Published Mar 21, 2014Socio-politics has had an easier time infiltrating other forms of pop culture than gaming, from the terror era analogies of Battlestar Galactica and the Iraq War influence on American Idiot to the post-Great Recession class warfare of Elysium and The Purge. Hell, one of gaming's most iconic heroes is Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher, an NSA information warrior who never second-guesses the propriety of his surveillance (and torture) in our post-PRISM world.
But that's not the case in inFAMOUS: Second Son, a superpowered sandbox game that is considerably less enamoured with America's encroaching security state, using surveillance, drones and militarized police to fuel its security vs. liberty subtext. Make that text: the bad guy in this game is the U.S. government.
Perhaps this is no surprise, as the first two inFAMOUS games also pulled influence from newsfeeds. The original was set in New York, er, Empire City and revolved around a bike courier (unintentionally) setting off a tragic 9/11-reminiscent terror attack that killed thousands and destroyed several square city blocks while giving him superpowers.
Director Nate Fox's vision of a lawless metropolis was also influenced by his participation in the Seattle WTO protests, and he set the sequel in New Marais, a thinly-veiled post-Katarina New Orleans, beset by floodwaters and a Blackwater-style private militia run by a One Percent-er.
This time, the story takes place in the gorgeously rendered actual city of Seattle, seven years after the last game. People who have developed superpowers call themselves conduits but have been declared "bioterrorists" by the government's Department of Unity Protection, which has been killing or interning them in a plot point reminiscent of Marvel's not-so-merry mutants.
This time the lead is Delsin Rowe, a Native American stencil graffiti artist who finds himself armed with something a little more powerful than spray paint after he unintentionally absorbs powers from a conduit who has escaped the D.U.P and fled into Rowe's Indian reservation.
Teaming up with his exasperated brother, the local sheriff, the pair heads to Seattle to save their tribe, many of whom are slowly dying after being tortured by the D.U.P. The Emerald City, however, is under occupation — patrolled by government agents, and surveilled by cameras and drones. So they decide to liberate Seattle.
This is where the open-world game starts to soar, as you pick up more and more superpowers — there are four power sets in all, with various options to test out and upgrade as you do battle. Unlike the previous games' sullen lead Cole, Delsin loves his powers as much as you do.
The game's main drawback is its retention of a simplistic binary morality system intended to lead you down the path of superhero or supervillain. But while Delsin may be a vandal to anti-graffiti authorities, he means well, so only the "good" karmic path makes narrative sense here. (Cole, the lead in the first two games, could have gone either way.)
Delsin's a complex character who deserves better than a simplistic black and white moral approach in a game that elsewhere offers shades of grey. (Sucker Punch/Sony)