inFAMOUS 2 Beta Impressions

Hey, folks! I know it’s been awhile, but it’s been a crazy busy few weeks for yours truly! However, I come today with some little, hopefully not bannable tidbits of information from the recently began inFAMOUS 2 Beta from Sucker Punch.

I’m not sure how much is allowed to be discussed concerning the beta, but I’m keeping it general, and hopefully will not get into too much trouble.

I was certainly surprised to find an invite in my mailbox earlier this week, and eagerly downloaded the 1.9gig install. After loading up the game, I was given a brief video tutorial about what to expect from the beta. After the video, I was in the shoes of Cole McGrath; Electric Dude.

As you’d expect, the first thing you notice (if you are a long time inFAMOUS fan, such as myself), is the visual upgrade. Sucker Punch finally upgraded from the modified PS2 Sly Cooper engine used in inFAMOUS 1, to a full fledged PS3 engine, and it shows. Texture details are as sharp as ever, jaggies are smoothed away by some form of anti-aliasing (not sure if it’s the same MLAA used in God of War 3, but the game looks smooth, so no complaints here), and the lighting appeared solid (the beta “hub” as it were, is set in the daytime, so not much dynamic lighting could be surmised immediately).

After taking in the visual upgrade, I fiddled with my controller and HUD settings to get things just right, and proceeded to explore the island of New Marais. Inspired by New Orleans, New Marais immediately sets itself apart from inFAMOUS 1’s Empire City by being more lush, colorful, and “humid” feeling. From Red Light Districts, to towering cathedrals, to dangerous swamps and moody cemeteries, the city just feels more engrossing and mysterious.

The beta is only locked to one island, but there is plenty to see, and it’s all very visually distinct. I had no problem differentiating between the slums and the suburbs, and the main boardwalk, to the theater district. It’s the perfect backdrop for a superhero tale, and I can see why Sucker Punch would pull from New Orleans, instead of the now overused template of New York (I have no problems with New York, mind you, but its used in so many games the locale has lost a little of its magic for me).

For veteran inFAMOUS fans, you don’t have to worry about Sucker Punch fiddling with what isn’t broken: Cole moves just as fluidly as he did in inFAMOUS 1; moreso, actually. I found the controls to be even tighter and more responsive, with an improved framerate. Overall, the framerate seems to be pretty locked down. Aiming and shooting was also responsive, and it was simply a joy to move around.

Cole’s power set is limited in the beta, but there is still plenty to play around with. His Static Thrusters, which allow him to hover through the air for short periods has been amped up (no pun intended), and he moves much faster and farther through the air. Also, his Induction Grind, enabling him to grind on power lines, and even up special fixtures on the sides of some buildings, is faster, making moving across the seemingly larger map much quicker and more fun.

Another neat bonus to his traversal powers is a boost jump when Cole is standing atop a vehicle. In an impressive burst of electric light, Cole launches himself upward into the air, allowing you to reach power lines above, or maybe just get that extra height to evade an enemy.

On the offensive side, Cole’s abilities in the beta were familiar, with some welcome twists and tweaks. His standard shock bolt ability now comes in more than one flavor; a series of electric balls that fly out like bullets towards an enemy, a longer range electric arc bolt to tag enemies at a distance, and what looks to be a horizontal line wave of electricity that flew outwards and hits more than one foe if they happen to be closer together.

Without spoiling the abilities of his Grenades and “Force Push” abilities, they also have interesting, and useful versions. These powers are still mapped to the familiar R1, Square, and X buttons,  but with the press of the Left Digital Pad, a menu pops up on the left side of the screen, and Cole can switch to any of those new versions on the fly by cycling through them with the press of the corresponding button. It was surprisingly intuitive, and I found it solved the issue of adding access to more powers without having to pause and load a menu screen.

Melee was never inFAMOUS’ strong point, so I was interested in trying out Cole’s new melee weapon, the Amp. Fortunately, it proved to be a rather satisfying addition to the combat, and considering that Cole can now run completely out of juice (meaning no standard electric bolt attacks when he’s completely drained), the Amp comes in handy. A meter fills up as damage is dealt to the enemy, and when it is full, a press of the Triangle button will pull over a devastating finisher move. It’s a fun weapon to use in a bind until you can recharge and go back to ranged attacks. I really enjoyed just getting up and wailing on baddies, so I have no complaints about Cole’s new tool.

Now, what good are all these cool traversal and offensive skills if there is nothing to do with them? Fortunately, that’s what this beta is all about! At the start, there are already a few missions created by some of the Sucker Punch developers available to explore. I only managed to play a few that first day, such as a Skeet ball mini game, in which Cole was using his force push ability to try and launch a beach ball into floating rings for points, and a few narrative missions, which had Cole doing things from helping Zeke impress some ladies by reliving one of his “epic” adventures, and a tale that weaved in player choice (such as helping or not helping save a man’s kidnapped son).

What was impressive to me was the variety of missions possible. When I first heard of Sucker Punch adding UGC to the game, I simply thought it’d be a simple matter of tools that let players create mini-games to pass the time between single player missions. I was delighted to find out how wrong I was. Players are able to craft rather complex games and stories, and while it doesn’t seem to have the level of depth as LittleBigPlanet 2, it’s a worthy addition to that game’s “Play, Create, Share” subgenre.

The creator tools seem overwhelming at first, despite having descriptions of what some of the various knobs and scripts and levers do. After deconstructing a few missions myself, I was able to build the foundations for my own story based mission (which I hope to make good enough that it will be featured on the actual disc; if not, then it will always be uploaded to the community anyway!).

The content that can be created is conveniently broken up into categories such as “Chase,” “Assassination,” “Puzzle,” “Platforming,” and “Narrative” (to name only a few of the options available, that not just serve to be the foundation of your content, but for helping other players filter the content they’d like to see).

When creating your works, you can use an empty template, in which you craft all of the content yourself, or load up a template, which will give you the basic starting scripts to get you going. For example, the “Narrative” template will load you into the editor with a simple mission of “Talk to Zeke, then talk to the Cop,” if anything than to show you how the various game logic can be used.

I imagine that those that master the tools available will able to craft some rather fantastic stuff, especially if LittleBig Planet, and ModNation Racers is anything to go by.

I would have been extremely content with Sucker Punch if they had simply given me a game that was just like inFAMOUS, but with a 2 slapped onto the end and some minor improvements. Instead, they have given me a sequel that not only looks to improve over the original 100 fold, but also the chance to weave my own tales within the inFAMOUS universe, and experience, literally, hours upon hours of countless additional content long after the single player story is done.

The beta is certainly rough, as most betas are, but what is there is remarkably polished, and can only improve over time as far as additional tools and tweaks go. If anything, it’s made the June 7th release of the final game that much harder for me.

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