The original Infamous was a well-received attempt at delivering players two contrasting storylines based on their moral affiliations. Cole saw conflict at every turn as he braved the dangers of a superhero coming into his own, but Sucker Punch was not content with leaving the delivery boy turned champion to stew on his decisions. Untapped abilities await in a town needing Cole's aid, but can he be the hero that the city deserves, or do the ungrateful bystanders need a new conqueror?
The first Infamous began with a bang to say the least. In the aftermath of a Ray Sphere explosion, Cole MacGrath was left beaten and bruised, albeit with new lightning-based powers coursing through his veins. Infamous 2’s opening sequence aims to replicate that shock and awe as players are thrown directly into the fire. The Beast, whose coming was foretold at the end of the prior Infamous, shows up to destroy the peace Cole worked so hard to achieve or prevent. The clash between these two titans draws many similarities from Kratos’s battle against the Colossus of Rhodes in God of War II. A ruinous backdrop of an Empire City in flames sets the tone as Cole throws everything he’s got at the 200-foot behemoth. However, his electric powers are no match for his opponent’s psychic abilities and he blacks out upon making an escape.
This is where the town of New Marais comes in. Empire City is soon leveled by The Beast while Cole is forced to flee. He must begin anew in a city plagued with as many, if not more problems than Empire City. Accompanying Cole on his latest journey is the laughable oaf Zeke and newfound allies Kuo and Nix. Whether Cole will become the guardian or tyrant of New Marais relies on the player’s moral choices. Will he fulfill his heroic destiny or become the very monster Kessler tried to stop? The inclusion of the city's authoritarian head honcho, Bertrand Russell, keeps the narrative complex, as his ulterior motives and reasons for wanting Cole's head reveal themselves in his closing moments, and who or what The Beast is, is a revelation that I never anticipated. However, I played through the storyline twice, and every ethical decision is devoid of lasting impact until the final mission. Watching the consequences or rewards of your actions come to fruition still presents the feeling that your decisions shape the narrative, but you won't be killing off your girlfriend a second time around.
Everyone wants a piece of Cole.
Unlike God of War and what seems to be an industry staple, though, Cole retains most of his previous powers. He can still employ Static Thrusters to glide from rooftop to rooftop and toss electric grenades on a whim, but Cole's enhanced abilities are what keep Infamous 2's gameplay exhilarating. With the aid of Kuo's contact, Dr. Wolfe, Cole will amplify his powers to an added extreme to confront The Beast for round two. Gone are those mundane sewer crawls of the original Infamous. Instead, players must acquire Blast Cores scattered across the city to fuel the Ray Field Inhibitor, a device that can drain energy from The Beast.
With each Blast Core comes a brand new ability to make mincemeat of Cole’s opposition. Powers can be further upgraded by reaching a certain karmic alignment and completing specific bonus objectives, such as sticking grenades to trigger-happy mercenaries or killing enemies by indirect means. My favorite skill, called the Lightning Tether, allows Cole to use lightning as a grappling hook for greater maneuverability around New Marais, although it finds no practical use in combat.
Also mixing up the formula is the introduction of melee combat. With the use of the Amp, a metal club similar to a giant tuning fork, Cole can now deliver devastating blows to his hapless adversaries in close-quarters. However, it’s in the midst of combat where the camera really fights the player. Boss battles center Cole's perspective on the larger goliaths, but trying to navigate the environment while tracking the enemies’ movements or dodging incoming missiles evokes unwanted frustrations.
The cost of a man with a short fuse.
The firefights are now more electrifying as well. Using lightning-based projectiles to decimate those who would challenge my rule has never felt so satisfying, and each grenade thrown or rocket launched awarded me with a mix of fire and shrapnel. In my first playthrough, I stormed a military fort, ransacked a local graveyard, and dangled from a helicopter to topple a 50-foot monstrosity. Missions typically consist of eliminating dozens of mutants and mercs, but these intense exchanges are hindered by the limited enemy variety. Between the warring factions of the local Militia, mutated freaks, and forced Conduits, a mere three or four enemy types populate each coalition. Even the minibosses wear out their welcome a few hours into the game. The final boss fight feels anticlimactic too, but only in comparison to the unrestrained powerhouse Cole becomes.
In terms of production values, Infamous 2 doesn’t disappoint. Explosions usually encompass several city blocks, and bosses tower over the surrounding buildings as they leave nothing but destruction in their wake. There are semi-destructible environments, and climbing to the tallest points in the city only to Thunder Drop on unsuspecting civilians is strangely gratifying. Cutscenes are still illustrated through graphic novel images. The concept is unique, and the art style is visually gripping. Sucker Punch always demonstrates a certain witticism with their writing, and Infamous 2 is no exception. Zeke and Cole spurt cheesy one-liners to make light of the inevitable: that Cole must save the world or destroy it. Cole's original voice actor took a leave of absence, but a fresh voice hardly detracts from the experience.
This creature is one of the smaller bosses Cole will face.
In reference to New Marais, the developers have clearly drawn inspiration from the city of New Orleans. The town is alive with rich and vibrant neon colors, and each section of the city provides a distinctive vibe. The neon-light district is saturated with signs advertising parodies of popular video game franchises like Halo and Uncharted, Flood Town is deserted and nothing but a shell of its former self due to extensive water damage, and Gas Works reeks of industrialization from a megalomaniacal leader. The backwater bayous littered with abandoned shanties provide untouched platforming challenges as Cole leaps from log to log. Mind Cole’s footing, though. Falling into a pool of water with 20,000-plus volts of electricity coursing through his veins would be less than wise.
I cannot say much in the way of interactivity between the citizens of New Marais sadly. Thwarting muggings and restraining Militia will draw a crowd to cheer Cole on, but “defeating” street performers or silencing protesters will encourage passersby to retaliate. The occasional fan may stop to take a quick snapshot, but there’s little actual dialogue exchange between Cole and populace he is trying to protect or oppress.
Infamous 2 user-generated content: "So easy a caveman could do it."
Also new to the Infamous formula is user-generated content, a nice addition to keep fans experimenting with the powers of mother nature. Some of the objectives are quite inventive, such as stopping a killer disco ball, but most of the custom developer missions lack the entertainment value of the main/side quests. Then again, if games such as LittleBigPlanet are any indication, I expect astounding things from the community. I tried my own hand at the level editor, but because I only exhibit the slightest ounce of imagination, I wasn’t able to construct much beyond Horde-like kill-all-enemies-before-you-die arena battles. The tools are accessible and easy to work with, and it's always fun to laugh in the face of physics.
Aside from a brief recap, few allusions are made to Cole's previous endeavors in the original Infamous. Ultimately, Cole's first outing realized the hardships of an unwanted destiny better than Infamous 2. The good and evil opportunities lack any enduring impact, but players hankering to witness the game’s full potential should play through the campaign twice. Between the in-progress street crimes, side quests, main missions, and collecting dead drops and blast shards, there are hours of content to keep gamers busy. The controls are exceptional, and the game runs smooth, never dropping a frame despite several dozen enemies on-screen. Cole’s new powers make him an even greater force to be reckoned with, too, and the inclusion of user-generated content is a welcome change of pace, but wrestling the camera angles while fighting the paltry enemy variety left me with slight disappointments. Nevertheless, every PS3 owner should not hesitate to experience the conclusion of Cole’s moral journey.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sucker Punch
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed)