The first infamous game was something of a revelation for me. Not since Spiderman 2 in the last generation of consoles (and to a slightly lesser extent Ultimate Spiderman) had I played a superhero sandbox game that certain something, it’s difficult to define what exactly it is. Perhaps it’s a balance of things; the right amount of freedom without losing its core focus, a vast city to explore, perfectly suited to the game’s means of transport, good combat and an involving story. It’s this last element which is often lacking. There’s a fairly well established template for open world superhero games onto which developers can effectively slap on any old franchise and out will come a functional, if sometimes uninspiring game. It’s the story, or at least narrative context (not all games need a beginning, middle and end) which is the most difficult aspect to get right with this kind of set-up and it’s the exceptional superhero games which manage to marry all these aspects together, including narrative, in a convincing and compelling way, InFamous was one of these games. I think InFamous was helped by the fact that it was a unique property in that unlike many superhero games, it didn’t have an established character at the forefront and therefore wasn’t tied to an existing storyline which is where a lot of the other superhero games fall down (admittedly many of them are movie tie-ins so there’s not much room for them to weave their own story).
There is of course another aspect to sandbox superhero games I’ve neglected to mention; the hook. That unique gameplay mechanic which sets it apart from the other games or franchises. It sounds like a trivial, almost shallow part of a game and seems unfair to judge a game based on one mechanic but the thing is, this can make or beak a superhero game. How many of you would have enjoyed Spiderman games half as much if it weren’t for web slinging around New York? InFamous’ thing was the ability to wield electricity in numerous entertaining ways. Often these would be patently ridiculous (pinning down thugs to the ground with electric rope?!) but InFamous didn’t let something as trivial as reality get in the way of a ton of fun. Now I realise I’ve spent the entire first third of this review talking about an earlier game but it’s important to communicate how I felt about InFamous, it was a breath of fresh air that I hadn’t had in years of gaming so needless to say my expectations were high for InFamous 2.
The story picks up near enough where the original Infamous left off, Cole McGrath (the series protagonist, or antagonist depending on your play style) is going about his business trying to beef himself up for the forthcoming conflict with ‘the beast’ of which the original game’s final boss ‘Kesler’ prophesied. However, the Beast kindly decides to speed up the schedule and turns up early in Empire city. He and Cole have a showdown and this being the intro to the game, it should be obvious that things don’t exactly go according to plan for Cole. He and the gang flee to New Marais (the old proving ground that Cole and Zeke, your trusty sidekick used to hang out in before moving to Empire city), a balmy southern city surrounded by marshy swamp land which takes a bucket-load and then a few drops more inspiration from New Orleans. Cole and the gang (no pun intended) must collect blast cores, devices which power Cole up until he is ready to use what the game’s mandatory boffin calls the ‘RFI.’ The events leading up to this point are conveniently summed up in a handy recap montage to give you a reminder of recent events. This is presented in that lavish comic book art style which the series was known for. To my disappointment, this introductory recap is one of the few instances in the game where the comic book art style is used, the rest of the game’s cut scenes opting for the use of the in-game engine. When I first heard of this decision I was a little apprehensive, not only because I enjoyed the original game’s approach to cut scenes but also because the in-game engine wasn’t exactly anything to write home about in terms of graphical fidelity. However, after having played little more than 5 minutes of InFamous 2, it becomes immediately apparent that the developers have given the game a massive graphic overhaul. These are some seriously impressive visuals which look clean, crisp and run at an impressive frame rate. They really narrow the graphical gap between large sandbox games like InFamous, Prototype and GTA, and more linear but traditionally better looking AAA games. The setting too is a much better fit for the series than Empire city and is far more interesting. It looks better, not only from a technological standpoint but the use of environment design, the layout of the city, the colour palate, architecture, everything is just more vibrant and interesting than the bull concrete rectangles of Empire city in the first game.
The gameplay has received less of an overhaul than the visuals and art design have, however, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t say that it has been improved in almost every single way, even if these improvement are not particularly dramatic. The combat has seen the biggest improvements; single button stuff but the use of a new toy, one which Zeke has made up for you called ‘the amp’ certainly adds oomph to the feel, it certainly has a more visceral feeling than the first game. It still has its flaws; there isn’t a great deal of variety to the ways in which you can pummel your enemies, you’ll certainly see your fair share of the same 3 hit combos throughout the game, however, you can at least mix things up by purchasing upgrades such as some juicy finishing moves via the game’s upgrade system. Let’s be honest though, important as the combat system is, it’s the powers that make this kind of game and I’m happy to say here lies another step-up from the previous game. Old favourites like the force push, grenades and missiles are back (though the latter doesn’t show up until pretty late on in the game) as well as the ability to hover. All of them are now upgradeable and can be augmented too. You see there are two support characters in the game; agent Lucy Kuo and a runaway local girl with an attitude problem called Nix. The former gains the ability to use the power of ice and represents the good, upstanding side of Cole while Nix uses an amalgamation of a weird tar-like substances and ability to cloak, she represents the questionable and evil side of Cole’s nature in a not-so-subtle shoehorning of the games’ moral choice system (if that’s still too subtle, one is blue and the other is red for Christ’s sake!). In any case, halfway through the game something happens which allows Cole to share one of these two character’s abilities and can then augment his old powers with a new flavour. For example the force push style move can also freeze enemies when you select that particular upgrade. Some other moves include the ability to create an ice tower which launches you into the air, really handy for a quick escape or even just building jumping during a nice smooth run. Even the standard bolt shots (performed with the R1 button) can be tailored to your own style. There’s the standard shot for those who are comfortable with the default, there’s the magnum shot which is slower but far more powerful, and even a slightly weaker but automatic rapid fire type shot for those that are that way inclined. It may seem like a little thing but it’s something I very much appreciated. The locomotion mechanic (don’t think I’ve heard it called that before) in inFamous 2 is the same in the previous game but with some noticeable improvements. Like many other open world games, climbing buildings and jumping rooftops is the name of the game, however, being the human Tesla coil that Cole is, he has a few other tricks. Like in the first game he can use the city’s power lines to grind around on jet set radio style, using the electricity to speed him on his way. He can also use what the game calls ‘thrusters’ whereby you can hover for a time to aid you in long jumps and traversing buildings (I guess by charging particles in the air to create some sort of electromagnetic repulsion). The new addition is the ability to rocket into the air by jumping off cars. This is more a cool feature rather than a genuinely useful mechanic.
The sandbox games, as well as having their ‘hook,’ their combat mechanics, and that special way you get around, must also have something else to set them apart from the crowd; the location. Now I’ll be honest, I was never that big a fan of Empire city, the first game’s location. It was basically New York and was simply full of a sea of indistinguishable grey concrete buildings and fairly samey missions. New Marais on the other hand, is different. Continuing the tradition of ripping off a real life American ciy, if you hadn’t guessed from the name alone, New Marais is heavily inspired by New Orleans. Now you probably wouldn’t think somewhere like that would be an ideal choice for a super hero sandbox game, but you’d be wrong. The city is split into 3 islands separated by marshland which is infested by weird, deformed creatures whose origins become apparent later in the game. Each island has a distinct feel, one is the old heart of the city, the other is the drowned slums, the last is the industrial sector. All play slightly differently and are populated by different enemies. The point is though that New Marais is never boring, it’s always full of vibrant, interesting architecture or weird and wonderful locales.
InFamous 2 is also a pretty challenging game. Although it certainly starts out easier than it ends up being, I wouldn’t say that it’s ever particularly easy. In fact the difficulty curve is near perfect, I say this because I barely noticed it. When a game suddenly gets shit hard or insultingly easy, you notice it because it’s jarring. Even when I was upgrading my powers and becoming more and more bad ass, I didn’t really notice any change in difficult because the game adjusts itself so well. That having said, there certainly are some tough cookies later on in the game. Early on you come across some mole like beasts that will cause you problems until you figure out that the best way to deal with them is duck and roll and keep the pressure on them. Later on in the industrial district you’ll come across some hulking ice giants with an insane amount of hit points that just won’t seem to die. There’s even a big guy in a suit who can fly who just stalks you, he reminds me of a cross between Nemesis from Resident evil 3 and Darth Vader when he takes his helmet off at the end of Return of the Jedi (that wasn’t at all nerdy right?). These guys actually pose a much greater challenge in my opinion than any of the actual bosses, especially the final boss. That’s my main complaint, the end boss is a bit of an anti climax, well if you choose to fight it that is…ooohhh curveball!
Despite the disappointing final boss fight, I really enjoyed the ending to the game, in fact the whole experience really did affect me quite a bit. I found myself oddly moved by the game’s story which is a damn sight more than can be said for most super hero games. The characters, for the most part are genuinely interesting and fully fleshed out, especially your best friend Zeke. He really has become one of my all time favourite video game characters, he’s just so damn relatable.
So it will come as no surprise that I’m giving this game a hearty recommendation. I actually bought a ps3 with the sole purpose of wanting to play the upcoming (at least I hope it still is!) Last Guardian from team Ico. However, while I couldn’t recommend buying a ps3 just for InFamous 2, a little bit of me said inside “Yes! Now I can play the InFamous games!”
Note: It’s dawned on me that with 3 games reviewed, they’re all pretty high scores. I think this will be something of a trend. See as I’m mostly going to be reviewing games that came out a while ago, I’m naturally going to be choosing ones that I already love. Complaints?…you can email our completely real and not-at-all-made-up quality assurance department.