inFAMOUS 2 Review

By Stefano Terry

Genre: Superhero/Sandbox

Platform: PlayStation 3

Developer: Sucker Punch Productions

Price: $59.99 (USD)

inFAMOUS is one of my two favorite new IP’s of the generation (the other is Uncharted), so when I got my first look at the sequel, inFAMOUS 2, I can’t tell you how stoked I was to be once again filling the electric shoes of Cole MacGrath.

I was fortunate to land access to the inFAMOUS 2 User Generated Content (UGC) beta back in April, and you can find my impressions of that here: https://selectstartgames.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/infamous-2-beta-impressions/ (so I won’t be going into too much detail about the UGC in this review, as it’s mostly unchanged from the beta, with a few tweaks and userface improvements), and I was blown away by the improvements Sucker Punch Productions have implemented in the two years between inFAMOUS 1 and 2.

I usually comment on the visuals of a game at the end of the review, because I tend to place them at a lower priority to other factors of the game, but inFAMOUS 2 is such a visual improvement over it’s predecessor, that it hits you in the eyes like a, er, bolt of lightning…*ahem* (Hey, I could have gone with “the visual improvements are…shocking…heh,” so don’t give me that look…).

InFAMOUS 1 was certainly not an ugly game. Especially when it came to the level of detail in Empire City. InFAMOUS 2, on the other hand, feels more cohesive all around. Character models no longer look generic and bland, and the New Orleans inspired city of New Marais is adorned with incredibly sharp and detailed textures, atmospheric effects like depth of field and motion blur, and the city itself has more diverse locales.

A slum looks like a slum, and a Red Light District believably looks red lighty. It doesn’t feel as copy/pasted as Empire City (how many bowling alleys does one city need? Apparently, hundreds in Empire City. Hey, they love their bowling).

Cole’s animations have also been improved, and he feels better situated in his environment, and hosts more context sensitive adjustments to his patented parkour acrobatics and lightning flinging skills.

This brings me to the controls, which are, amazingly, even tighter than the already tight original. Cole still suffers from “sticky fingers,” but it doesn’t feel as out of your control as it often did in the original. Very few times did I find myself being “sucked” towards a piece of wall or pipe that I didn’t intend to climb on.

His movement speed as been increased, both on foot, and while grinding on power lines, rail ways, and coasting through the air on his Static Trusters. This improvement makes traversing New Marais infinitely more enjoyable than in inFAMOUS. Additional traversal skills like the Ice Launch and Firebird Strike (and one more I won’t spoil, as it’s really rather surprising that SP put it in the game), opens up a lot more options in how you get from point A to point B.

Mission structure is unchanged from the original (or any other open world/sandbox game out there): You travel to mission icons on the map, and trigger the mission. Finely animated cutscenes and solid voice work from a talented cast help to draw you into the main character’s plight, even if the story isn’t as compelling as the “Hero Origin” of the first.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the plot of inFAMOUS 2, but some of the story beats either felt unexplained (even when filling in the details with 29 Dead Drops scattered around the city), or rushed. With that said, Cole, Zeke, Kuo, and Nix, make fine protagonists, and the villain of the story, The Beast, who’s coming was prophesized at the finale of inFAMOUS, was compelling.

When Cole arrives in New Marais, he not only has to find the Blast Cores, with the help of Zeke, Kuo, and Doctor Wolfe, the man who helped create the Ray Sphere and the Blast Cores, but he also has to contend with “anti-mutant” religious zealot Bertrand, who has New Marais under lockdown with the help of his Militia.

I also really enjoyed the development of Cole’s troubled relationship with his best friend, Zeke, and I was actually shocked that I liked Zeke as a character in this outing, as I found him incredibly irritating in the original. I also feel that Cole’s new voice actor, Eric Laden, did a fantastic job of emoting, and making Cole feel like more of a human being, instead of a wooden cliché. He’s still a bit of a dick, but he’s more likeable than in inFAMOUS, and Jason Cottle’s portrayal of the character.

In fact, most of the cast I thoroughly enjoyed, even Nix, who is an over the top Fire and Napalm Conduit who represents Cole’s darker karmic side. She’s from New Marais, and has a troubled past and a twisted sense of justice.

For those that fear that the great comic book style cutscenes are gone thanks to the fancy new graphics engine and in game cutscenes, don’t worry. There are still plenty, and they are just as cool as in the original, and used to punctuate some of the story’s major plot points.

While inFAMOUS 2 doesn’t have a world as deep feeling as Red Dead Redemption, there is plenty to do while going about Cole’s journey to gain access to the 6 power cores he needs to obtain in order to become powerful enough to stop the Beast, who has arrived ahead of schedule and put a monkey wrench in Cole’s plans.

There are random street crimes that occur, ranging from muggings to hostage situations, to a mad bomber leaving ticking time bombs that Cole must defuse (and unravel who did it).

There are also 60 side missions to undertake on top of the 40 story missions, Dead Drops to collect, and, literally, hundreds of Blast Shards scattered around the city.

All of this content could be overwhelming, but inFAMOUS 2 manages to marry all of these features in a way that makes sense, and always serves the game play. Let’s take the 60 side missions for example. For every 10 missions you complete, you unlock a new ability for Cole, which you can then purchase with the experience points you get for completing missions, defeating enemies, and completing stunts.

By completing stunts, you also unlock new variations on your standard 4 power sets: Blasts, Grenades, Rockets, Shockwaves. Not to mention your Ionic powers, which are devastatingly powerful attacks that deal massive damage to the enemies they encounter.

Take out a few Militia goons with a few blasts of your Alpha Bolt, and you unlock the Pincer Bolt, a blast that splits into 3 bolts and slams into an enemy for increased damage. Stick some sticky grenades on a certain number of enemies, and you unlock a new grenade type. Collect enough Blast Shards, and Cole’s energy reserves grows, allowing him to use more of his attacks before his energy depletes.

This is all incredibly fun to do thanks to a combat engine that was great in inFAMOUS, and has gotten even greater in inFAMOUS 2. Cole has 50 powers at his disposal this time around, so there is really no shortage of fun ways to take out the various enemies he encounters in New Marais.

The third person shooting is just as solid as it’s always been, and the way the game encourages combining your electric skills with your parkour skills is fun and rewarding. I can’t say I have any complaints about the combat overall, but Cole’s new melee weapon, the Amp, isn’t as precise as Cole’s other skills, mostly due to the lack of a lock on function, so the game relies on spotty auto-targeting to hit foes (which can lead to an innocent, and stupid, bystander getting a face full of amp when you meant to hit that swamp creature). Even so, the Amp is one of my favorite additions to the game, as it really is satisfying to take it to enemies and wollop them into submission.

Each of the game play elements in inFAMOUS 2 feed into one another, and you are always hard pressed to keep from picking up “just one more…” whether it be Dead Drops, Stunts, Blast Shards, or Side Quests.

If there is one thing I can really say about inFAMOUS 2, it’s that it is very cohesive. From visuals, to game design, to controls, to music. Speaking of, the musical score is just as fantastic as the first game, with a wide variety of tracks that really nail the New Orleans vibe Sucker Punch was going for. It’s a great mix of musical styles, and although the sound mixing is spotty (the city is oddly quiet at times, with very little ambient noise), the soundtrack and sound effects (in particular, the Amp, which makes a great crackling noise when finishing off enemies), are very stylish and satisfying.

One of the other major elements of inFAMOUS 2 that it weaves rather well into it’s game play is the Morality system. Not as deep as an RPG (which makes sense, as inFAMOUS is NOT an RPG, so no Mass Effect or Fallout Style dialogue options here), but fitting very well with the comic book theme the game presents, players are given the option to be heroic or infamous as they help Cole prepare for his confrontation with the Beast.

The game rewards both styles of play. If you help and heal people, and make choices that reflect the good, the city will appreciate you more, help out by attacking your enemies, and your heroic power set will be more tailored to precision, non-collateral damage inflicting skills. If you are a jackass, causing mayhem (which in itself is it’s own reward), you will be given more destructive powers, but also have to contend with citizens that will routinely run up and try and knock your lights out, the local police, as well as the general baddies in the city like the Militia.

The two karmic states; good and evil, lead you to two radically different, and excellent finales. The moral choices in the game aren’t very complex, and are pretty black and white (like many comic books were in the day; where villains were just…bad, and heroes were unfathomably good), but they give a nice context surrounding your playstyle (some folks like to watch the world burn, others like to make it a better place; unlike other sandbox games, the game’s tone will reflect which side you are on).

And of course, there’s the UGC. It’s still in it’s early stages, so the content isn’t as huge as it’s nearest brethren, LittleBig Planet, but there is plenty to keep you coming back to inFAMOUS 2 well after the ending credits roll on Cole’s story. I’m particularly excited by the improvements and features Sucker Punch has teased at releasing in the future pertaining to UGC, but the tools available to creators are surprisingly versatile, and the variety of missions already on the servers is impressive. Not every mission is going to be a winner, but there are definitely some great ones out there (and don’t forget to give my series of the missions “The New Marais Ripper” a play!).

VERDICT: BUY – I can’t recommend this game enough to people who just want to have some good old fashioned fun. The game feels good to play, whether you are a saint or a sinner. There is always some game play element to reward your karmic choices, and the new traversal improvements and skills make exploring New Marais a blast. If you were a fan of inFAMOUS, then inFAMOUS 2 is a no brainer. If you never gave inFAMOUS a try, I recommend you do, as the narrative and dialogue in i2 have multiple call backs and plot points that are directly related to the first. And besides, it’s still good fun too, even without all the bells and whistles of this new entry.

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