It’s good to be bad. But sometimes, it can also be badass to be so good. Sucker Punch’s sequel to 2009’s InFamous delivers on all fronts with its spectacular graphics, gameplay, and story. Gone is the original voice actor for Cole, the one who eats gravel for breakfast, lunch, and presumably dinner. We have a new Cole who sounds closer to a gruff version of Jay from Kevin Smith’s Askewniverse. Perhaps coincidentally, Cole’s new character model also happens to look a lot like a battle-scarred Jason Mewes. Once you’ve taken in all of the graphical and audible changes, the game bounds through the introduction and pulls a Samus Aran, wiping you clean of all but your most rudimentary powers. While this was a big annoyance, regaining powers helped me make the push through the game, dangling a carrot of electro-destruction in front of my face.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Genre: God Mode Parkour Simulator
Release Date: June 7, 2011
ESRB Rating: Teen
Graphically-speaking, InFamous 2 shines over its already visually impressive predecessor. This was apparent in the very first cutscene when we’re introduced to our trio of main characters: Cole, Zeke (who, in InFamous, was almost a dead ringer for Bruce Campbell in Bubba Ho-tep), and Agent Kuo, the Japanese handler who gives Cole information about a scientist who can augment his powers. The news of this scientist prompts them to leave Empire City and head for New Marais.
The city of New Marais is larger and definitely feels more diverse than Empire City, though I found myself only wanting to rampage through the districts that were more populated and felt like actual urban areas. One interesting location was Flood Town, the game’s depiction of a post-Katrina New Orleans. Traversing the water-logged district was challenging, knowing that any misstep would turn Cole into a toaster-in-the-tub. But it was also fun coming up with ways to blast baddies into the conductive water for an easy take-down. I was impressed with the details put into the environment, specifically the representations of the graffiti X-Codes (or Katrina Crosses that were used to relay information for rescue operations) painted onto rooftops.
In regard to gameplay, the first big battle robs you of your powers and the sense of accomplishment you felt from saving Empire City in InFamous. Once you arrive at the swamps outside of New Marais, you’re treated to a tutorial of sorts and are reacquainted with the various ways Cole can horrifically end lives with electricity for points and bonus multipliers. The game does a decent job with power unlocking, always keeping the action and the use of the same powers from getting too stale. Power acquisition follows the same pace as unlocking city districts, so you’ll always have new toys to play with in new areas. As long as you progress through the story at a moderate speed and use Cole’s tools in good combinations, you’ll have plenty of new powers with which to play. Were you ever a kid who liked to immolate ants using a magnifying glass? Then you’ll love zapping folk from rooftops and blowing up the platforms beneath them. Murderous jaunts like these are generally accepted because the victims of these atrocities are 1’s and 0’s. And those numbers probably deserve it for all of the years they tortured me in school.
With great power comes… great control. While the controls take a bit of work to master in the beginning, once you’re used to them, maneuvering around the city as Cole is fluid and enjoyable. No game in recent memory has allowed me to move as naturally and with more control than InFamous 2. Transitioning from a lightning-fueled assault, to melee, to a quick escape can be handled on the fly and allows for a very pleasant gaming experience. Skating along some power lines when you suddenly spot that skeevy busker playing paint cans on the street? Hover over to him and shock him in the face to ensure he never harms another cochlea with his oppressive beating. When you’re done, super-jump off of a car onto some more sweet, sweet power lines, laughing maniacally while you look for more folk to assault. It’s as easy as reading that last sentence. Or maybe you’re just floating on a car held up by electromagnetism, marveling at your new yoga powers, when you hear a cry for help. Turning around, you see a bunch of militiamen accosting some damsel in distress. Well, throw that car at them, stud! After you’ve been lavished with praise and fist pumps from NPCs, pimp away by rolling to safety.
Speaking of saving NPCs, perhaps my biggest concern with InFamous 2 would be the morality system. I’m all for moral choices in video games that create divergent paths through the narrative, but not when they have a Manichean worldview and consist of only two clear choices. You either stop the bandits from robbing the innocents or you stomp a busker’s face in. There’s no room for ambiguity, especially at the end of the game. Without subjecting you to spoilers, I’ll say that a major choice must be made at the climax and it’s pretty damn clear which choice corresponds with Cole’s karmic alignment. Had it been more ambiguous, it could have made for a more compelling choice and made the game that much more enjoyable. Real world morality isn’t color coded, otherwise it would be really easy to see who on Facebook is evil and wants to creep on your ex.
So, even though I want to love the Karma system, it all really boils down to “do you want to be a complete jerk and have super-explodey powers” or “do you want to be a saint and have AMAZING CONTROL AND ACCURACY.” Another point: the Lawful Good Cole can feel overpowered at times because of the power Bolt Stream (a barrage of short electrical bolts) coupled with the ability to regain electrical charge from shooting humanoids. Once you max out the Good Karma, you can use the evil Drain power to your heart’s content without any real karmic ramifications. So once you’ve maxed Good, you can be as evil as you want. It left me with very little impetus to play through the game proper as Sith Cole.
It’s tough for me to really relate to the story in InFamous 2 because it changes slightly, based on the player’s karmic preferences. If pressed, I’d say I prefer the “Good” story over the “Evil” branch. And I’m not biased against Evil alignments at all, having spent my fair share of time throwing doe-eyed bystanders into electrical vortexes of doom, but I just can’t identify with Evil Cole’s motivations and how his epilogue provides little gratification.
Another factor that made it hard for me to play as Evil Cole was Nix, your psycho Creole companion who loves to wreak havoc. I didn’t feel as if she was as rounded a character as her Good counterpart, Kuo. While Kuo fought on the side of angels and showed weakness as well as humanity, all we get with Nix is, “LET’S BLOW CRAP UP AND COOK SOME FOOLS!!” Even the side mission that was meant to foster sympathy for Nix and her origin did nothing for me. Again, it left me with very little desire to play like a jerk.
I do have to give props to Sucker Punch for getting me to care about Zeke this time around. Whereas I thought he was an annoying tag along who made stupid decisions in the first game, I began to appreciate his character and selflessness for the greater good in this one. There is a lot of growth present in Cole, but also a substantial amount in Zeke. In the first game he was whiny, opportunistic, and even betrayed Cole’s trust. Now Zeke seems as if he is atoning for his sins and has learned from his mistakes. He’s even willing to put his life on the line to go undercover as a militiaman in order to gather information for Cole. So if there’s anything Sucker Punch managed to accomplish with this sequel, it was getting me to NOT want to kill the Elvis lookalike. And like Zeke, InFamous 2 learned from its mistakes in the first game and came back deeper, more polished, and very enjoyable.
Simply put, InFamous 2 is a great reason to own a PS3. Cole stands as one of the best the industry can offer in terms of moral choices made by a bald, Caucasian male (looking at you, Commander Shepard and Starkiller). If you’re a fan of superheroes, comic books, or just fun sandbox games where the whole world is your playground, InFamous 2 will offer you a solid gaming experience that is deserving of your time.
Review Disclosure: A retail copy of InFamous 2 was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.