I have an interesting story to share concerning the first inFamous game: when I first played it, I hated it. I thought the control scheme was bad, the graphics were appalling, and the game overall reeked of a lack of polish. After playing for an hour or so, I put it down, determined to never touch it again. I told this story of woe to a friend of mine, and he demanded that I man up and give it another shot, so I did. I don't know what changed, but once I actually spent the time to play through the whole thing, my opinion changed drastically. As it turns out, the controls weren't too bad, the comic book aesthetic worked, and the production values were tolerable but not spectacular, but the thing that really made me change my mind was the remarkably fun gameplay and surprisingly effective story. Funny how that works, isn't it? Well as it turns out, inFamous 2 manages to keep and add to everything that was good about the first one while making a conscious effort to correct the mistakes of the original, and that's precisely what I was hoping for!
The first and most glaring complaint about the original inFamous was that it looked ugly. I know many would disagree and you're free to do so, but I personally couldn't stand the way it looked. The graphics were not polished at all, the game was filled with glitches, and the animations were not up to the acceptable standard of a PS3 game. I was very disappointed. Luckily, Sucker Punch has taken the money they made from the first game's impressive sales and put it towards giving us a gorgeous looking sequel. Granted, I'm not the kind of person who thinks graphics make or break a game, but inFamous 2 is such a huge leap forward from the first game that I can't help but reiterate: inFamous 2 looks gorgeous. In fact, I'd put it alongside games like Halo 3 and Gears of War 2 for overall visual quality, which is impressive when you consider that Sucker Punch is a relatively small studio. While the game is technically impressive, it's the style that stands out above and beyond all others. Much like the first inFamous, the entire game has a very distinct comic book aesthetic that it follows in all aspects including character design and the comic book inspired cutscenes that tell the majority of the story.
After the events and revelation of Cole at the end of the first game, he has to travel down south to New Marais to get in contact with one of the original creators of the Ray Sphere to learn how to amplify his powers so he can face an even bigger, more dangerous foe than Kessler. As in the comic books that the game gets its inspiration from, naturally things go wrong and Cole has to improvise and make a series of decisions that will affect himself and all those around him. This time he is followed by two companions: a government agent tasked to watch over him, and a feisty New Marais local who wants to team up with him to get revenge on those who wronged her; both of these have the conduit gene that Cole has, giving them special abilities as well. In addition to the looming threat that is on its way to destroy the world, Cole and friends also have the misfortune of crossing paths with Reverend Bertrand, a religious cult leader who is trying to strongarm New Marais by using Cole as a martyr in his own personal holy war. Yeah, it's pretty heavy on two levels.
This use of religion and the dichotomy of good and evil is even more prominent in this game than it was in the first one, since there are many visual and thematic references about the church, god, and the devil. In this game, you have two characters trying their best to influence your behaviour, one nudging you towards your evil side and one urging you to do good. Naturally, the one with red skin, claws, and a pointy tail is telling you to kill people and take advantage of the situation while the blue one is always trying to tell you to do the right thing. If that isn't symbology 101, I don't know what is. I do admit, though, that both the angel and demon were really awesomely designed. I couldn't help but gawk a little. As you progress, you also learn different special powers based on whether you're good or evil: the red fire moves for infamous status and the blue ice abilities for being a good player. Sadly, you can only get one set of moves per play through, so you're going to have to play through twice if you want to get everything. Naturally, I only played as a good guy, so it was really hard to enjoy all the remarkably powerful moves that the infamous side offered. Call me a boy scout; I just have morals.
Nix and Kuo, the devil and angel metaphors, are just two of the many very well designed characters in this game. Cole is still pretty boring to look at, and most of the humanoids are pretty simple, but once you get a little further into the game, you meet with massive ice beasts, corrupted souls, and giant insects that all want to eat you or kill you. There are simple humanoid enemies, the militia (Bertrand's personal army) who are there to pester you throughout most of the game, but the most awe inspiring designs are the more sophisticated enemies. There are bugs the size of cars that spew goo at you and chase you around, massive lumbering beetles that shoot their tongue out at you and try to swallow you whole, and 20 foot tall ice golems that shoot beams from their hands. InFamous 2 also gives us plenty of exciting boss battles with people the size of skyscrapers and bugs the size of a small mountain. The character designer in this game deserves a solid pat on the shoulder: he or she did a great job.
An extension of the characters and story is the city of New Marais itself, which seems to be a living, breathing entity. People are more active this time around, and the architecture is much more varied and unique. Above all else, the entire world has a layer of vegetation that gives it all a very organic feel that makes it in many ways superior to the original. There are trees to climb, swamps to be wary of since water kills you, flood zones to fear for that same reason, and even a massive industrial area to play around in, and I couldn't be more thankful for it. This gives the world a lot more to do and explore, even though New Marais is no bigger than Empire City. As Cole said in a discussion earlier in the game, “I came to New Marais on vacation to practice my urban exploration, since it was so much more interesting than anywhere else” (Paraphrased of course), and it's entirely true: the level design is a considerable improvement over the first one. Another great addition to the atmosphere is the score. Sometimes it's eerie and...how do I say this...redneck-like, whilst at other times the game is silent, making you listen intently to every step you take. This is a very effective sound trick that would be right at home in one of your favourite horror games, and it works really well here.
I would also be remiss to not mention the great deal of humour in this game. I don't want to give it away, but if you keep your eyes peeled, you'll find a lot of lighthearted jabs at other game franchises like LittleBigPlanet, Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed, and Ratchet and Clank. There's also a mission later on where Cole and Zeke literally kick back and watch a movie while waiting to get to the next mission while you spend 5 minutes just watching them drink beer and pass out in one another’s arms. It's nothing substantial, but it's definitely worth a chuckle and the whole game is filled with little moments like that.
While the game certainly has its levity, it's nice to see that they know how to make a game with real emotional weight too. While I did see the ending coming a mile away, especially since I always play a goody-two-shoes in these games, it still shook me. The best thing about this game is that your actions actually do have a very substantial impact on the world around you, creating two alternate stories based on what your alignment is. The relationships you cultivate throughout and the ending are actually considerably different based on your gameplay style, culminating in two entirely different final boss fights. I don't want to give that away, either, since the story is one of the all time gaming greats, in my opinion, and it would be a real shame to have the ending ruined whether you're good or evil. I'm actually quite impressed that Sucker Punch was able to pull off the two considerably different story lines and endings without resorting to cheese, but when your cut scenes are stylized, animated comic panels with voice-overs, it's natural that you're willing to put a little more content in than your average game with full videos. Let's just say this is one of the only games I've played that was different enough to warrant a second play-though, which I will be doing in the near future.
Of course, the story, characters, and graphics don't mean a thing if the game isn't fun to play, and luckily inFamous 2 is one of the most pure fun games I've played this generation. Sure, it has its flaws, but there's nothing quite like picking up a car with telekinesis and hurling it at an opposing helicopter, grinning devilishly as the flaming wreck falls to the ground and explodes. As I pointed out, Cole is improving his skill list by including fire or ice based abilities, depending on what alignment he chooses. This is both good and bad, since a lot of the hype was focused on the fact that you would be gaining new elemental powers, when in reality you're just getting elemental alterations to existing powers. You're still gonna be shooting energy grenades and blasting waves of energy around at your enemies in glorious fashion, but now you have the option to change the element and slightly alter its properties. I was expecting ice based abilities that let you walk on water or something like that, but it's really the same move set as the first game. Your sole source of energy remains electricity, too. It's not that the game is any worse for it, but you really should be aware that the moveset is virtually the same. When something fails to reach expectations, that can hurt your opinion of it more than the quality of the game itself. That said, the melee combat is actually a huge improvement over the first game. You have an electrical device called an amp that you beat your enemies with in gloriously cinematic fashion, so that's a nice added touch to make up for the lack of new superpowers.
A nice touch, however, is that you need to fulfil certain prerequisites to unlock most of your moves, as opposed to having most of them unlocked via story missions. These prerequisites could include any combination of certain stunts, karmic balance, stats, and experience. Yes, to unlock some moves you will actually have to fulfil certain tasks like “deflect 5 rockets with the pulse blast” to use your experience points on that respective move. It does seem a little arbitrary, but it's nice to see that they remember this is a videogame, and it's okay to have silly objectives to help fuel the gameplay.
But with that said, there were really only two real flaws I found with the game: Glitches and difficulty. Luckily, both were greatly improved from the first game so neither are as persistent or annoying, and neither are frequent enough to alter the overall gameplay experience, so keep that in mind. The glitches are just that: visual and functional issues that need to be fixed and could easily be done with an update. I noticed that there were a few isolated incidents where my character would get stuck in a wall or his melee weapon would be invisibile. Nothing significant that resulted in having to reset, and a glitch usually only lasted a few seconds before correcting itself, so it was never a significant problem. The difficulty in this game was pretty balanced for the most part, but I did find that I died a lot of unfair deaths; not nearly as many as in the first game, but there are few things more frustrating than having to repeat a mission a dozen times because it seems that no matter what you do, you die. For some this could just be a matter of difficulty, but I personally felt it slipped into the realm of cheapness, and I don't like that. I do repeat, though, that these issues were very rare and didn't take me out of the game for more than a few seconds at a time, so don't let it upset you too much, since the rest of the game is quite impressive.
Well, I hope those two small issues don't upset you too much, because the game is likely to keep you busy for a while. Playing through the main story is simple and quick enough, since it's so well-told and keeps you wanting more. However, there's a lot of side content to wade through while you're at it. As I mentioned earlier, the game has a substantially different story depending on whether you play through it as good or evil, so that alone is enough to virtually double the length of the campaign, which was pretty lengthy to begin with, since you will likely be repeating it if you want to get the full effect of what the game has to offer. In addition to the 20 or so hours it'll take you to beat the game, a lot of the same side missions and collectibles return from the first game. You will still be engaging in a game-spanning territorial dispute with the three enemy factions that you will complete by doing side missions, you'll still be spending hours looking for literally hundreds of blast shards, and there is another set of dead drops in the form of roaming carrier pigeons that you have to shoot down to retrieve their data.
The main story missions may be where all the action happens, but inFamous 2 adopts the play/create/share mantra popularized by LittleBigPlanet by allowing you to create your own side missions that people can play in their own game! I admit, the functionality is pretty basic, you pretty much place your enemies and do a short scripting of events to link it and give it some context. It's nowhere near the depth that you could achieve in LittleBigPlanet, but it's a fine addition to an already solid game, and the freedom that it allows you is more than enough to come back to more than once.
I have to admit I was somewhat surprised with the boost in quality this sequel has over its predecessor. Sucker Punch did pretty much exactly what I was hoping: they took the parts I didn't like about the original, fixed them, gave us another great game to play with a captivating story, and even encouraged us to try our own hand at designing our own missions. It's not likely going to be game of the year in anyone's books, but it's an impressive package overall. It looks and sounds really stylish, has great atmosphere, is a lot of fun to play, and has plenty of reasons to keep playing. If you're not sold on it as it stands, go pick up the first one which is currently free on the PSN to see if you like the general idea of it. If you liked the first one, I imagine you'll love inFamous 2.