What drives you? Are you motivated by ambition or compassion? The desire to be good, to make a difference in the world or to be revered as something more than the norm? Do you want to earn respect through honour or through fear? Do you want to help people or profit from them? Power or responsibility? For good or for ill? Red or blue?
This is inFamous 2. The narrative is more complex, of course, with some twists and turns and some romance and intrigue. At its heart, though, inFamous 2 is a choice between good and evil. All in the pursuit of victory over a greater menace than the world has ever seen before.
You begin a few months after the events of the first game, ready to leave Empire City for New Marais and the doctor who can help you to understand more about your powers and earn new ones to beat the prophesied threat heading your way. The Beast is a 100-foot-tall humanoid, rendered in lava and crusted rock. A formidable enemy, then. He soon proves this by defeating and almost killing you on the dockside, stripping you of most of your powers.[boxout]You arrive in New Marais to find it overrun by a militia led by Bertrand, a kind of Southern gent with a penchant for puritanical power panning. He doesn’t like Cole because Cole is not made in the human blueprint. Obviously, this guy turns out to have a bit more duplicitous self-serving villainy behind him than that, serving as the main focus for much of the game’s familiar mission structure.
There are numerous similarities with the first game in the way missions are assigned and what they entail but, and this is absolutely crucial, there’s a little bit more variation in them. Not necessarily in what needs to be done but in the approach you can take and the attitude Cole brings to the fight. Whereas, in inFamous, Cole was gruff and moody, the sequel casts him as a kind of everyman hero. Bringing down militia with electric bolts he fires from his hands one minute, drinking beer on a busted rooftop sofa with his buddy the next. Cole is a blue collar working man, it’s just that his job is a little different from most.
This is the biggest change that inFamous 2 introduces. More interesting than the new powers, more engaging than the new characters. The new attitudes in inFamous 2 make it a much more enjoyable game to play, simply because your relationship with Cole can now be free to evolve. The first game had Cole’s attitude flitting between morose and brusque, dour and truculent, almost to the point of making him unapproachable as a protagonist. inFamous 2 has him determined, focussed and, perhaps most importantly, feeling powerful and enjoying that sensation.
Cole’s newfound ability to revel in his powers means that you can too. As the game progresses – and your powers level up via the torrent of earned experience points, karmic decisions which present themselves and completion of side missions – you begin to feel ever more powerful. Truly like a superhero.
Of course, the game swings around the karma system. Your powers will, for the most part, depend on what karmic route you take through the game. There are several splitting points where big decisions have to be made. These decisions are fairly clear cut, good or evil options and they will significantly affect your karma rating.
Good karma is represented with blue markers and powers which limit damage to civilians and increase your potential to heal and do good. Bad karmic actions are represented in red and generally increase the damage you do and the destruction you cause. For example, similar levels on opposite sides of the spectrum will level up your powers to either heal a group of people at once (for good) or arc your powerful projectiles between multiple enemies at once (for bad). There’s much more benefit in combat to levelling up the bad powers. Of course, that’s your incentive to play through the game twice.[drop]Things that will earn you karma range from the large story-driving decisions between mission paths to the smaller incidental missions, of which there are a great many. You’ll get good karma for taking down militia and bad karma if you injure or kill civilians. There’s good karma for diffusing bombs by draining them and stopping muggings and bad karma for silencing protestors and beating up street performers. You can get good karma by halting abductions and bad karma by beating up people and stealing their blast shards. It has a huge effect on how your powers level up, despite some abilities being open for both karmic tracks. In turn, that has a powerful effect (pun intended) on how you play the game. Fully levelled Cole with evil powers is really quite different to play from fully levelled Cole with good powers.
The new characters act as the foils for much of this karmic decision-making. Nix is a swamp-born, brooding character. She embodies the dark heart of the bayou, steeped in a kind of voodoo spirit and almost Creole in her vocal cadences. Kuo is the off-record, modern government agent that acts almost as a symbol of federal America, fighting evils through superior intelligence assets.
It’s worth mentioning that, with the odd instance of harsh aliasing aside, inFamous 2 is quite a significant graphical upgrade in comparison to its predecessor. Character models and animations that almost rival Uncharted 2 are really a massive achievement for this kind of open world game and some of the scenery, in particular skies and water reflections, are beautiful. Facial animations are very competent and sync well with the accomplished vocal performances, they would have been very impressive in a world before L.A. Noire.
Unfortunately, there always seem to be some issues with large scale open worlds. New Marais is set upon large islands and offers a diversity of location stretching from part-submerged derelict ghost-town to industrial and commercial areas. For the majority of the time, the city, though hardly bustling with civilian life, is a believable and immersive backdrop. It would be remiss not to mention the couple of instances of game-breaking glitches experienced, though. Both times involving the peculiar behaviour of the camera and eventual collapse through scenery. The way the missions work, via well-placed checkpoints that aren’t save-points, meant that the last autosave was a good fifteen minutes prior to the glitch and that was the cause of some frustration.[drop2]Where most action games might try to bolt on some form of multiplayer aspect, inFamous 2 opts instead for an extremely comprehensive system of user generated content (UGC) to increase its longevity. Multiplayer could have been a possibility, given the opposing power sets and different teams of super-powered people and militia, but it is certainly not necessary. This is a fairly lengthy game solely with the single player campaign and it’s entertaining enough to warrant more than one play through, if only for the opposing karma scale’s powers and story options. The UGC could be considered to be purely an added bonus then, and one which is likely to gather quite a following.
During the regular game, UGC missions appear on the game map as green mission markers. You can start them in exactly the same way that you start any of the regular story or side missions and any XP you earn is added on to your total, although there are no karma repercussions to any of the UGC missions I tried. There are a limited set of missions in game currently, all added by the team at Sucker Punch, just to demonstrate how the system works to early adopters. Once some of PlayStation’s creative users get behind the system, though, there is almost unlimited potential. The templates act as a kind of tutorial process as you remix them and the depth of options really are very impressive, allowing users to create all sorts of missions, from simple shooting galleries to rooftop grind cable races and escort missions. It’s a large scale undertaking and one which seems to have worked brilliantly for Sucker Punch, leaving users with a simple to use editor and an almost endless stream of new missions with which to boost their XP.
- Great, engaging narrative.
- Looks and sounds very impressive.
- Powers feel truly powerful and there are so many of them.
- User generated content system is implemented wonderfully.
- Very occasional glitches.
- Climbing on ladders, pipes and lamp posts can be finicky.
inFamous 2 takes the flawed brilliance of its predecessor and improves upon almost every aspect. Missions are slightly more varied and characters are much more rounded. It breeds empathy and it encourages experimentation in the ways supporting characters play off the protagonist and each other. You will feel like a superhero – or villain – by the time you have built your powers back up and some of the new abilities you evolve make exploration and combat all the more enjoyable. Add to all that the excellent and intuitive user generated content and you’ll see that what Sucker Punch have delivered is rightly deserving of its place among the greats of PlayStation 3 exclusive gaming.