Review / Infamous 2 (PS3)

Infamous 2 can make you feel like a god at times. While the first game gave you an impressive arsenal to unleash on hopeless enemies, it’s about 20 minutes into this super hero sequel that you toss your first car into a helicopter. And from then it doesn’t let up: throwing tornadoes, fighting enemies the size of buildings, and wrecking entire streets is all commonplace here. The message Sucker Punch wants to send for Cole MacGrath’s return is clear; bigger is better.

You’ve heard that sequel jargon before though, we all have. Sometimes it works (Uncharted 2) sometimes it doesn’t (Killzone 3), but this super hero sim definitely falls into the former of these two.

Things start off well; a dramatic opening that pits the series’ hero against new enemy The Beast proves that Infamous 2 means business. It’s a strap-yourself-in moment that helps you get to grips with the game’s shooter-like controls while demonstrating the new tech under the hood. The aim from there is to simply keep going with that tone.

Not long after the intro it’s back to running around an open-world environment, taking on side missions and collecting blast shards much like in the first game. At first, the familiar third-person free running and structure will get you thinking that this will simply be more of the same, but a little bit of time is all this one needs to get going.

Backtracking a bit, let’s get to the plot. Cole, a hero who’s pleasingly more up-beat than last time around, has met his match; The Beast. Squaring off against this 50-foot foe once teaches Cole two lessons: when to run away and the need to power up. Set in the fictional city of New Marais, the game runs with this simple plot while throwing a few interesting twists and turns along the way. The dumb-but-loveable Zeke returns on his own quest for redemption, and new heroes Nix and Kuo represent the game’s evil and good decisions. It’s a character-driven story that’s filled with a sense of dread as the game constantly reminds you of how close The Beast is. It will really pay off towards the end too, rewarding those who stick with it.

And many shall be rewarded, because it’s very easy to stick with Infamous 2 through the 20+ hours of gameplay. While it throws nosier, more frantic action your way, it never loses its heart and sense of where it’s coming from. You can take downtime from the main plot to collect blast shards or play side-missions that will both upgrade Cole and cleanse the city of enemy control. It’s a tried and true formula taken straight from the first game that means you’re not forced down a linear path with Sucker Punch screaming “explosion = more fun!” at you the whole time.

But explosion does = more fun, so Cole gains better powers to cause bigger explosions. The Kinetic Pulse (which I simply call the car toss) mentioned above is the first example, and something that doesn’t get old. Simply lifting a vehicle off of the ground as you stand on it, then sending it into a pack of enemies is immensely satisfying. Once Infamous 2 has built up a range of these powers you can really start to have some fun and varied battles. Improved melee lets you handle things close quarters, and then you can throw a tornado down the street to take care of a pack of baddies. Then something the size of the Empire State might turn up and you’ll have to empty a pay load of exploding electric rockets into its chest. Mix that in with dodging gun fire by leaping up street lamps and grinding around on rails and you’ve got a game that really makes you feel powerful.

Objectives run the gauntlet of escort, defensive, time trial and other mission types, but its spread out enough so that it only feels stale just about as the game is ending. Boss battles are a highlight simply because they require you to just throw everything you’ve got at them rather than tediously learn and repeat patterns.

There’s depth to it all, too; while powers don’t upgrade, an expansive list of variants is available to purchase through experience points. You could change your standard bolt into one that makes enemies collapse when you score a headshot, or improved its range with artillery-like fire. Better yet, it ties into the game’s karma system, locking off some powers depending on if you take the good or evil route, meaning it’s impossible to see everything it offers in one go.

The karma system does have a few kinks to it though. It’s very basic stuff that sets you on the good or evil path. Basically, you have to make the decision to be good or evil at the start of the game and then simply choose the corresponding options every time you need to make a decision. You’re not forced to, but the more evil or good you are the more powerful you become, and staying in the middle will get you nowhere. It’s not until the endgame that you’re presented with a choice you’ll actually have to think about. There are more options to change your rating through stopping crimes, stealing blast shards or defusing bombs, but Mass Effect this is not.

Evil doers will also find a few problems when it comes to side missions and some story aspects. Sometimes you’re forced into helping civilians and doing jobs that an evil Cole just simply wouldn’t do.

A few further flaws can be found in some of the gameplay. Free running doesn’t feel as smooth as last time around as Cole struggles to jump onto ledges that hang over you, and in being an open-world game means that the usual sweep of glitches will come along every so often.

While Infamous 2 does offer a fantastic UGC option, multiplayer does feel like a missed opportunity here. I’m not talking ill-fitting competitive, rather co-op side-missions. Nix and Kuo both have their own powers, meaning some of the levels are just begging for a second player to hop in and join the massacre.

But the user-generated missions are more than enough to make sure you keep coming back. I’ve played around with the creator as well as other people’s missions and while you’re not going to see any Sackboy-esque creations it certainly is a fantastic way of adding hours of game time. I’ve run around the city going from mission to mission to fight in cage matches and tackle assault courses; a big pat on the back to Sucker Punch for this one.

The final element in making Infamous 2 that Nathan Drake sort of sequel? Presentation. The game’s dank setting of a city in disarray doesn’t lend itself to the eye-popping heights of train battles and ice caves, but it looks sharp all the same. Character models and animations are hugely improved, no longer awkwardly jolting their heads and arms from one side to the other or running like they have small springs on their feet. New Marais boasts amazing detail and Cole’s powers can cause much more havoc to the streets than in Empire City, toppling scaffolding and street lamps with ease.

It could still use some cleaning up in places, but Sucker Punch has made impressive progress from one game to the other, serving as an excellent example of just how far developers have pushed the tech in these last two years alone.

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Music is an unexpected hit as well. When it wants to, Infamous 2 can tug at your heart strings with slow violins that reflect the pain of a decaying city, while complimenting the action with more upbeat and catchy tracks. While Cole’s voice work has changed for the better, Zeke and the others turn in fine performances.

As fellow TVGBer Sebastian put it, Infamous 2 is one of those rare sequels that ups the original in just about every way. Sucker Punch have done well to keep what made the first game so special while throwing in new action sequences that often get the heart pumping. Its story, presentation and gameplay all make the kind of leap forward that I felt when I first picked up Uncharted 2. It has its flaws, but Cole has certainly earned his place up there with PS3’s best.

+ Awesome powers, massive enemies, better missions; Infamous 2 is a blast to play
+ User-generated content is an innovative and exciting way to add longevity
+ Presentation has been vastly improved over the original

– Karma system is too black and white
– Free running less smooth, glitches are common
– Lack of co-op is a missed opportunity