Infamous: Second Son on the PlayStation 4 has the perfect runway for success

The inFamous series has always been much better than its sales suggest.

The first game pulled in an 85 Metacritic score, which isn’t everything, but it’s also not nothing. The game provided a ground-level view of what it may be like to be a superhero, and sold 1.2 million copies in the US between its launch in May 2009 and the end of the year. The second game earned an 83 on Metacritic and doubled the original’s sales in its first month of availability in the United States.

Infamous: Second Son will benefit from the first two games, but circumstances have placed it in the perfect position to break through the sales ceiling of its PlayStation 3-based predecessors. What might have been a game to help move systems has become a game that will take advantage of the insane growth of the PlayStation 4 console. The system continues to be hard to find at retail, and has gained an early lead against Microsoft in the next-gen console race. Second Son finds itself with a much larger than expected group of potential players.

This is the perfect storm of timing and effort for any game, much less one that looks this good.

Why Second Son is poised to succeed

Second Son was put in development when the PlayStation 4 was still being designed, and it’s one of the first big-name titles to be released that was built for next-generation from the ground up. You can see it in the game’s visuals, which push the limits of what we’ve seen in the past when it comes to lighting and particle effects.

This isn’t a game that was designed with an eye to the current-generation systems or even a PC port; Second Son was created with the help of Sony to show off the PlayStation 4. That’s its job.

Think of how rare this has been in the next-generation race up to this point; there have only been a handful of games on either console that didn’t start out life on the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, and ports have been common on both sides of the fence.

We may be able to see more detail in games like Assassin’s Creed 4 on the PlayStation 4, but the game was created with an eye towards existing hardware. When a game can run on the PlayStation 4, but must also run on a system with 512MB of RAM, you can expect a somewhat hampered experience. Second Son doesn’t have that limitation, and the team at Sucker Punch has been able to run wild with all the special effects and tricks they want to layer on the game.

Graphical fidelity for its own sake doesn't amount to much; all those fancy lighting tricks only mean something when they add to what the game is trying to achieve.

I was able to visit Sucker Punch's Bellevue offices during the game’s development and was shown some of the particle effects that were works in progress. The game’s protagonist, Delsin Rowe, was able to suck the energy out of a bright pink neon sign, and the thousands of points of light swirled toward him and spun around the character, lighting his clothing and skin in real time.

This effect only took a few moments, but it changed the character of the scene, and the act of pulling energy from the world felt magical and, somehow, real. It looked fun, and the ability to light the scene and the character in this way drove home the preternatural appeal of Rowe’s gifts.

You’re completely surrounded by color and action

The power of the game’s visuals go beyond particles however, even if the smoke effects will likely impress even the hardcore PC crowd, who are also often held back by the limitations of current-generation systems while relying on ports. The lighting effects also help to tell the story of a futuristic Seattle. The game is dark and rainy, although it sometimes uses the sort of splashy color palette that can be rare in modern games.

There is a scene that takes place around a music venue, complete with more bright lighting and colorful neon. That’s not notable, but the power of the water effects and reflections allow that building to light the scene from both above and below. The reflections of the building’s lighting and the pyrotechnics coming from Delsin turn what could have been a static scene into a moment that felt like it took place inside a firework; you’re completely surrounded by color and action.

There could be entire stories written about the way the game reproduces Seattle, and fighting across a recognizable city will be a thrill for anyone who knows these areas, but the result of all this work is that the lighting effects and power of the system are used in ways that enhance the impact of these moments.

Second Son may have been possible on the PlayStation 3 with some edits and smaller areas, but based on what we’ve seen its existence on the PlayStation 4, and only the PlayStation 4, helped make it a better game.

The timing doesn’t hurt

The PlayStation 4 has only had a few notable releases since the launch of the system, and there is next to nothing around the launch of Second Son, the notable exception being Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Other than that one title, which launches three days before Second Son, PlayStation 4 players don't have much to spend their money on in the month of March.

I’ll also point out that Ground Zeroes is coming to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, which kills its ability to take full advantage of the hardware.

The opportunity in March doesn't stop there. The PlayStation 4 launched with an overall weak lineup, with few standout titles outside of some very pretty ports of current-generation games. The impressive sales of Killzone: Shadow Fall show what can happen to games that take advantage of a system's power during a drought of content, and Second Son already seems to be a game that's far superior to Shadow Fall.

Second Son has a clear path to release in March, as the PlayStation 4 has few games nearly as large for a matter of weeks either before or after its release. There are no other big releases on the PlayStation 4 to suck up dollars or time, and the system has had the runway to bulk up its install base after the holiday season and hopefully improve supply to retail. Second Son finds itself with little competition, on a system with surprisingly strong sell-through this early in its life.

There are millions of PlayStation 4 owners looking for a solid game to show off what their system can do.

This is the closest you get to a sure thing in the gaming industry: A game with name recognition, that seems to be of high quality based on what we’ve seen and played, built specifically for a next-generation system without the albatross of needed ports or cross-platform releases and that has next to no competition on its home system at retail.

If the series is going to break through the sales ceiling of the previous games, this is its chance. It's exceedingly rare for a game to be given this sort of clear path to success: March is the month of inFamous.

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