There came a point, probably 8 or 10 hours into my ‘good’ playthrough of inFamous 2, when protagonist Cole acquired the ability to launch skyward with a superpowered ice-jump and glide hundreds of metres through the air. All of a sudden the game’s design really clicked into place and started to make a lot more sense – rooftops that had previously seemed slightly too far apart were just right for a skyward launch and glide; power cables strung between buildings were perfect rails for leaping from, gliding between and grinding along; flooded lowland city areas ceased to be tricky death traps and became easily navigable, and suddenly traversing the city became a great deal more fun. This and other abilities, moreso than any of the electricity ‘gun’ powers or plot devices makes Cole and by extension the player feel extraordinary and vindicates what could have been seen as yet another open-world game.
Plot-wise, inFamous 2 begins a few weeks after the close of the first game, with villain-of-sorts Kessler defeated and the Beast foretold to destroy Empire City – and perhaps the world as we know it – at some point in the near future. That prophecy quickly comes to pass as the Beast attacks Empire City and Cole battles him — both are heavily wounded as a result and Cole is drained of many of his powers, before retreating to the southern city of New Marais with his friends to recover and expand his powers, then destroy the Beast once and for all. The plot is very strong overall, detailing Cole’s dealings with friends and foes in New Marais whilst trying to expand his powers (using lost technology from the first game’s pro-superhuman group the First Sons), although it meanders a little in the game’s first half before leading to an excellent conclusion once the Beast becomes more than just a background figure.
If there was one major area in which inFamous felt deficient, it was in having a setting that lacked character – something all the more noticeable against the glorious locations of the Assassin’s Creed franchise or the depth and detail of Grand Theft Auto IV’s Liberty City, for instance. inFamous 2 does an excellent job of remedying this, with New Marais (a rough facsimile of New Orleans) looking and feeling a lot more interesting in terms of design and architecture – its central cathedral and slightly gaudy neon-lit entertainment districts are great examples of this – and plenty of variety, with its flooded residential region in stark contrast to the ruined rail-yard, far-flung outlying swamps or more vertical industrial areas.
Sidekick Zeke returns and while occasionally still irritating, he’s a great deal more amiable than before – the banter between Cole and he is much more likable and brotherly, and there’s a real feeling of friendship between the two this time. Cole also befriends another pair of superpowered ‘Conduits’, who act as moral compasses between his good and evil decisions; with former NSA agent Kuo the law abiding straight character, and swamp orphan Nix less concerned with innocents and collateral damage and more with looking out for herself and her kind. The characterisation isn’t going to win any awards or oust the BioShocks or Mass Effects at the top of the tree, but it’s a marked improvement on the somewhat drab characterisation of the first game and feels more enjoyable, fun and relatable.
Taking its cues from Batman: Arkham Asylum, this time around Cole is a lot more effective with physical combat. At the game’s beginning Zeke creates a weapon to pair with Cole’s powers called the Amp, which is effectively a big metal club, but nonetheless looks the part and feels effective when being wrapped around a goon’s head. Cole also has an improved repertoire of attacks which still aren’t especially diverse, but at least do their job to make melee combat feel like a viable option next to his ranged attacks this time. Elsewhere, he still has the mixture of ranged electrical bolt attacks (which are essentially tantamount to firing standard guns), more interesting abilities such as telekinetic pushes or throws and screen-wrecking special attacks like tornadoes and lightning storms. Cole also continues to be one of the easiest and most fluid characters to control, and although there aren’t quite enough buttons on the controller for his full range of abilities (this is handled via a menu screen which alters some buttons’ functions), this is a game where its world and protagonist feel in perfect sync with one another.
While the game world in inFamous 2 has made progress and Cole feels more versatile and powerful, the same can’t be said about the NPCs and general populace of New Marais. Cole is animated really well and makes for a convincing athletic man, but most of the other characters move very robotically and don’t have much connection with the environment. That’s perpetuated by a lack of character physics, so when you’ve experienced the glorious Euphoria character animation in games like GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, inFamous 2’s characters do look and feel a bit dated by comparison.
Like many games this generation, the player’s moral choices are a cornerstone feature of the inFamous series, and this is another feature which has been refined from its predecessor. Cole has some on-the-spot choices to make as well as slight mission varieties which follow his path toward heroism or descent into villainy, and there are random encounters around the city which push his morality toward its chosen polarity, such as diffusing bombs, stopping muggings or killing police patrols. While this good and evil karma system adds a little mileage to the game, it does feel like something of a missed opportunity seeing as probably 90% of the content is identical no matter your actions or choices, and it’s only really a few powers, cutscenes and the ending which are particularly different. The system has more finesse than before, although it’s still built around extremes and could do with a lot more fine-tuning in future instalments.
In terms of presentation and visuals, inFamous 2 is a significant step-up from its predecessor. The graphics are much more detailed and New Marais is more varied and colourful environment than Empire City was. Missions include checkpoints which eliminates a lot of unnecessary travel, while you can save or load at any time across multiple files. Menus are succinct and easy to navigate, and there’s a handy map upon which you can set a waypoint and see any available missions. All in all, it’s a slick experience, and it looks like Sucker Punch have had a long look at the GTA series, then borrowed its better elements for a playable and user-friendly experience.
And as though delivering a continuation (and possible conclusion) of Cole’s story arc was not enough, of further note is inFamous 2’s inclusion of user-generated content. These custom-made missions are dotted around the map using green icons, and the tools for building them are quite robust – they fall into various categories, such as checkpoint races, platforming challenges, escort missions or combat scenarios. Some really ingenious creations have appeared in the months following the game’s release, although the platforming sections tend to be the most interesting thanks to the ability to fix objects in the air, allowing for some mind-bending and challenging assault courses. The creation tools are broad and allow you edit a number of features with surprising depth, although I’ve found the best way is to start off small and develop ideas upon becoming more familiar with the system. The feature is unlikely to trouble LittleBigPlanet or Minecraft for inventive creations, but its inclusion is welcome and it may lend the game a little more longevity.
inFamous 2 doesn’t make many missteps. It may lack the polish and big name license of the recent Batman games, but for a solid and dependable superhero videogame, there aren’t many more enjoyable and more consistent than this excellent superpowered romp.