Saturday, June 11, 2011

Infamous 2 - An Ambitious Sequel With A Little Less Edge

In 2009, Sucker Punch gave PlayStation 3 owners a great reason to purchase the system with Infamous, a fun open world sandbox game with a fun comic book-inspired edge. Building on the success of their IP, they released a sequel, Infamous 2 (written as inFAMOUS 2) with the promise of expanding on what made the original great, while at the same time adding something new. After having played through the game twice, I am able to say that while Sucker Punch did an excellent job with the sequel, there was a loss of focus somewhere along the way.

The story picks up shortly after the first game, where Cole has gone from a common bike courier to an electrically-charged superhuman Conduit. He has learned to deal with his destiny of taking down a mysterious entity known as "The Beast" and believes that Kessler has prepared him enough. However, it turns out that The Beast has arrived much sooner than expected. In fact, the player must fight The Beast right off the bat in a similar fashion to the Colossus of Rhodes in God of War II. However, no matter what Cole does, he can't defeat The Beast, only temporarily destroy it. While he recovers from near death, he travels with his friend Zeke and NSA agent Lucy Kuo to the city of New Marais to find a man named Dr. Wolfe, who is believed to be able to amplify Cole's powers, as well as having something he can use to defeat The Beast.

While the sequel does continue the story very well and was easy to follow, it was also a bit easy to lose track of everything with the number of sub-plots introduced beyond Cole fighting The Beast. The game ties them up pretty well though, which makes up for this a bit. There's also many a plot twist to be had, most of which are completely unexpected on the first run-through. I thought the voice acting was much improved over the original, particularly Cole's new voice which I felt suited the character much better. I should also mention that the game seems to have a somewhat lighter tone as evident by the brighter color palette and larger abundance of humor both verbally and visually.

New Marais is essentially a fictional version of New Orleans, complete with street performers, neon-lit structures, and above-ground graves. While the buildings may be noticeably shorter, the city makes up for this by introducing swampland, which makes getting around certain areas a bit more difficult. However, Cole can easily get around this by jumping and hovering, or even walking across strategically placed wires and broken railroad track. The city is very beautifully detailed and seems to have much less pop-up than before, if at all. Since the setting is much more varied this time around, it's much impressive to look at and much more interesting to explore.

In fact, exploration is one of the main distractions from the story, as there are collectables to find and side missions to complete. Blast Shards and Dead Drops make a return, yet the former is much easier to find this time around and it felt like the game was essentially giving them away. Not only were they easy to find, but other small events can occur in New Marais to award you even more Blast Shards or XP, also awarding you good or evil karma. These events, which range from silencing street performers and protesters to defusing bombs and thwarting crimes, may seem random at first, but on my second playthrough I noticed them to actually be carefully scripted in where they would appear. Despite the distraction the events can impose, they were still very fun to do and gave me more of a reason to play further.

The karma system in this game was revamped from before in just about all of the right ways. Following different paths still leads to different endings and changes what Cole looks like in both the game world and well-animated cutscenes, as well as lock some of the powers available to you, which means you'll need to play it twice to see it all. However, following one path or the other is much more rewarding this time around, as the moral choices are no longer black and white, actually acting more like different ways to solve the same problem. But no matter what you decide to pick, the powers Cole can wield, now including fire and ice, are a blast to use. The sheer depth introduced by the powers is handled well with a menu that can be brought up at any point to instantly swap in a different version of the power, allowing Cole to change his strategies on the fly. Additionally, melee combat feels smoother and better to utilize thanks to a weapon called the Amp, which focuses Cole's power into single strikes that build up a meter for ending combos in increasingly stylish ways.

In addition to the 60 Side Missions in the game, Sucker Punch added a mission editor that can be accessed anywhere in the world for those connected to PSN. There are plenty of tools the player can use to create absolutely any goal they desire, which are relatively easy to use. Much like LittleBigPlanet, players can publish these levels to populate the game world, which can be filtered to access precisely the mission you want to play. Sucker Punch even allows players starting out to work from different templates if the idea of working with a blank canvas is too much at first. I enjoyed the missions placed in the game by Sucker Punch and some of the User-made levels, and any user with enough imagination will be able to create fantastical levels that anyone can enjoy.

As a side note, DC published a six-issue comic book series for Infamous meant to bridge the gap between Infamous and Infamous 2. On its own, the comic is a good read, but it actually works best as a way of explaining some events that happen off-screen, such as what happened to Moya in the intervening period.

Also, Infamous 2 rewards players who own the original by scanning the trophies one has collected and giving bonuses at the start depending on what was earned. In addition, these seem to affect the Dead Drops within the game, which alter what is said on specific ones depending on Cole's karmic state. This was a nice touch and helped make the overall story feel more immersive.

Sucker Punch has created an ambitious sequel to Infamous, making a satisfying game that unfortunately loses a bit of focus. Despite this, they make it absolutely worth the player's while for playing through the game twice to see every power in action or the changes in the story. Existing Infamous fans will definitely enjoy this game as well, as it improves in a lot of the right ways. If you're looking to play this game but haven't played the original, I would suggest playing the original first due to the overarching story between the games. The game isn't perfect, but it gets the job done in keeping the player interested throughout and increasing its replay value significantly.

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