Review: inFAMOUS 2
Ed Note: This review contains spoilers for the first inFAMOUS.
One month after the events of the first game, inFAMOUS 2 puts you back in Cole’s shoes as he seeks to become stronger, leaving you to decide whether he saves the world or destroys it.
Cole MacGrath: the courier-turned-superhero/villain after a package he was sent to deliver (containing the Ray Sphere) exploded with him in the center of the blast. The result was an enormous crater in the middle of faux-New York City, dubbed Empire City. Cole is what is known as a “conduit”, a person who can channel the Ray Sphere’s radiation into supernormal abilities. His power is to create, conduct, and manipulate electricity. He can shoot balls of lightning, hover on the static in the air, push enemies back with a wall of electricity, and even toss timed electric grenades. And that was just the beginning. Throughout inFAMOUS 1 Cole developed heightened powers based on his karma standing.
But while you can certainly change your moral standing for the sequel, the game doesn't want you to. You're urged to import your previous karma standing, making inFAMOUS 2 not only a franchise sequel but a character sequel as well.
The developers got me. After all, why start fresh when a character history already exists?
Continuing your inFAMOUS 1 story gave me starting bonuses toward the sequel, like extra energy for my shard collecting in the previous game and a level 1 good karma bonus (out of 3) for my Jesus-like handling of the situations presented in the past. Though I’d initially planned on taking the “infamous” route this time around I was going "hero" in this sequel and there was no turning back now.
Clearly continuing from the “hero” ending of the previous game, Cole starts with an upbeat disposition and acts and speaks like he downright cares about others, even in cutscenes that call for the player to make a good/evil decision. Because of his relationship with Trish, Zeke’s actions, and the reveal of Kessler’s identity in the first game I was expecting a very grim Cole. But inFAMOUS 2 feels centered much less around actually being “infamous” rated, with less emphasis on choosing good or evil missions to play (until the last mission) and more focus on the progression of the main plot, as well as on the continued development of Cole as a character. His development works well with the new voice actor, who helps bring more emotion to the character this time around. Strangely, many of the evil mission options just feel wrong for the story, and I got the impression the developers want the player to lean toward a hero standing.
The game opens with a younger looking, remodeled baby-face Cole with a healed scar on his cheek jumping into an epic battle with The Beast, a man-shaped molten lava giant, as it wreaks terrible destruction upon Empire City as prophesied at the end of the first game. The prophecy stated that The Beast was coming and Cole needed to be much more powerful to face it. This is the moment Kessler was trying to train Cole for.
While a great, epic, chaotic opening tutorial, the scene culminates in God of War sequel syndrome leaving Cole drained of his advanced powers after a fight that leaves him exhausted, weakened, and temporarily defeated. You do maintain your static thrusters (which allow you to glide in air) from the beginning this time, which is nice.
But a Dr. Wolfe in a fictional New Orleans might be able to help. Wolfe has found a way to enhance existing powers which will help him charge a device Wolfe created called the Ray Field Inhibitor (RFI) and take down The Beast. Cole’s obsession with the prophecy combined with his defeat sends him on a power lusting mission to New Marais to meet Wolfe, where a fascist militia led by a man named Bertrand is on a rampage against “delinquents.” By now, people have heard what happened in Empire City during the events of the first game and have also heard of the utter destruction The Beast brought to the city. Panic ensues as the city becomes aware the monster is on its way down the coast of the U.S., destroying all it can as it travels, and the militia uses force to maintain control.
The tracking of The Beast acts as a cool visual aid to your progress in the game. Throughout the 40 story missions the player will be told how many miles away The Beast is from New Marais, and the pause menu displays a map that charts its distance, giving you a stylish progress bar for the main plot.
But while fear is building, live-action news special reports play (and give misinformation) and the militia crushes protests, arresting anyone who steps out of line - especially when Cole, misunderstood as “The Demon from Empire City” arrives. But these aren’t even the biggest problems the town faces. A mysterious plague has hit the area killing people indiscriminately, and other conduits have appeared in New Marais. A new character named Nix, for example, has Night Crawler-like teleportation and the ability to manipulate and create what looks like oil — flammable when used in conjunction with Cole's electricity. While you get to team up with her throughout the game, it is made clear that she is your evil choice for story missions: she craves destruction and vengeance. Kuo, on the other hand, a female NSA agent who is interested in Cole’s powers and investigating Bertrand’s connection to the Ray Sphere, is always the “good” choice for missions, as she shows calculated compassion when creating an offensive. Cole’s best bud from the first game, Zeke, is also around to give advice and help plan, having made amends with Cole after his betrayal in inFAMOUS 1, however rocky. It’s worth mentioning that there is one scene in the middle of the game in which Zeke and Cole chill out for an evening to have some “bro time” that is done fantastically, especially given all that’s going on around them. Sucker Punch's directing really shines here.
But Cole and Nix are not the only conduits in town; there are also powers-induced people who were given their abilities through a machine that can transfer powers. These new enemies give way to many fights, and later on chaotic war-like street battles that pop up randomly along the map: the militia is fighting conduits who are also fighting “corrupted” – mutants that have been popping up around the city. Rockets, shotguns, machine guns, claws, ice, plus moves created by Cole’s ability to team up with Nix and another conduit character creates an immense amount of destruction on a grand scale that will keep you moving, strategizing, and throwing everything you have at your enemies (including cars), making this iteration really feel like a superhero game.
And that's where the game excels best: utter chaos and destruction. Cole has truly become a powerhouse. He's extremely powerful and not to be taken lightly — especially in "infamous" with a deep taste for terror and destruction. The explosions coupled with the environmental effects, like scaffolding crumbling from the weight of a blast, look and feel fantastic, further tempting the player to throw everyone under the bus by, well, throwing the bus on top of everything (actually, you cannot throw a bus but throwing cars is equally effective). You'll often feel like you're part of an action movie, especially with Die Hard 4-style attacks like blasting a car into a helicopter.
The new powers are not bad, though only a couple of them impressed me. Noteworthy is the addition of ionic powers, which let Cole gather ionic energy drops from fallen enemies to replenish an upgradeable ion gauge, allowing him to summon crazy-powerful environmental attacks that one shot most of the enemies on the screen.
And of course there's the story which, while not as big of a twist as the first game (no time travel references here), tells a solid story with mostly natural character development and an epic end to the series whether Cole ends as a hero or infamous (the infamous ending could give way to a sequel but would be a totally different game).
While the story missions won't take you very long, there are plenty of side missions to complete as well as the new User-Generated Content (UGC). These are custom-created missions that can feasibly be in infinite supply like LittleBigPlanet's, also giving way to a steady supply of XP toward powers upgrades. Of course, these have the potential to be masterful or downright terrible because of the complex level creator included. The missions are fully integrated in the map and appear as any other mission marker, only green.
I thoroughly enjoyed inFAMOUS 2. My only wish is that I'd played through as evil, but that's what a second playthrough is for, right? I'm looking forward to it.