Review: inFamous 2
InFamous 2 promised to be a game that improved in almost every way on what was arguably one of the best games of 2009. So is this sequel really packed with enough action to give you a heart attack or will it just go down as a weak effort in a year of flaccid sequels?
- Worth The Time?Oh yes
- Things LovedGreat storytelling; well developed plot; you get a real sense of power; good looking and smooth visuals; quick-select menu; heavily upgraded melee system works well; wide variety of enemies; more diverse powers with deeper upgrade system; faster and much improved navigation; one of the best executions of a karma system; good characterisation/character development; destructible environment adds to the sense of power; well paced; User-Generated Content feature is a nice extra.
- Things HatedLack of any real challenge; getting swarmed by lots of enemies is annoying initially; floaty and generic climbing animations look cheap and out of place; many missions are far too similar to those in the original game; gameplay lacks variety at times.
- RecommendationAnyone who enjoys controlling super-powered characters will love InFamous 2. It’s a well-paced action game with a great plot told really well and good gameplay especially the combat. The game also has a decent lifespan thanks to the steady stream of new user-generated missions.
- Name: inFamous 2
- Genre: Action Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: PS3
- Developer: Sucker Punch Games
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Price: R600
- Reviewed On: PS3
I will unashamedly admit that InFamous was one of those games that I simply adored when I first played it. I grew to love it, even as time went on. I’d heard good things about it and my expectations paled in comparison to what Sucker Punch gave us. It was a strong new IP with a compelling plot and great storytelling which drove the player to go further in the game even when gameplay became repetitive.
It also gave us the feeling of what it’s like to be an average Joe who is coming to terms with the physical and moral ramifications of his newfound powers. However, InFamous wasn’t without its problems. It suffered mainly from a gimmicky karma system and Cole’s powers never really developing beyond the level of a B-list hero until right at the end. As a result, the game itself never really shone when it released and was something of a sleeper hit being overshadowed by the bigger and more established titles like Uncharted 2 and Assassin’s Creed 2.
So we arrive at InFamous 2, a version which Sucker Punch promised will make good on all the flaws that beleaguered its predecessor. From the outset that is exactly what InFamous 2 does, it’s InFamous cranked up past 11, but that in itself arouses some issues which we’ll nitpick at later.The underlying premise of InFamous 2 is that the Beast which Kessler warned protagonist Cole McGrath about in InFamous has arrived and is terrorising Empire City but no matter what Cole throws at him, he simply isn’t strong enough. In steps NSA agent Kuo who figures that Cole is the only one capable of stopping the Beast but knows that he will need to strengthen his powers if he’s to have a hope in hell of putting a dent in the Beast. So they head to New Marais (basically New Orleans) which happens to be the place where the Raysphere that gave Cole his powers was created. It is here that Cole meets Dr Wolfe, a scientist for the First Sons, who knows of a way to magnify Cole’s powers and defeat the Beast.
Long story short, there are six canister-looking items called Blast Cores which will enhance Cole’s powers, much like steroids but more permanent, and with each Blast Core consumed, Cole gets a new power. While this is happening, the Beast is tearing through the US like a tornado, ravaging the country, as he makes his way to New Marais to stop Cole from, well… stopping him. Cole gets more than he bargained for when he arrives in New Marais to find it being run by a dogmatic group called the Militia, comparable to the KKK, which is completely against people with powers. The Militia is run by a fanatic named Joseph Bertrand who wages a personal war on Cole.
The first thing you’ll notice in InFamous 2 is the visual overhaul the game has received which provides a much greater level of detail in both character models and the environment. This means the game looks a lot smoother than InFamous. In addition to this, in-game cutscenes look far better with Sucker Punch striving to achieve a quality similar to that of Uncharted, however they are still a little rough around the edges and look rather more like cutscenes from an Uncharted beta than the final product. Characters also have a very minimal degree of facial expression which detracts from the whole cinematic experience since every character looks like they’ve had a little Botox done in the interim after the first game.
Still, the voice-acting is great and each character is well-developed with their backstory and personality defining their actions throughout the game. Each character actually serves an active and relevant role in moving the story of InFamous 2 rather than simply providing Cole with some company or padding the game with extra side-missions.
The comic-style cinematics return with a vengeance working better than ever to move the story along and keep players intrigued. They are only spoilt by Cole’s new voice which fluctuates between Toby Maguire post balls dropping (this has yet to happen) and Batman with the flu. It’s a good thing that Sucker Punch stayed pretty much true to the original design for Cole but the new voice kills it off. Given the old voice was like that of a chain-smoker who was re-tarring his lungs but it worked.
Nonetheless, InFamous 2 has a superbly well-written story that’s always moving and constantly throwing you twists or surprises. It also captures Cole’s relationships with the people around him far better and each character actually serves a purpose in furthering the story, there are no wasted characters. Even good ol’ Zeke, Cole’s best friend, has some big influential parts to play in the story of InFamous 2. Honestly, when gameplay got repetitive and slightly mundane in the first game, I was motivated to keep playing by just how gripping the story was. If it were to be a book, it would be one of those page-turners where you never really knew what to expect. Luckily, the gameplay is far better in InFamous 2 so you don’t need the excellent plotline to keep you going, even though it’s still there.
Navigating the open-world environment is much easier and faster in InFamous 2 with some handy new platforming-based powers. This is also down to Cole’s running speed being a lot faster, although this does result in Cole looking as if his snipers are permanently after him; staying low and weaving slightly. The climbing animations seem to have received very little treatment since Cole still looks as if he’s teleporting up the side of a building. Cole only has one climbing animation which is jerky and makes him float from ledge to ledge. It looks ridiculously out of place amongst the game’s other animations which are done rather well.
Initially, the environments are not too dissimilar from those in InFamous and none too destructible either. However, as the game progresses you are introduced to different sections of New Marais, each with their own characteristics. There’s the city centre which is pretty much like Empire City in the first game except with some destructible verandas on certain buildings. Things really open up once you enter Flood Town which is, as the name implies, flooded and therefore relies on platforming between rooftops to stay dry and the Industrial District which is basically a town-sized oil refinery that serves as a giant jungle-gym for Cole. What’s great is that as you progress through these areas, each one allows a greater degree of destruction till the point where Cole can bring down entire warehouses in the Industrial District. It’s a good system because the level of destructibility then runs parallel with Cole’s increasing power so when Cole become more powerful, the environment makes him feel more powerful to players.The infamous (pun intended) karma system is back and actually works despite still being irreparably bipolar. You still get to decide whether Cole is good or evil and the choices for each decision are literally as polarised as save a kitten or kill a baby. It really is that zany. The decisions are nowhere near as rational as, say, Mass Effect 2 where Shepard is always good but can either be a hero or sort of antihero. The one reason why this specific system works despite its glaring flaws is that your decisions have a visible and meaningful effect on gameplay but also on the way citizens of New Marais treat Cole.
Char the neighbourhood and they’ll shun you but stop a mugging and suddenly people applaud your presence like Cole’s frickin’ Superman. There are also far more opportunities to alter your karmic alignment in favour of good or evil with little activities such as stopping muggings and defusing bombs to be good or beating down street performers and dispersing anti-Cole McGrath protesters to be evil. There’s a more organic feel to the city with Cole getting far more feedback to his actions from New Marais’ citizens. Agent Kuo and Zeke tag-team as the voice of reason and good for Cole while a local woman named Nix appeals to his darker nature. She also forms a bond with Cole as they both have powers, hers being pyro-based. That is until Agent Kuo gets her ice powers and a nice little love triangle forms. Many of the NPC’s relationship with Cole as well as their opinion of him will change depending on his karmic alignment. Not to spoil the story but your karmic alignment makes a big difference to how the game ends.
What I find ludicrous is Cole’s apparent lack of free will. It’s as if he’s so desperate to bag either Kuo or Nix that he’s practically letting them bitchslap him around. Every decision that comes his way, he turns to them without really making up his own mind or ever making his opinions relevant. It is part of the flaws that this type of polarised karama system has by default but surely Sucker Punch could have done a bit better than this. The alternative is to make Cole a completely schizophrenic character who will either rip your head off or hug you, true he’d have his own opinions but he’d be completely batshit bonkers.
The karma system also extends to Cole’s powers. Rather than upgrades just increasing the intensity and strength of his base attacks, each upgrade offers up a variation of the respective power. For example, the standard lightning bolt differentiates into one that travels with a parabolic trajectory , one that splits into 3 bolts and one that causes massive damage but uses a lot more energy. And that’s only for the negative karma upgrades of one power.
Cole starts the game with pretty much the same powers he gained in InFamous, minus a few which you unlock later on anyway. He also has a few new tricks such as the Kinetic Pulse which allows him to launch projectiles such as cars at enemies and the Ionic Vortex which is basically an electric tornado that rips through anyone in its path.The Karma system makes a big difference in the additional powers Cole gets. Being good gets you cryo-based powers while being bad gets you pyro-based powers. As before, the positive upgrades tend toward disarming or disabling enemies whereas the negative prefer violent destruction. A nice touch is that all those stunts from the original game are made far more relevant since attaining the right karmic alignment and having enough XP is no longer enough to unlock an upgrade. Each upgrade demands that players perform a certain number of a certain stunt which also teaches users about different ways to use the variety of attacks at Cole’s disposal.
What’s great about the new upgrade system is that each power and even each variation of each power serves a different purpose and feels different. The comparative negative and positive upgrades for a power are still pretty much the same but noticeably different whereas they were virtually identical in InFamous. With this vast array of attacks you may be wondering how it all gets mapped to one controller but there’s a nifty little quick-select menu which allows you to assign whichever power variation you want to that specific button at the touch of a button. The upgrades for each karmic alignment are different enough to warrant a second playthrough just to see what it’s like on the other side.
The rather lacking melee combat has also been given a thorough overhaul and is in fact so effective now that you’ll be forgiven for trying to approach every brawl with Amp swinging, as Cole’s oversized cattle prod melee weapon is known. There are also some rather sweet looking finisher moves in melee combat which really do make it worthwhile to get up close and personal with enemies. The way most combat situations are structured affords a healthy blend of up-close melee and hiding-behind-cover lightning attacks.
With such a vast arsenal at his disposal you might think that beating down on the same uniformed fanatics gets tedious after a while even if you have a million ways to do it but don’t fret because the variety of enemy types complements the smorgasbord or attack choices just fine. There are enemies of all shapes and sizes who respond best to different types of attacks and need to be defeated in certain ways in addition to presenting themselves in different environments which forces players to make use of just about every attack available which is in excess of 20 for each karmic alignment.
There’s the militia which are effectively uniformed versions of the first game’s Reapers and are much like any military outfit in terms of their manner of attack. Then there are the Corrupted: large insect-like cretins that attack Cole head-on and can even burrow underground. Finally we get Vermaak 88 (better known as the Ice Men) which are said to be a group of specially trained South African (ah yeah) mercenaries bestowed with ice powers which pose a much greater threat to Cole than any of the others and include among their ranks building-sized Ice Titans.Unfortunately, the gameplay stumbles when you get to the missions. There’s no real problem with them and most missions give enough action to keep it exciting while doling out a little bit more of the story to keep it interesting but the structure is initially far too similar to those in InFamous. Many even felt exactly the same just transposed onto a new backdrop; it’s the same with the side missions. The missions do eventually become considerably more diverse and unique with varied structures, objectives etcetera. It’s still baffling that Sucker Punch thought they could get away with lazy game design such as this; especially when there are actually some really good missions which standout. Such as the one where Cole and Nix storm Fort Phillipe so that they can seize control of its artillery gun while posing as Militia and open fire on the approaching Rebel faction. Cole then swoops in and pretends to save them from the evil Militia in an attempt to win their favour.
The game never really gives you any sort of challenge, like so many these days. Even on ‘hard’ difficulty there’s only the faintest hint of a challenge. Maybe that ties into Cole being more powerful but he’s not supposed to be Jesus-strong. The only way to die is actually when you get gangbanged by a swarm of enemies and can’t stave off the multidirectional attacks quickly enough. This is annoying at first but Cole eventually gets a few powers which make this sort of scenario only the slightest of inconveniences. I died more times by falling into water than I did by an enemy’s hand.
This is InFamous 2’s biggest problem, a series of rather small problems, some bigger than others, which add up to a big detraction from what could have been a near-perfect gaming experience. Great story, action-packed gameplay and some really pretty visuals are all spoilt by tiny flaws. Of course the biggest and most glaring flaw is the lack of variety amongst the initially unimaginative mission types but that does get better. The floaty climbing animations, Cole’s annoying new voice, the wacky moral compass that the karma system gives Cole and even the lack of a sufficient challenge could all have been easily fixed but for some reason, Sucker Punch didn’t address these issues. They’ve produced a true gem but the more perfect the nature of the stone, the more glaring its imperfections, no matter how slight, become.
There’s also the User Generated Content which allows players to create their own mission either from a template or from scratch. Players can build up their mission with dialogue, timers, switches, set pieces, various elements from the game such as enemies and objects from the environment and a whole lot of other things. There are also plans to constantly update the system with external content which will in turn feed a steady stream of new user-created missions to the game which in turn stretches out its lifespan.
It’s one of those features that you wouldn’t miss but is a welcome addition to the game. Players can also filter which missions appear on screen and can even choose for only the best missions to be displayed. Players can rate missions as well as recommend them to friends at the touch of a button. For example, there was one mission I played that was effectively a version of Memory where enemies would light up in a certain order and you had to shoot them in that order. There was another where you had to use a degree of stealth and keep noise to a minimum or else a decibel sensor would be triggered, alerting a whole army of enemies and guaranteeing certain death.
There really are a number of possibilities with the feature and it offers so much that your creativity is pretty much the only limit on what it’s capable of.
What really gets me about InFamous 2 is how incredibly well-paced it is. The game is always moving forward either with upgrades or in the story, often both. Yet everything is spaced out and measured so that you don’t get bored halfway through the game nor does the game ever feel like its rushing you along. It takes its tie with things and the story moves at a steady pace rather than whole chunks of the story being dumped en masse in between extended sections of upgrade chasing.
Sucker Punch really hit the floor running with InFamous 2. They built on the sturdy platform set by InFamous and improved in nearly every area of the game. The game falters in places and is certainly not perfect but it’s a game about a guy who can shoot lightning bolts out of his hands with some solid gameplay, a brilliant story and great visuals. What more could you want? InFamous 2 is an action-packed sequel where everything has been scaled up with the motto that more is better and in an age of minimised and streamlined sequels, that’s a rare thing. A great game that’s always moving and always engages the player, InFamous 2 is every bit the superhero game you want and more.