inFamous 2: Cole Heads South
inFamous 2 is the follow up to Sucker Punch’s PS3 exclusive inFamous, which was a surprise hit and a departure from their previous works. inFamous 2 continues the story of Cole MacGrath as he prepares to face the ultimate evil force known only as “The Beast”. Set in the new New Orleans inspired New Marais, Cole must choose to either win the hearts of the locals and attain enough power to stop the Beast when it arrives, or continue in his path of destruction as the “Demon of Empire City” gaining power by any means necessary.
The story of inFamous 2 is actually quite basic, a powerful evil is heading straight for you and you have to work to build your powers in order to be ready to face it. This is the setup for the game, however it goes pretty much ignored until the final chapters of the game. You are given a status update with how far away The Beast is from your location every time you start the game and when you begin certain chapters, but not much is made of this until it’s actually on your doorstep. It should be noted that the Beasts movements are tied entirely to the story events, so if you stop to do all the sidequests in the game The Beast will make no advancement toward you. It’s a simple setup that I feel, while it worked overall and ended with a fantastic conclusion, was weak for the first 2/3rds of the game, keeping it from having the real powerful story the game needed.
What the game drops The Beast storyline thread for is a separate story that hits much closer to the new location of New Marais. John Bertrand, a human purist, has assembled a militia to keep Cole and other super powered beings out of the city. It is up to Cole to fight off Bertrand and his minions in his quest for the power cores that will enhance his abilities for the confrontation with The Beast. I felt the character of Bertrand was good and he had a decent story arc, however a lot of what occurs in this story thread felt out of place in the game. With the introduction of mutants and giant monsters, the game felt more like I was playing Resistance than inFamous. While not necessarily a bad thing it was just another piece of the puzzle that I think kept the game from reaching it’s full potential.
Cole is not alone in his campaign against The Beast this time around. Once again joined by his faithful friend Zeke (discounting one slight stabbing in the back), he is also aided by two newcomers. Kuo, an intelligence agent who gains ice based superpowers and Nix, a Cajun girl from the bayou with the power of fire. This leads to the biggest gameplay change between inFamous 1 and 2, the addition of new fire and ice based powers. When fighting alongside one of his companions you can combine abilities, for example Kuo will surround enemies with a frozen mist and if electrified by Cole it will freeze anyone hit by the blast. Later on in the game Coles abilities will become fully augmented with either ice or fire based on which partner you choose to do missions for during the main game.
Back again for inFamous 2 is the karma system. Players can import their inFamous save and based on their karmic standing when they finished that game will be given a free level towards that same karmic state in the sequel. Throughout missions Cole will be given choices that either make his mission more difficult but help the people of New Marais, or give Cole the easy way out but would be considered more dubious choices. An example of this very early in the game is when Cole comes to a shanty town full of guards and civilians, he is given the choice to overload the generators and burn the place down so he doesn’t have to face the guards, but he’d also kill the civilians. One issue with these karmic choices, however is they seem to disappear from the second half of the story. Early on missions will be constantly giving you little choices like the example above, but later in the game they rarely alter missions like this, most of your karmic choices are based on WHICH mission you choose to do, rather than changing the mission mid-way through. I thought the mid mission alterations were much more interesting than simply going to a red or blue marker based on what I wanted to do. Also, there are never any really major karmic choices to be made like the Trish vs. Doctors choice from the first game. The only exception to this is the last karmic choice to be made in inFamous 2. However, it is not really a choice as you can only effectively pick the choice that your karmic meter is already on, and if you wanted to choose the other way you would have to abort the mission and do side-quests until you can swing your karma meter back the other way.
The combat in inFamous 2 retains a familiarity to the first game, as a lot of Coles powers are kept intact such as his basic lightning bolt attack and his lightning grenades, however you likely won’t be relying on the same tactics as you did in the first game. Cole now carries a melee weapon, The Amp, which can easily and handily take care of most enemies. The melee attacks build up a meter with each successive hit allowing you to pull off a powerful finisher which is flashy and at the highest upgrade level even refills your electric power. The game makes up for it’s simple AI by throwing large numbers of enemies at you during most every encounter. Enemies generally have only 1 main attack so they’re simple enough to deal with but when there are 20 of them it becomes a much bigger challenge.
The city of New Marais is also populated by a large number of side quests and missions. Most of these are simple go to x location and destroy all enemies, however there are some interesting ones such as hacking the televisions in the central casino district to replace airing propaganda. These are mostly quick and dirty missions there to give you more XP and more opportunities to enhance your karma. In addition to these missions are also a number of street crimes that occur randomly as you walk around, some of these include stopping muggings, saving people from blast shard bombs, or on the evil side killing police squads and stealing blast shards from citizens. While all of these can be ignored without affecting the main game, completion of side quests will suppress enemy activity in the area as it did in the first game and they can provide a nice break from the story missions. New to inFamous 2 is the inclusion of the UGC which allows users to create their own custom built missions in the game and share them with everyone online. Missions show up directly in game and can be filtered out to show only the newest, top rated, etc. As it is very early in the lifecycle of the game there aren’t many must see missions set up but over time this could be a great way to extend the game.
While all of this works and adds up to inFamous 2 being a fine game, there were some things that I had issues with. Aside from my issues with the narrative I also had some complaints with the gameplay itself. One of the biggest complaints about the original inFamous was that Cole moved too slowly when running around the city on foot, which Sucker Punch has tried to remedy here by speeding up his running speed significantly. This is not a bad thing by itself. When running straight forward Cole has a very quick speed to him and you can get around areas without much hassle. However, with the increased speed comes a loss in accuracy when going from a full run, then jumping and trying to pinpoint a landing. It feels like the run speed was the only thing that was increased, because as soon as you jump from a full run you slow down incredibly as if you had just jumped into zero gravity and you sort of float around a bit. It is jarring at first and the overall feel is that the controls are very loose and almost sloppy. While you will start to get used to it and learn the intricacies of how Cole moves about it seems like something they should’ve tightened up in earlier playtesting.
Wall climbing and parkour is a large part of Cole’s mobility and while it was never on the level of Assassin’s Creed in the first game it feels like it got even messier in the transition to the sequel. Cole had some nice transitional movements while wall crawling in inFamous, but here these are almost entirely gone. Rather than flipping up and down railings and crawling along pipes, Cole is mostly sent propelling upward by a strange jumping inertia that comes from nowhere and makes his animations while climbing look more like he is floating up the wall rather than fully attached to it. Also lost in the translation to the sequel were the cool underground platforming segments in the blackout areas. Now these are replaced with generic “Defend the Generator” missions, oh joy! Rather than climbing on pipes and jumping over dangerous chasms underground we get to stop 50 of the same generic low level enemies we’ve been fighting all game from hitting an object too many times.
I don’t want to sound too cynical about inFamous 2, but there were a large number of problems I had with the game. I was a big fan of the first installment and was ready for more, however the lackluster story for the first 2/3rds of the game really brought me down on this one. The loose and sloppy controls and climbing mechanics didn’t help win me over from the start either. However, over time I became adjusted enough to the new changes that I started to warm to the game. The new location of New Marais is visually interesting and has many more interesting landmarks to visit than Empire City did. Also the ending to the game I felt was extremely powerful and well done, and was the real catalyst to winning me over on this game. inFamous 2 has a very slow start, but once it gets going and you have a fully powered Cole and are accustomed to the changes in control and setting things will start to click. The overall game isn’t very different from the first and fans of inFamous should find enough to keep them satisfied here. Just like the first game I was once again blown away by the ending of inFamous 2 and feel it is definitely worth it to see the story through to the end. However, the lack of real meaningful karma choices and some sloppy platforming can make that more of a chore than it probably should have been.