Sucker Punch

Grunge pride, and a little brother complex, shape Infamous: Second Son’s Delsin Rowe

Grunge pride, and a little brother complex, shape Infamous: Second Son’s Delsin Rowe

When you watch the E3 videos for Infamous: Second Son you're going to see a whole lot of flaming fists, explosions, super powers, and snarky attitude. You can watch lead character Delsin Rowe leap off buildings, vanish into a puff of smoke, and burn people with a touch.

That's not what drives the character and the story, though.

His character's most noticeable trait is that he's kind of a petulant little brother. Throughout the demo I was shown at Sony's booth at E3, Delsin was constantly being lectured and berated by his older brother, a respected policeman on the reservation where he grew up.

Little brother complex

“When you play a game like this, you want to make sure the character is super relatable,” said Chris Zimmerman, co-founder and development director of Sucker Punch Productions. “You're going to spend a lot of time with the characters, and you want to make sure this is a character you can understand. You can see why he is who he is.”

Most of us can pretty understand and empathize with the little brother character, constantly living in the shadow of his older brother and never doing what he's told.

In a way, this severely infantalizes Delsin. When we first meet him he tends to act like a kid. He's caught spraying graffiti, he's sarcastic for no good reason, and he's just not very mature.

At least, until he gets super powers.

“One of the reasons why it's called Second Son is because he is the younger brother,” said Zimmerman. “When the game starts he's sort of that little brother, but I think he grows through that in the course of the game. But as things start he's really the little brother. Then he gets these super powers and it really changes the dynamic between him and his brother.”

More than simply an excuse for lots of great pyrotechnics, the game's superpowers are used as a narrative tool to advance both the character of Delsin Rowe and the relationship dynamic with his older brother.

Super brothers

“His brother is part of this effort to keep the country safe against this internal threat,” said Zimmerman about the 'bioterrorists' that the game's villainous Department of Unified Protection are tasked with hunting down. These bioterrorists are the people whose super powers Delsin is able to absord throughout the game.

“His whole career he's led to think that the people who have these powers are the bad guys, and now his little brother has them. So his reaction to all of this is also very interesting.”

While we'll likely be watching Delsin's powers grow with every level gained, we'll also be watching the character's maturity and his relationship with his brother grow as well.

“He's young, he's disappointed in himself. But he grows, he grows into himself,” said Zimmerman.

Grunge lives

Anybody who has been to Washington state (say, for PAX Prime) might recognize the game's other major motivation. Second Son is based in Seattle, but it's more than that. It's set in a city that the developers are in love with.

This feels like a Seattle-based game made not just by people who have been to Seattle, and not just by people who live in Seattle, but by people who choose to make their home there.

“You can tell because everyone in the game is wearing layers,” Zimmerman joked. Sucker Punch Productions is based in Bellevue, Washington which is just a fifteen minute drive east of Seattle.

It's not just a joke though. Seattle has a very distinct style of dress, and Delsin Rowe's flannel shirt topped with a windbreaker topped with a cutoff jean jacket typifies a certain hardcore type of Seattle youth.

Beyond just the wardrobes, legendary Seattle grunge bands Nirvana and Pearl Jam can be heard throughout the game's early trailers and demos.

“There is a lot of pride,” said Zimmerman. “We're representin'. We'd set the other Infamous games in other cities, in places we'd been to but we weren't from. So for us to set the game in Seattle…it wasn't an obvious thing. We weren't sure how people would react. So it's been gratifying to see that people are excited about playing a game in a city that we really love.”

In this early stage of the game's road to release, the Seattle setting has already played a big role in giving Infamous: Second Son a unique flavor, and it makes the game feel more like a labor of love than yet another entry in a well-worn series.

As the demo continued we saw more explosions and some awesome destructible environments with collapsing bridges and exploding towers. Most of it, besides the destructible environments, felt very Infamous. Not bad, not great, just familiar.

Second Son may not reinvent the series in terms of game play, but so far it's looking like there's been a lot of thought and dedication put into both the main character and the setting. Whether or not that will translate into fan excitement and increased sales numbers remains to be seen.

Infamous: Second Son is slated to release on PlayStation 4 in the first quarter of 2014.