Infamous was a series I never expected to be as good as it was. Before the first game was announced Sucker Punch Productions was known for making family-friendly games, most notably the Sly Cooper series. I was skeptical that they would be able to create a successful mature title, but was proven wrong when I finally played them. The first two Infamous games recounted the tale of Cole McGrath, an ordinary man whose life was forever changed when he became a Conduit, a human capable of bending one specific element to his will – electricity in his case. Conduits were feared by the general public for their dangerous abilities while greater powers sought to use them as weapons for their own agenda. The games suffered from simplistic moral choices and Cole’s fairly generic brooding personality, but overall they were enjoyable sandbox titles.

 

While Infamous 2’s endings provided a sense of closure to Cole’s personal journey and determined the fate of Conduits, Sucker Punch was planning a third installment to the series. Director Nate Fox observed from Trophy data that most players had Cole sacrifice himself so that humanity would survive. Based on this response, he decided to introduce a new protagonist that could lead the franchise into the next console generation; Deslin Rowe. The development team also put significant effort into effectively using the Playstation 4’s unique technical features, from hardware that allowed for advanced visuals to gameplay mechanics that integrated the Dualshock controller’s motion sensor and touchpad. When Infamous: Second Son was released in March 2014 it became the highest-selling entry in the series as well as one of the most successful Playstation 4 exclusives.

 

I won’t deny that Second Son was a well-designed game. The multiple powers available provided impressive new combat tactics and ways to explore the city, it did an effective job highlighting the dangers of the surveillance state, and it had a well-written plot. But it wasn’t without its flaws. The arbitrary morality system was unnecessary as it reduced every action to a simplistic choice between what’s clearly right or wrong, the writers tried too hard to make Deslin a cool and edgy character, and two of the powers, smoke and stone, were fairly limited in their use as well as being unimpressive. The biggest problem was simply that the game was unnecessary after the end of Infamous 2. It came across as more of a cash-in than a sincere continuation of the series’ lore. Thankfully these issues were all but absent in First Light, a downloadable standalone prequel to the events of Second Son centered on Fetch, the neon-manipulating serial killer whom Deslin could either redeem or further corrupt. First Light is the best type of downloadable content in that it not only enriches the central game, but stands on its own to deliver a great story.

 

After her Conduit powers became too difficult to control, Abigail “Fetch” Walker was scheduled to be taken in by the Department of Unified Protection. It was to protect her and others, as her parents tried to reassure her, but deep down they wanted to get rid of their daughter because they were afraid of what she could do. Before DUP agents could make off with Fetch, her brother Brent took her and the pair ran off, desperate to stay free. Roaming the country for five years without anywhere to call home, the Walker siblings had to steal in order to survive, regularly turning to drugs to temporarily escape the pain of their plight.

 

Eventually Brent overcame his addiction, focused on establishing a more stable life for himself and his sister. He took on various jobs for a number of criminal organizations, frequently ending up on the receiving end of a violent beat down. After seeing Brent stumble home with several serious bruises and broken teeth, Fetch promised to get clean and do her part so he wouldn’t always be on the receiving end of the pain. Brent wouldn’t allow it; he couldn’t risk losing Fetch if she exposed herself as a Conduit.

 

The Walkers came close to realizing their hope for a better future in Seattle. Brent had been working for a small time drug-dealer named Shane, saving his payments to buy a boat that would get him and Fetch into Canada. On the night they were supposed to cross the border, Brent merely had one last job to pull and he’d have the money they needed. When the local police came across the siblings Fetch offered to complete the job herself (against her brother’s wishes), using her superhuman speed to evade the cops. When she reached the drop site she found out the job was a set-up; the cased which was supposed to hold the money Brent was after had been rigged with a bomb. Fetch survived the explosion and returned to the docks, only to find that the situation had gotten worse. Their boat had been destroyed, and Brent kidnapped by the Akurans, the Russian mob he’d planned to steal from. Her dreams ruined before they could be realized and the only source of stability she knew gone, Fetch lost control. She would save Brent, even if she had to tear Seattle apart.

 

Prequels almost always present a challenge to writers who desire to execute it successfully; their task is to make the events leading up to an outcome which is already known interesting and engaging. In the case of Infamous’ storyline, players are aware that Fetch’s inadvertent murder of her brother while under the influence was the trigger that caused her to snap. First Light provides a deeper insight into what Fetch endured before she made that deadly mistake. Players are able to witness the trauma she endured as she and Brent struggled to get by, how her hopes for the future were repeatedly dashed by the cruelty of others. It makes her a much more tragic protagonist who is easier to sympathize with rather than the vendetta-driven killer seen in Second Son. It’s not as effective as it could be since the hardships Fetch went through before arriving in Seattle are only discussed in expository narration. Had these segments been interactive, it would have allowed players to form a stronger connection.

 

Much of the game is presented in flashbacks, broken up with scenes of Fetch’s imprisonment in the Curdun Cay detention center during the present day where Brooke Augustine interrogates her about the events that happened in Seattle two years ago. After a segment set in the past has been completed and Fetch reveals that the mental strain she was under led to her unlocking a new power, Augustine orders her to demonstrate her abilities in a testing facility. Aside from serving as a tutorial to help players get a handle on these powers, the endurance tests parallel her ordeal in Seattle. In both instances she is being exploited, forced by reprehensible people to use her talents in ways that will hurt others. Shane turned her into a weapon so he could expand his criminal empire, while Augustine wants to refine their lethality so Fetch will be a perfect pawn to suit her agenda. It’s an effective framing device, but it does raise the question about why Augustine waited for two years before she began manipulating Fetch.

 

As mentioned earlier, Fetch is a much more compelling character in First Light. Players see that she wasn’t always the mentally-unhinged murderer Deslin encountered. She already bore many scars from the years spent as a drifter, treated as sub-human simply for being poor and homeless. She was desperate for an anchor to keep herself sane, whether it was through substance abuse or the love of her brother. Without something to ground her, she could lose control at any moment. Laura Bailey was finally given a chance to provide Fetch with the depth she lacked in Second Son. She’s still obsessive and desperate for vengeance when wronged, but beneath that killer exterior is a frightened young girl who wants to stop running. She may occasionally crack a quip after using her powers against criminals, though as more of her past comes to light it appears as though she’s using humor to hide the pain.

 

Fetch’s story is made stronger than Deslin’s and even Cole’s because it ignores the unnecessary morality systems tied to their arcs. Nothing she does is registered as either good or evil on a karma meter, and no activities can be clearly defined as noble or mindlessly villainous. The crimes she commits, while brutal, are driven by what she considers a noble motive since they will hopefully lead to her brother’s freedom. There are side missions where Fetch can rescue people being held up or stop criminals in the process of drive-by shootings, but without the morality scale, they have more of a purpose than simply being present to unlock one of two differing power sets. Instead, this vigilante heroism can be seen as an effort to atone for the evils Shane is forcing her to do. But there is no redemption in the end; when the strain on her mind becomes too great, she won’t hesitate to shed the blood of those who wronged her.

 

Brent Walker receives relatively little attention. Aside from occasional moments that show him as a concerned brother, his main role is a male version of the damsel in distress. Brent’s employer Shane is an incredibly vicious antagonist. When first introduced he presents himself as a street-smart, perverted criminal with a mild noble streak, much like Zeke from the first two Infamous games. Once he learns what Fetch can do and how much her powers can benefit him, the mask drops and he reveals himself as a cold-blooded sociopath. I have to admit I was caught off guard when Shane betrayed Fetch; I thought that he’d be an ally as they fought a common enemy, never expecting him to be so skilled at deception. The sick pleasure he takes in forcing Fetch to do his dirty work is chilling, while his remorseless torture and murder of those who cross him make him a villain who the players truly hate. By the end of the game, it’s cathartic to see Fetch make Shane pay for the pain he caused her.

 

First Light has a much more personal story than Second Son, but there’s hardly any variation in gameplay. All of Fetch’s neon-manipulating abilities are identical to Deslin’s – energy beams, stasis fields, homing missiles, and a massive shockwave that can be unleashed after defeating enough enemies to build up power. The only difference in powers concerns Neon Clouds, swirling vortices of energy that Fetch can run through for a temporary speed boost that makes her run even faster, which are very useful when undergoing timed missions. As simple as this addition was, I found it very enjoyable. Building up velocity to reach new areas or take down enemies with a rushing attack added a new dimension of fast-paced fun like in classic Sonic the Hedgehog. Combat controls still handle incredibly well thought I imagine some players might be upset by the lack of variety in powers. I personally didn’t mind as I felt limiting Fetch to one power kept the game more streamlined, and neon, aside from video, were the only two elements that I found most useful in Second Son, so I appreciated not being stuck using smoke or stone again.

 

Mission structure hasn’t changed between games either. Every objective centers on either locating a target, defending people under attack, or wiping out as many enemies as possible. There isn’t much of a difficulty curve in fights until D.U.P. agents are introduced, and even then they’re only a significant threat when in large numbers or piloting an armed helicopter. Side quests aren’t as numerous due to the shorter story and smaller map screen, but they still provide enough of an incentive to explore. One new side mission requires players to race through Neon Clouds in order to build up enough speed so they can catch a moving Lumen, orbs of neon energy that increase Fetch’s power like a Core Relay. Since I found the speed boosting so satisfying, I naturally sought out each of these challenges.

 

Despite being shorter and having less content than Second Son, I would say First Light is the superior title. It’s much more focused in its narrative, sheds unnecessary gameplay features that would have hindered the story if included, and feels like it was designed to provide an enjoyable interactive experience rather than simple continue a successful franchise. Having said that, it still didn’t need to be made, at least not as an Infamous game. The series already received a proper conclusion; creating sequels dilutes its overall strength. First Light would have worked better as a spiritual successor to the Infamous games, set in its own world with its own continuity. It’s still a great game, but it would have benefitted from a better delivery.

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