Game: Infamous 2

Genre: “Open-World” Action/Adventure

Developer: Sucker Punch Productions

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Platform: PS3

Score:  Still Electrifying.

 

Infamous 2 picks up where its predecessor left off – being awesome.  The game starts with a simple but dynamic boss fight – the definition of dynamic in this instance being both huge and exploding.  The Beast, that big baddie Kessler alluded to in the first game, is wreaking havoc on Empire City.  Cole MacGrath lobs lightning arcs, electrically levitates, and otherwise gives The Beast all he’s got.  A brief moment of triumph is rudely interrupted by reality: his best just isn’t good enough.  He and Zeke are forced to retreat down the coast in the lamest of all transportation methods, a boat.  Accompanying them is NSA agent Lucy Kuo.  Kuo informs them that she knows a scientist by the name of Dr. Wolfe.  Wolfe worked on the Ray Sphere and may have a way to amp up Cole’s powers.  They leave the beast to lay waste to Empire City and set out for New Marais, a fictional version of New Orleans.

Impressions of the game began to develop early.  After the explosive opening, I was disappointed to find that Cole’s visuals went through some changes.  Initial teaser art released as Game Informer’s July 2010 cover was heavily scrutinized.  Fan displeasure caused the developers to redesign Cole’s image.  The final product presented in game, despite the rework, is still inferior to his original look.  Worse than the visual restyling is Cole’s new voice.  Jason Cottle was passed up for Eric Laden as voice actor for the main character in a big downhill move. This isn’t so much Eric’s fault (the lines are delivered professionally), it’s just that I lament the exchange of Jason’s deep, brooding baritone of a man who has zero fucks left to give for Eric’s nasally generic drone. It took a long time to get used to, and I never warmed up to it.

The cool comic book cut scenes take a back seat half the time to in-game ones in the third immediately noticeable amputation of style. Another unwelcome change in the gameplay department is (what else?) the camera. If, upon playing for a little bit, you begin to feel a bit claustrophobic, don’t worry; you’re not developing a psychosis.  Sucker Punch just decided to move the camera closer to Cole.  It’s all at once minor, annoying, and constrictive. Other than it’s positioning, the camera is otherwise responsive.

So, on to the good. Many improvements were made.  Fast travel should be easily accessible in an open-world game, and Infamous 2 agrees.  Trolley car lines replace the elevated trains of the first game.  They’re easier to get to and travel in more closed circuits.  The overall speed and responsiveness of Cole’s platforming has gone up.  He climbs noticeably quicker and crosses the map with ease.  A couple new powers and a new environment object that give him an electrically charged super jump tie things together nicely.  Navigating New Marais is a blast despite Cole’s imported problems from the first game with getting around corners.

Combat has received an adjustment.  Electrically charged fisticuffs weren’t good enough apparently so Sucker Punch added “the amp.”  It’s sort of like a lightning rod, tuning fork, and a club all combined into one.  The result is a more defined melee system, with finishing moves and the like.  If you grow tired of the look of your “amp” you can reskin it (along with Cole sometimes).  I personally enjoyed the “samurai sword” skin.  I was upset to hear that Cole wouldn’t be street boxing people to death anymore; until I found out he could use a katana.  An electrically charged katana is about the only thing higher than bare mitts on a scale of bad-assery.  More importantly, the animations for melee combat were updated.  It’s fluid and dynamic; an improvement from the choppy and mechanical animations of the previous game. A quick swap menu for easy access helps with power controls. There are old favorites and many new ones, but eventually you get Lightning Tornado. Cars spin and flip away, everybody dies, you laugh maniacally. I’d describe the new powers in detail, but that one sums it up.

Exploration is largely intact.  New Marais is wonderfully rendered and manages a good degree of environment variance.  Cemeteries, cathedrals, swamps, and even flooded towns are amongst the areas to explore.  There are countless blast shards (which enhance Cole’s power) and dead drops to incentivize sandboxing.  Karma quests are back.  They appear randomly and are diverse enough to not stagnate when trying to max your hero or infamy meter.  I personally enjoyed the infamy quests that have you beat up hippie street musicians.  I’m really not sure why a hero or anti-hero would do it but it made me laugh.  Diffusing 20 bombs on a building has been removed as a quest type, which I’m thankful for.  That type of mission repeated in the first game and crippled pacing each time it showed up.

Infamous 2 has even added a map editor tool for making your own bonus missions.  You can make your own mission, play others online, and even enjoy a few of the bonus ones Sucker Punch developed themselves.  It’s cool if you’re into that sort of thing.  More important than it existing in the game is the fact that Sucker Punch didn’t offer half a game and add a map editor as an excuse for releasing a sub-par game.  There is a complete game here, if you want to play around making helicopter bowling missions, consider it a bonus.

The villains of Infamous 2 are just as updated.  It was a bit light on boss battles for my taste, but each boss fight was excellent when it finally showed up. This game really has a fetish for fighting huge things, and I can’t blame them.  Fighting skyscrapers made of demons is awesome.  In the long time between boss fights, there are plenty of different kinds of bad guys in the streets of New Marais to keep you entertained.  Instead of endless garbage hobos, you get swamp monsters in several flavors, hicks with guns, other conduits, and more to beat up.  Since the environment is often a weapon, the occasional change in scenery keeps the bad guys fresh.

I’ve never put much stock in karmic systems in games.  They tend to be unrealistic or trivial; usually both.  Every bad decision is the equivalent of killing a baby or just being a dick, and every good decision is the standard decision you would make for a character in a videogame unless you feel like killing a baby or being a dick.  Infamous tries hard to draw the line in its karmic system as hero and anti-hero.  They do fail, but I give them points for trying. 2 points. The story at least references your actions and the ending changes accordingly.  The karmic system in Infamous 2 really exists as a pick your fun meter.

As for the continuing story; it’s good.  The first one was better, but that doesn’t mean the second game’s story is worse.  It’s just different.  The truly awesome things were already told in the first game.  We were given an unlikely hero, experienced his journey, his loss, and consequent triumph.  In the wake of that journey we were left with foreshadowing of things to come.  Infamous 2 basically tells you about that thing to come, The Beast.  Most of the journey is already over; we’re just wrapping things up.  It’s an excuse to play Cole MacGrath again and enjoy the refreshing gameplay of Infamous one more time in a new setting.  It manages to be a complete game and more in the process.  I couldn’t ask for more.  I must admit, playing through the hero ending had me clenching my fist and nodding in manly admiration.

The gameplay is overall better, the story is worse.  That’s about all you can hope for in a sequel, right? An excuse to relive the first game, and maybe, if you’re lucky, Lightning Tornado.

This game was reviewed on the PS3.