As the sole owner of a Playstation 3 in the Faceplant triumvirate of nerds, I feel a certain responsibility to play some of the exclusives and expound upon them here. I’ll admit that when I have a choice I almost always go Xbox, as I am an achievement whore, trophies on Sony’s platform don’t do much for me. The original Infamous (PREVIOUSLY REVIEWED HERE OMG) made me forget all about the fanboy console wars and just enjoy a fantastic game. The story, while a little hokey, was compelling and made me want to keep playing, but it was the experience of flying and power line grinding around Empire City using a combination of all my powers that really lent itself to the player feeling like a super hero, which few games manage to capture. Infamous 2 keeps that feeling going in spades. The nuts and bolts gameplay remains true to the original, with some small but awesome additions that will make the first game harder to play again (not that it matters, any Infamous fan should have played through at least twice to see both endings anyway!). Sadly, the problems with story and the touted morality system have not gone away. They don’t detract from making Infamous 2 a joy to play but they do hold it back from being truly great.
I’ll refrain from true spoilers from Infamous, but the sequel picks up almost instantly after the first one ends, with hero (or villain) Cole MacGrath defeating a powerful conduit by the name of Kessler and freeing his hometown of Empire City from his terrorist group, the First Sons. Now if your response to that paragraph was “What the hell is a conduit?” we may have an issue. Infamous 2 assumes you are familiar with the events of the first game, so much so that even I had to google a few things because there is almost NO back story given at all. The actual perfect way to play this game would be to start it right after finishing the first Infamous. For the record, a conduit is a person who has acquired powers (think mutation, like X Men) by being exposed to a specific type of radiation produced by a “Ray Sphere”, which is basically a giant bomb that makes some people into conduits and gives everybody else an incurable plague. Good times. At the end of the first game, Cole learned that a giant monster known as The Beast would soon be unleashed unto the world, and it was up to him with his electrical powers to become strong enough to stop it. Thus Infamous 2 begins with a run in against the Beast, with Cole realizing he is nowhere near strong enough to stop it. Promised the ability to get new powers, Cole goes with NSA agent Lucy Kuo to the city of New Marias to find the scientist who invented the ray sphere and prepare himself for the upcoming encounter with the Beast.
Empire City, while not named as such, was clearly a virtual version of New York City. New Marias is even more obviously based off New Orleans. In fact one of the first things Cole talks to Kuo about when arriving in the city is how it’s recovering from the hurricane that flooded a large portion of the town. That’s a nice touch of realism in story and the city certainly looks good, but then it gets filled with monsters and only you can stop them with electrical superpowers, so realism doesn’t last long. My favorite part of the first game, travel around the city, is just as awesome here. Cole moves faster than in the original game, both when just running around and climbing structures. The ability to grind along power lines is open from the start of the game, as is the ability to slow your fall and hover far distances from heights. Infamous 2 thus sort of avoids the usual sequel problem of resetting ALL of the powers that were so diligently earned in the first game. Cole does not quite have everything (and that is explained) but by no means did I feel Cole was a weak character at the start. About halfway through the game Cole unlocks a couple of abilities that enable him to jump crazy long distances and increase the power of his slow falling / hover power, which makes getting around the huge city remarkably easy. It’s a blast to go from one side to the other.
The other big combat upgrade is the ability to melee, which comes in the form of a rigged cattle prod that Cole charges up just by holding. Wailing on enemies results in a small combo meter building up, which opens the ability to do some sweet looking finishing moves that are usually instant kills on any human sized enemies. It’s a marked improvement from the original, as finding oneself up close in that game usually meant running away to range. The other new powers are usually cool, but they don’t have the wow factor that seeing the stuff from the first game did. The exception would be the new Ionic powers, which let you call down electrical tornadoes, storms, and depending on some karmic choices, ice or fire. The other major improvement in Infamous 2 over the first one is graphics. New Marias is a more detailed place than Empire City, with just more….STUFF all about. The character models are also vastly upgraded. Citizens walking around don’t look that amazing, but any of the major characters really shine. The comic book in motion cut scenes make a return here as well, but there are also a lot more traditional cut scenes using in the in-game engine, which look very good. The voice acting is also solid, for the most part. The new Cole does a good job, although I still wonder why they dumped the old voice of Cole. Kuo, your icy power having NSA friend and Nix, a fire conduit from New Marias, also have solid voice work.
Voice acting leads me in to the worst and best part of Infamous 2: the one-off voice actors who do the lines for the various side missions. It is TERRIBLE. It is the worst voice acting I have ever heard in a game. It is so bad that I LOVED IT. It seriously feels like about two days before the game was due to be finished, somebody said ; “Hey! We forgot to record the voice stuff for people introducing the side missions! ROUND UP THE INTERNS!”. Close your eyes and say this sentence out loud with random jumps in volume and inflection: “Hey man! Those ice mutants and the militia are fighting down by the docks! You can probably take out the whole lot of them right now! YEAH!” It’s freaking epic how bad it is. Since it doesn’t carry over to the main game, it’s actually a hilarious distraction, I *almost* think that they did it on purpose.
One of the less funny flaws of Infamous 2 is the morality system. Every choice is obviously good or bad, it’s literally color coded. Only one decision has any grey area, and that one is at the end of the game, and it’s really not a choice at all. The game rewards you for sticking to the good or evil path so if you played the whole game good only to choose evil at the end, that would be silly. The potential for Cole to be a truly interesting character and conflicted about things he should be doing is there, the game just never takes advantage. The first game even had a few more choices that at least made me pause and think, but that doesn’t happen here. I chose to play through the “good” path and I never even considered wavering from it, which I consider a failure. Morality and karma systems are quite difficult to do well in video games, precisely because choices are rarely so easy as BLUE IS GOOD AND RED IS EVIL.
The enemies in the game are all very evil (again, no grey area) and while the first Infamous had you fighting other humans, as twisted as some of them were, Infamous 2 introduces an always fun concept; monsters! Cole fights some truly massive beasts (not referring to THE BEAST, although he is pretty huge) that give a very different feel than the humanoid baddies. It forces you to use a wide variety of powers and to be constantly moving, which ends up producing some epic battles as you fly between buildings to different electrical sources, trying to dodge projectiles and recharge at the same time. They make sense in context of the story too, which is always nice. This is not to say the human enemies are throw aways, the later ice based enemies can provide a real challenge. I especially liked the ones that would form large ice pillars under their feet and use them as platforms to stand on and shoot down at you. It’s also really fun to blow the pillars apart with them on top and watching them tumble down.
Infamous 2 is a worthy follow-up to excellent original, but for me does not quite reach that level. I loved the continuation of the story and remained interested throughout, but the flawed morality system was a definite turn off. Anybody who enjoyed the first Infamous should definitely play this one though, the game play remains as engaging as ever. It’s definitely one of those games that you can lose hours too, as I routinely found myself looking at the clock and thinking “well I can do one more side quest……” Cut to four quests later and I’m still thinking one more. There is still nothing in video games like Infamous in how it nails the feeling of you just owning the city. Flying across rooftops and grinding on power lines as people shout in glee or fear, it feels more natural here than in any other “super hero” game. Cole is just a man with powers, not a super man. Most games don’t get the distinction.
Filed under: Games | Tagged: Bertrand, Cole MacGrath, Dr. Wolfe, electrical super powers, electricity, flood town, giant monsters, hick militia, ice monsters, Infamous, Infamous 2, Infamous 2 review, Ionic Freeze, Ionic storm, John White, karma system, Kessler, Lucy Kuo, morality system, Nix, power line grinding, Ray Sphere, The Beast, Zeke |