Largely due to its small size and independence from the primary game, First Light is simply better than Second Son, even while it owes its existence to it.
Last week here on PopMatters, Scott Juster described Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker as a "micro-machine", one of those curious little dioramas that seemed popular when he and I were kids. It is precisely the minute scale but high-quality systems of the game that lets us toss it into the category of games we recently called "Big Small games". While Captain Toad is a great game, perhaps inFamous First Light is a better example of the experimental value of these impressive, albeit smaller, diversions from the triple A game space.
Like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, inFamous First Light is also an offshoot of a traditional full title. First Light, technically, is actually a piece of DLC for 2014’s inFamous Second Son. However, the game is also a completely stand-alone experience. Players do not need to own or have played the first game to dive into the experience. In this way, First Light is an interesting consumer product. Generally, I always consider DLC as a way for developers to incentivize newcomers and keep devotees busy playing a core game experience. The ultimate goal is to prevent people from selling your game back to Gamestop and into the hands of other players without ever receiving a cut of the profit. Our brave new world of “games as a service” seems built as a futile salvo against the used game market.
By selling First Light independently from Second Son, Sucker Punch seems to have opted out of that particular struggle against used games. Instead, fans of Second Son can keep or trade in their game whether or not they plan on picking up First Light. Likewise, if you want to take a quick foray into the neon-infused world of inFamous, there is no need to drop additional cash for the original game. First Light is liberating to players, but more important to me it seems, liberating to Sucker Punch.
Fetch's improved neon graffiti from First Light
See, First Light doesn’t really have anything to do with Second Son. While its predecessor features a “Hot Topic” anarchist of sorts, battling it out against the government with a suite of super powers, First Light stars Fetch, a woman with a history of drug addiction who just wants to find her brother and leave her past behind. Alright, the dialogue is not the best written in the past decade, but consider even the basic premise. Few games include female protagonists at all, and even fewer include characters that struggle with addiction. Hell, even having family in a game is rare. These aspects of the story have no mechanical relevance, but they still resonate with me in a way that Second Son did not.
Sucker Punch, not beholden to continuing Delsin’s story from Second Son, could take a far more daring journey into new narrative territory with far fewer risks than they might otherwise have faced. First Light is built on the same core systems of Second Son and takes place in a smaller section of the primary game’s version of Seattle. With so much recycled from the game, the team could naturally play around with more robust abilities as well (several are added to Fetch’s arsenal). I suspect the team even picked up design ideas that were ultimately scrapped for Second Son, both related to narrative as well as mechanical ones.
Of course most of this is normal for DLC, but Sucker Punch embraces this as an opportunity to blend this process of efficiency, if you will, into the narrative. Heather Alexandra of TransGamer Thoughts recently commented on this same improvement to the inFamous experience:
Fetch’s movement is ultimately an expression of her character. Games inform us about a character partially through what we are allowed to do as a character. Fetch doesn’t give a damn, and her movement is cleaner and faster than Delsin's.
Note how color is being used in the game as well. Seattle is rainy and dark. Fetch is pink and bright and luminous. The contrast is intentional and highlights her “otherness” as a conduit while also showing her to be strong and free.
Even the graffiti mini-missions are touching references to her brother and their shared past instead of Second Son’s rebellious street-punk art gallery. In this smaller package, few elements seem frivolous. First Light is tighter in a way that its predecessor could not be. In fact. It makes me pine for more serialized game experiences, not episodic games per se, but a variety of stories told in a consistent world. Telltale Games did this quite well in the 400 Days Walking Dead spin-off, though I suspect that a game of this quality demands subsidization by much more sizable profits.
Largely due to its small size and independence from the primary game, First Light is simply better than Second Son, even while it owes its existence to the Second Son investment. If we want more diverse stories in games and the freedom in the triple A space to explore them with care, inFamous First Light is exactly the type of add-on content we need to support. Can we expect to see more spin-off stories in the larger worlds of major franchises? I sure hope so.