Infamous: First Light – Review

Infamous_First_Light_cover_artInfamous (Sorry. “inFamous”) is a funny old series. The first title was hotly anticipated back when the PS3 was low on exclusives and any game that had trophies was probably going to sell well, but the final game wasn’t all that impressive. It certainly wasn’t bad, and the story of Cole McGrath, the unwitting courier of a timebomb that turns most of his hometown into a quarantine zone, was interesting enough. The problem was that playing as a Cole, a electricity themed superhero, was never really that impressive. The city looked great, the powers were fun, if a bit shootery, but progress was very much in the “run here, collect this, run there, zap that” mode. Infamous 2 was much the same, and it wasn’t until the Vampire themed Festival of Blood  DLC that the series really started to click for me. Second Son, a PS4 exclusive, was a real step forward for the series. Drawing a line under the first games and essentially giving the player a soft reboot, Second Son took us to a beautifully rendered version of Seattle, in a future where those with powers, Conduits, are segregated, imprisoned and oppressed. The gameplay was much the same, but greater care had been taken to weave a more compelling narrative through Second Son’s toy box. The results weren’t groundbreaking, but effective.

Now we have First Light, an add-on to Second Son that follows Festival of Blood’s standalone release model. This is a traditional story expansion DLC with the added bonus that you don’t need the original game to play. If you do own Second Son, however, you can play as that game’s protagonist in some Score Arenas. It’s a nice model that offers something for fans of the original and also means the game serves as a taster for those who might be on the fence about Second Son. Given that the game is also one of this month’s free PSPlus games, Sony are probably hoping this will funnel a few extra sales for the series.

First Light puts you in control of Fetch Walker, a supporting character from Second Son. Set two years prior to the main game, you follow Fetch through a short, story driven adventure that fleshes out her backstory a little. Most of this takes place in a lighter, restricted version of Seattle. This is before the military DUP arrive, and so traversal through the city is quieter and, frankly, less interesting. The story itself is low key, but interesting. Fetch and her brother are hoping to raise enough money to leave the country when her brother is abducted by one of the warring gangs. In order to rescue him, you must complete a sequence of missions, track down collectibles, upgrades your skills and generally zip around the city using your superpowers. For those who’ve never played the series, this is a good taster for the gameplay, but anyone else will probably find it all a little too familiar.

Problems creep in early, the cut down version of Seattle is really too small to ever feel like you’re actually exploring, and some of Fetch’s powers are unlocked way too early. Right of the bat, you have the ability to zip around the city uninterrupted, which takes any sense of space out of it instantly. In Second Son, this power was also available but had to be unlocked after quite a lot of gameplay. Problems like this run throughout First Light, and it seems to be a result of trying to compress the entire experience of an Infamous game into a title that lasts only a few hours. This wouldn’t matter so much if it were true DLC, but as a standalone title, people are going to go into it blind, and the result is a game that feels slightly poorly paced out.

The story also suffers for the format. The problem is that Fetch’s story in Second Son, from a broken person out for revenge, to a survivor at peace with herself, was more satisfying and at odds with the story presented here somewhat. There are no outright contradictions, but playing through both stories presents us with a character who somehow manages to come to terms with all her old wounds twice in a row.

First Light isn’t bad, but where Festival of Blood seemed to blossom as a quirky, disposable title that knew it could do whatever it wanted with Infamous 2’s engine, this game just feels so confined. Seattle still looks beautiful, but it’s pared back to the point of boredom. The Neon powers are still a lot of fun, but they don’t gel as well with the gameplay, and are overpowered. Fetch has great lead character potential, but we join her in the middle of events that we know are just backstory. Exploring how she moved on after the collapse of the DUP? That’s a story I’d like to see.

The real winner is the game engine. Seattle still looks great, powers are beautiful and it’s fun to zip about fighting crime. There are even a lot of side missions to get on with and armoured cars to destroy, but that’s about it. There’s no real impetus to move on with the story. It feels very much like those side missions in the first Infamous where your Elvis impersonating friend phones you up and suggests you do something mildly distracting between the next big story battle. And that’s not bad, but it could have been so much more. As for the score arenas? It depends on if you like that kind of thing. I’ve never played the series for the combat, and I find the larger encounters more tedious than fun.

If you’re a PSPlus subscriber, this game is free, and for that price it’s a no brainer, but First Light is hard to recommend. A used copy of Second Son offers everything this game does, and quite a bit more. There’s fun to be had here, particularly if you’re a fan of the series, but not really enough unique to justify the game’s existence. Certainly not enough to part cash for it.