The original inFamous offered players a simple but intriguing choice. After the devastating explosion that tore apart Empire City, unwitting bike courier Cole MacGrath awoke to find himself at the epicentre of both the blast and the reasons behind it. Transformed into a working class superhero, his blue collar now glowed brighter than the rest of the unwashed masses thanks to the electrical superpowers he’d been infused with. And it was up to you to decide whether he used his new gifts for good or evil.
inFamous taught a very direct object lesson in the elementary science of right and wrong. While Empire City may have provided a murky grey comic book caricature of New York as a backdrop, the game’s morality system was unflinchingly black and white. If you were good, crowds of cheering fans would flash mob around you and every jabbering crazy in a homemade tinfoil hat clamoured to be your sidekick. If you were bad you were an outcast, the focal point for the hatred of an entire metropolis.
Most importantly thought, inFamous slowly developed Cole to make him feel like a true superhero; special, powerful, tortured and with an ultimate destiny of suitable magnitude: stopping the Beast it was prophesised would come to extinguish humanity. Developers, Sucker Punch, succeeded in creating both an involving open world and fiction to explore, and it’s little surprise then, that inFamous 2 is a sequel cut from a virtually identical template to its predecessor.
The game begins with the Beast already on-site in Empire City, rather prematurely for his appointment with doom by Cole’s social diary. With the situation rapidly heading south, Cole does to, beating a hasty retreat from his pursing nemesis down to New Marais, where potential new powers and rumours of a Beast-busting super weapon await. It’s yet another dishevelled, plague-ridden town on lockdown, this time under the authority of the local militia and their leader Joseph Bertrand, a God fearin’, freak hatin’ megalomaniac who’s a couple of shots short of a full bourbon bottle.
Marais is to New Orleans what Empire City was to NYC but, having said that, it’s a much richer, colourful and interesting locale. The warming neon of its red light district, the stony quiet (almost too quiet) of its cemeteries, the eerie mistiness of its bayou swamps and the French Creole flourishes to its architecture help give it a personality and polish Empire never had. The game even attempts a blurring of the line between reality and fiction with an area called Flood Town that sits semi-submerged behind breeched levees. It’s a brave and interesting inclusion, but one Sucker Punch fail to make any poignant use of by only skimming the surface of its troubles.
Where Marais is similar to Empire City, is in the way it’s been expertly constructed as the ultimate urban playground for a spritely superhero. Cole’s powers and enhanced agility enable him to clamber up and over buildings, glide through the air and grind along power lines with consummate ease. While it can cause the occasional fumbling moment, the forgiving nature of the traversal system keeps movement feeling free, easy and just on the interesting side of effortless. It’s more involved than Assassin’s Creed and more intelligent than Prototype, but without the do-or-die precision of something like Mirror’s Edge and it remains Sucker Punch’s greatest achievement.
By giving you more powers to begin with, inFamous 2 is also a more enjoyable experience right from the start. Once again, Cole can recharge his in-built battery by draining energy from any of the scores of electrical objects around him, but this time, Sucker Punch have cranked up the voltage on his powers to the point where he could light up a million Mardi Gras floats.
No longer just a Van de Graaff generator vigilantly, Cole has become the ultimate lightening conductor. With his bare hands he can summon up symphonies of static electricity that deliver crescendos of chaos. Bolts, blasts, grenades, rockets and even towering twisters of crackling carnage can be sent scorching down streets and across rooftops, while the Amp, an improvised über taser-come-cattle-prod, bristles with current in Cole’s grasp and provides him with some beefy and balletic melee attack moves. Although, these too frequently cause the game’s camera to react like it’s been electrocuted.
Cole’s powers can be upgraded to make them more potent, precise and accessible by completing missions, specific challenges (such as blasting a set number of enemies off rooftops) and random acts of kindness or malevolence. This time, however, the helpful sewer sections that acted as enclosed testing grounds for new abilities in the first inFamous have been done away with in favour of much shorter, in situ tutorials that don’t draw you out of the city.
As the game progresses, Sucker Punch have also ensured that your saint or sinner choices have a much greater impact on both the story and Cole’s growing powers this time around. The karma system in inFamous 2 is just as binary as in original, with the opposing ethical paths through the game this time represented by two new conduits named Nix and Kuo who repeatedly pop up, almost like a little angel and devil on Cole’s shoulders, as agent provocateurs for their differing approaches.
While both can be undeniably irritating, it’s unfair to take against them for being one-note characters. In InFamous’ polarised world, there’s little enjoyment in occupying the moral middle ground and Nix and Kuo act as suitably superficial guides, generously rewarding you with some impressive new fire or ice-based powers depending which one’s ideology you decide to align with.
In fact, the most disappointing part of inFamous 2, the one that slowly caused the torch I was carrying for the game to dim slightly, was the mission design. Things start off brightly enough. The main story missions are bigger and more explosive than those in the original, with some truly jaw-dropping new enemies to encounter. And when you’re not big game hunting 100ft tall sphincter faced monsters or taking down helicopter gunships, the map is littered with a range of short and sparky side missions and other activities, many of which feed directly into the game’s karma system, as well as audio files and blast shards to track down.
The problem is that far too many of the missions fail to play to the breadth and depth of Cole’s powers. Large scale battles, in which you’re easily outnumbered and overwhelmed, are a reoccurring favourite and frequently turn into rather tedious wars of attrition where, despite your electrifying arsenal of super powers, the best tactic is to retreat to the rooftops and chip away with Cole’s bolts and sticky grenades. Perhaps even more disappointingly though, the more traversal-focused missions struggle to encourage the inventive and flowing movement Cole is capable of, and a recycling of enemies does nothing to help distract from these shortcomings.
One thing that inFamous 2 certainly isn’t short of, is a lack of content, thanks, in no small part, to the ability for users to create their own missions. Sucker Punch have tried to make the comprehensive creation toolbox as accessible as possible by including instructional videos and basic mission templates to build off. Unavoidably though, many are still going to feel intimidated when confronted by the likes of ‘script commands’ and ‘logic modifiers’, but this slight bar to entry allows a wealth of potential for players prepared to experiment and persevere, and for everyone else to enjoy their creations which can be seamlessly filtered and integrated into the game world.
While the original inFamous gave players a stimulating new crossover between the superhero and open-world genres, inFamous 2 adds some much appreciated snap, crackle and pop to the series. Parts of the game’s structure still result in Cole’s amplified powers and athletic abilities remaining somewhat shackled, but the joy to using them means that, whether you end up choosing to be revered or reviled, devil or deity, inFamous 2 is a definitely game of consequence.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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