Friday, September 12, 2014

REVIEW - inFamous: First Light.

inFamous: First Light is a stand-alone downloadable mini-campaign for this year's gorgeous, first-party open-world super-powered platformer/shooter, inFamous: Second Son.  First Light focuses on Second Son second fiddle Abigail "Fetch" Walker, an ex-junkie street kid with the crazy power of neon.

A pulpier story, a more endearing protagonist, a single super power.  This has "win" written all over it, in glo-brite pink.

A bit like the Awakened DLC for Dead Space 3, First Light addresses a lot of the problems I had with Second Son.  Take its tedious spray painting minigame.
"If, for example, the fun of tagging were about getting to the place you want to tag - and once there, with the tap of a single button, Delsin will somehow leverage his awesome superpowers to festoon the world with his subversive art with a dazzling visual flourish - that'd be pretty cool!"
-from the Second Son review-
Turns out, it is pretty cool!  Fetch will leap from a rooftop and smack into the pavement in front of some prime tagging turf, and once you activate the event, she Jubilees out some fireworks from her palms that stick to the wall.  You activate that twinkly fuzz of neon energy by (sigh) tilting the controller back and forth over it - Fetch draws a beam of her neon energy across the wall to activate the nodes she's set up - but it's much faster than Delsin's multi-layered, multi-stage spray painting, and more rewarding to see Fetch's shimmering designs.  They're often cute, often subversive and nearly always pays tribute to her dear brother, Brent.

This cop will have a hard time explaining what's about to happen.

Elsewhere, nearly every aspect of Second Son has been improved in First Light - particularly the melee combat and, most pleasing of all, the platforming.

Here as there, Fetch's ability to turn into a zippy flash of neon to run at super-speeds removes all semblance of platforming as you scale buildings.  In previous inFamous titles, getting to the top of the highest towers was fun - requiring a modicum of skill, a bit of clever navigation and a touch of patience.  In Second Son and here in First Light, you simply need to hold down the "go super-fast" button, and Fetch will zip her way down city streets and straight up walls like Sonic the Hedgehog.

Where First Light is a massive improvement over Second Son is how it feels to navigate Seattle, thanks to Fetch's far more potent locomotive abilities.


She begins her open-world adventure by finding the biggest, baddest neon sign she can, and blasting its energy across the city to take seed in swirling, vaporous pockets of power only she can see - on every street, on almost every rooftop.  When Fetch turns on her neon dash, she moves pretty darned fast.  When she runs through one of those pockets, she explodes forward.  When she jumps after hitting one, she soars - throwing herself hundreds of feet at a time and, if you aim it right, arcing beautifully on to the next roof to poof! hit another power node and take to the skies again.

By simply tapping the dash button and hitting jump, Fetch will fire herself twenty feet straight up.  Again, a solution to one of Second Son's problems.
"Second Son ties such gleeful fun to vents or car rooftops, which makes looking for a vent or car to boost from a mechanic in and of itself - but it feels counter to the game's motto of "enjoy your power." After the studio successfully let us feel so powerful and so free to express it in previous games, it feels a bit arbitrarily stifling here."
-from the Second Son review-

Instead of feeling constrained, Fetch's platforming feels powerful and vital and expressive - and it looks beautiful.  More than a bit like the epic game of rooftop leaps and dashes that was Prototype, First Light is a platformer in which your platforms are entire buildings, and soaring between them is pure, gleeful fun.  The type of fun that's hard to stop.

The type of fun where, once there is literally nothing more to do in its world, it's still just fun to zip around, flinging yourself high into the sky.

Pleasantly, kicking the crap out of bad guys is just as improved as the platforming. Fech sports a pretty deep skill tree that begs for investment, as the ultimate forms of her abilities turn her into an almost-omnipotent force of nature, rather similar to how vital and powerful Cole MacGrath felt by the end of the first game.

Sucker Punch had promised that Fetch's powers would feel more potent, more pure than the "version" of her neon abilities Delsin received, and it's very true - not simply because I can go from a dash (circle) into a "force push" explosion of light (square) that sends an enemy flying and suspends them in a bubble of slow time which charges my ability to crash into them with (trangle) a soaring jump-kick of apocalyptic pink.

This is what happens when you press triangle.

It's because Fetch's abilities dovetail nicely into each other, with one ability feeding off of the use of another to visually and kinetically-spectacular results.  She's all about momentum and speed and man her zippy, smacky, speedy melee combos feel so much better than the whiffy, ineffectual swings of Delsin's chain.

Fetch's story is more a personal journey than the epic tale of how an everygirl got superpowers - but Laura Bailey continues to deliver high-calibre voice work as Fetch, Ashley Johnson (of The Last of Us fame) makes an affecting turn as a minor character and Travis Willingham, who got a bit too hammy as Delsin's brother in Second Son, pleasantly chews up the scenery here as a dumb, overly-ambitious drug runner with a southern drawl.

It is, after all, the story of why Fetch was systematically killing drug dealers when the events of Second Son came about.

Complaints are minor, and hard to come by.  First of all, I love that I'm playing an adventure game as a badass girl with superpowers, but I feel it should be pointed out that Fetch cries a lot.  I'm not sure someone who's been through so much would cry so easily, and it feels a bit... um... well shit, I'll say it.  Sexist.

Let me put it another way - how many times did Delsin cry?  Or Cole?  (Answer: Never.)

Second, I'm not sure I appreciate how a lot of the skill points required to unlock her most-potent abilities are locked behind the optional combat arenas in Curdun Cay prison (though I do appreciate optional combat arenas, as a general rule).

Third, it's too short.

This is exactly how inFamous: Second Son should have felt to play.  It's gorgeous, Fetch is a great hero, and the way the game plays is pure fun, all the way through.  I want to start up a new game just for the pleasure of throwing myself across the city, grabbing collectibles - but I sure would miss having my triangle attack maxed out...

Buy it.

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