.
Running with Air Jordans
The only other thing that hit me at first was how unrealistic Delsin controlled. This might seem a bit contrary to what I was talking about in the last section with non-necessity of connecting to the real world, but he was needlessly light on his feet. The opening sequence of his traversing the shoreline in a parkour/climb sequence manner felt strange when he jumped as it felt like he was just being lifted off of the ground and sticking onto walls instead of the normal squat-to-push off of the ground that normally occurs when you jump. I understand that the game focused more one mobility from its predecessors, but it pulled me out quickly when I had to climb up things the old fashioned way and it looked like a magnet being sliding up the fridge rather than someone struggling, even marginally, to climb. I will give it to the developers that jumping and climbing became obsolete quickly with the inclusion of ventilation systems and other means to scale buildings with the other powers like running up the walls, so I quickly forgot about this qualm once these means opened up to me.
The game does improve a lot on its predecessors, like its ability to make you feel super-powered, a better creative-license to the world and its acting scenes, but it can still improve in some areas. Better sense for the gravity of dialogue with more use of FACAP scenes would help. A story with plot points visible at 500 yards away isn’t entirely the best, but I still bought into the story enough to not nitpick it.