Infamous: Second Son, the blockbuster PlayStation 4 game from Sucker Punch Productions, asks substantial questions throughout its 15 hours of open world superhero action. Should the government have absolute power and decision-making over Conduits (those with powers)? Will the advent of those superhuman abilities bring about a totalitarian government? Do scare tactics and propaganda truly sway public opinion? The narrative doesn’t always definitively answer the issues that it raises, getting lost in its own giant footsteps at times, but there’s enough to create a unique and eye-opening interactive experience for comics readers.
Government interference in super-hero affairs is nothing new, especially in comics. The most famous, Marvel’s Superhuman Registration Act, was a bill passed into law that required all super-heroes to register with the government. The same themes that were brought up during this arc, individual rights versus societal rights, are also the main talking point in Infamous. Instead of offering a peaceful option, the Department of Unified Protection (or DUP) has seen fit to round-up every Conduit for a detention center, killing those who disobey. This brings up the crucial question of What about the good guys? Captain America opposed the SRA even though he’s sometimes viewed as the paramount figure of American ideals. In Infamous, regardless of personal karma, if a Conduit is discovered, their life is basically forfeit.
The DUP claims to be preventing further bio-terrorism attacks by removing the only possible threat. This tends to backfire, as anti-oppression chaos causes both property damage and civilian injuries. There isn’t any mutual understanding between the two forces, turning the DUP has into a tyrannical entity. Because the player only sees the action through main character and Conduit Delsin Rowe, it’s hard to view the organization as anything but awful. Brooke Augustine, the head of the DUP, reveals that there was originally a grand idea to bring safety and prosperity to all citizens, but persecution has twisted it. Does this parallel the real world? NSA spying and drone operations (both showcased in the game as security cameras and actual flying vehicles) have made many Americans question how far their personal liberties are being infringed on. Infamous highlights a world robbed of those liberties and the problems that occur.
Walking the streets of Seattle, Delsin can hear the blame game being passed around between civilians. With no superpowers, there are no supervillains. The terrorist attacks necessitated an oppressive government program, such as the DUP, to clean up the mess. The lines between good and evil are frequently blurred throughout the game, so it’s disappointing to see major karmic choices narrowed down to only two choices. These choices rarely have serious consequence until the final one, made at the end of the story. The DUP obviously doesn’t discern what karmic path our hero decides to take, shooting him down regardless, but civilians can be easily swayed either way. This is most likely due to the sandbox nature of the game. Kill a few civilians here, bust a drug ring there, but don’t worry about making a dent in civilization till the finale. Delsin’s intrinsic values and loyalty to his people, however, retain a modicum of similarity from beginning to end.
Choice begets the karmic path each of the supporting Conduits take. Abigail Walker (“Fetch”), the requisite love interest and likely reference to Jubilee of X-Men fame, is the most interesting and malleable of the group. Sold to the DUP at a young age and involved in an altercation that resulted in the death of her brother, Fetch is the poster child for government care gone wrong. After meeting Delsin, her actions mimic his as they bound through the city. Again, the reflection of choice and nature versus nurture come into effect. Would Fetch have turned out the same way if she was left to her own life of blazing neon across the sky? Or did DUP interference and handling create this possible villain? One has to think that had Delsin not been there to save her in the good karmic path, she would have continued down her vengeful path. The government is no doubt a terrible force in Infamous (whether you take the Captain America side or the Iron Man one), but the essence of the Conduits is certainly one that can be challenged as well.
Understanding the power of persuasion is paramount to the DUP idea of success. When Delsin begins his journey, civilians regard him with either nonchalance or fear. There’s massive presence of DUP signage and propaganda across Seattle. Take a look through history to see the impact these types of fearmongering can have. As Infamous is set in present time, Delsin’s actions slowly become recorded on cell phone cameras and his feats create a social stir. The game portrays this well, and on a good karmic playthrough there are citizens literally cheering for him as he flies across streets and buildings, just as a “real superhero” would. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as the game takes this. Still, it’s an interesting idea. It’ll be intriguing to see where Sucker Punch takes this world, especially if the heroic ending is canon.
Closing Comments: The big question is whether Infamous: Second Son is worth purchasing a PlayStation 4 to play it, especially for those who tend to lean more towards comics. It’s debatable. If you’ve already got a system, then Infamous is a must-buy. Silky, polished gameplay lets players effortlessly glide across anything in the city, from a towering skyscraper to a rotting piece of wood in the ocean. Aside from some parkour quirks, getting around a beautifully realized Seattle stays fun multiple times through. The graphic novel cutscenes have been replaced with a more realistic in-game engine, but that works in the game’s favor. The story parallels many topics that are stalwarts in comics and should provide avid readers with a story worthy of exploring.
It’s not perfect, and those only looking to play it once through for Delsin’s tale probably won’t invest a massive amount of time. It would make perfect sense to hold off until both system and game receive a price cut, especially if gaming isn’t a main hobby. However you look at it though, Infamous: Second Son blends comics and video games into a rare interactive experience that actually pleases everyone.
Alex Smith is a news and reviews writer for Capeless Crusader. When not wasting away in class, he spends all his free time with comics, movies, and video games, and has been since birth. He can spend hours discussing Saga,Hawkeye, or Game of Thrones. Lying Cat’s number one fan. Random brain thoughts: @imapensfan