Everybody wants to be a superhero. It’s an indisputable fact of life, and one that only grows more intense with age, thanks to cult-movies like Kick Ass. Still, should we be so lucky as to receive a gamma bomb to the face, the last thing we’d want to discover is electricity pumping through our veins. Series protagonist Cole MacGrath can surf power lines, scale buildings and hurl Mazdas like Malteasers, but the negatives far outweigh the positives, so to speak. Alongside Cole’s inability to take a shower - touching the wet stuff immediately drains Cole’s health - the transformation has also stripped him of a personality, it seems.
Yes, Cole MacGrath is just the latest in a long line of morally-neutral sandbox characters, and he’s every bit as bland as the last. Indeed, as with the majority of videogame characters, whose decision-making has been placed firmly in the hands of the player, attempts to characterise MacGrath are erratic at best. One minute, he’s sniggering at the term ‘penal code’ and glugging down ice cold beers in front of the telly; the next he’s making supposedly-heartfelt decisions that will affect the future of New Marais – the game’s New Orleans inspired stomping ground. It’s all a little confusing.
More confusing, however, is the plot itself – which makes no effort to welcome newcomers to the series. Set two years after the events of the original, Infamous2 sees Cole MacGrath follow a lead to New Marais, only to realise his powers aren’t quite up to snuff to defeat an all new super villain known as the Beast – who bears more than a passing resemblance to Watchman’s Dr. Manhattan. In order to defeat the Beast, Cole must gain enough power to activate the RFI – a spherical device, capable of draining the Beast’s powers long enough for Cole to give it a good hiding.
But that’s not all. New Marais' over-zealous Militia, have capitalised on the recent surge of mutant freaks to stage a war on the Conduits – those with special abilities like Cole’s – meaning that Cole is now the enemy of the city he’s been breaking his back to save. Fortunately, MacGrath knows how to handle himself in battle. Within moments of loading up the game, Cole can absorb energy from nearby power sources - such as generators and street lights - before spitting it out as electrical bolts, grenades and, eventually, bombs, rockets, and eventually thunderstorms.
While players don’t start the game with a full arsenal, Sucker Punch ensures that new powers come thick and fast thanks to a rather nifty upgrade system. Unlocking new powers (or gaining more powerful versions of existing ones) usually involves completing a specific number of targets - such as killing a certain number of enemies with a specific bolt, or performing a special move several times in a row. It’s a nifty little system, and one that ensures players always have something to be getting on with – not to mention something to look forward to as the game progresses.
While it’s safe to say that Infamous2 reveals new abilities with a greater sense of immediacy than that of the previous game, many of Cole’s abilities - including a Just Cause-style grappling hook - arrive far too late in the game to be truly enjoyed. One such example of this is the Amp - a large tuning fork that introduces close-quarters combat to the proceedings, much like Sly Cooper’s cane. Though it arrives during the game’s mid-point, the Amp is so effective when it comes to defeating mutants you’ll wonder why it wasn’t introduced sooner.
The Amp even goes some way to alleviate problems with the game’s cover system, with players now able to stun their enemies before finishing them off with the Amp – as opposed to the time-consuming process of ducking behind cover, and repeatedly firing bolts until enemies pop their clogs. While it’s never any more complicated than hammering the attack button and pulling off a finishing move, melee combat also brings a distinctly visceral edge to the game’s otherwise superhuman combat.
In terms of gameplay, Cole MacGrath is essentially on the hunt for all-important Blast Cores – purple crystals containing dormant powers that Cole can use in his fight against the Beast. These can be collected by completing key missions in the game’s story mode, and it’s here where you’ll be spending most of your time in inFamous 2. However, whilst Cole’s powers help to ensure players are always entertained, Sucker Punch’s formulaic approach to level design soon becomes repetitive.
Regardless of what’s happening in the story, missions usually involve reaching the peak of a building and zapping the Militia to a crisp. Occasionally, the game attempts to give players something else to do, such as flipping switches or smashing boxes to uncover safes - but even then, alterations to the standard mission formula are indeed slight. In order to shake things up a bit, inFamous2 sometimes asks players to defend various checkpoints on the map - such as generators or mission-critical vehicles - before swarming the area with Militia. These missions are, by far, the most frustrating part of the game, as the odds are so often stacked against you – something that is especially true in powered-down areas, where Cole is unable to recharge.
There are also a number of boss fights to be had inFamous2, but such instances are woefully formulaic. Whilst it can be mind-blowing to watch a mutated behemoth wreaking havoc throughout the streets of New Marias, the way in which Sucker Punch you have to defeat bosses is hugely underwhelming. Indeed, it’s often just a case of waiting until they reveal their glowing weak spots, before tossing sticky grenades at them in rapid succession. What could have proved a fantastic opportunity to prove the brilliance of its combat system has, ultimately, been dumbed-down to an absurd degree.
The morality system also makes a comeback for this high-profile sequel, and its implementation is as barebones as before. Moral decisions are still very much a binary choice between good and bad, detailed with a capsule description of heaven and hell that a small child could probably understand. It also doesn’t help that your choices are influenced by quarrelling supergirls Kuo and Nix – the latter of which is so mentally unhinged you’d have to be off your rocker to side with her. Fortunately, neither Karmic path boasts more interesting missions than the other, so which side you decide to fight for really depends upon your playing style and desired abilities.
Moral choices can also be found on the streets of New Marais itself, where they prove far more successful. Opportunity missions - such as disarming a bomb or rescuing civilians from muggings - help you to nudge your moral compass in the desired direction, and many of which even offer up blast shards for your troubles, which can later be used to upgrade Cole’s abilities. What’s more, you could also use the streets of New Marias to nudge your way along the evil karmic path, by killing cops and innocent street performers. Not only are these far less binary decisions, but the AI-controlled environment is so much more reactive that you’re forced to reflect upon your actions.
Indeed, New Marais is the perfect home for inFamous2. Based on New Orleans, its heavily populated cities and architecturally-rich, urban environments lend themselves very well to the series’ unique brand of parkour platforming. What’s more, the game’s myriad swamps bring a life and texture not commonly found in overtly-urban, sandbox titles – whilst striking a balance between light and dark that feels thematically fitting of a superhero title. Elsewhere, the game is stunning, with gorgeous character models and facial animation to rival Naughty Dog. Despite a minor dip in frame rate during heated boss fights, the game also runs at a voluminous pace – which is impressive given the size of the Infamous 2’s fully-streaming world.
Best of all, however, is the game’s use of user generated content, which publishes user generated levels directly into the game. Highlighted with green markers on the mini-map, user generated levels theoretically offers campaign-quality missions, boasting another way to level up your character once you’ve grown tired of the main game. What’s more, the editor is beautifully implemented. Much like Little Big Planet, it’s all achieved using a visual scripting language, meaning that levels can be tinkered with until your heart’s content. You can even use the editor to design pre-mission cutscenes, and although voice acting is predictably absent, the amount of creative freedom Sucker Punch has allowed with its editor is simply mind-blowing.
While it would be easy to scoff at the game’s repetitive level design, a refreshing combat system means that Infamous 2 is still great fun to play. The addition of user generated content doesn’t excuse the game’s shortcomings, such as poor characterisation, a predictable story and repetitious level design, but it does go some way to prove that Infamous has a lot more to give. There’s a fantastic game tucked away inside in Infamous 2. Unfortunately, it’s up to you to build it...