2009 saw two sandbox action-adventure titles vying for our attention. inFAMOUS was a thinking man’s game that presented consequences for the player’s action. The other, Prototype, let you surf down the streets using human bodies as surf boards. Neither of these games were all that interesting to this reviewer. Two years later and the sequel to inFAMOUS, the aptly title inFAMOUS 2, is at our door. Is it bigger, better, faster? I step into the shoes of Lightbulb Man, Cole McGrath, to find out. My full review of inFAMOUS 2 is after the jump.
inFAMOUS 2 carries on shortly after the events of the first game. If you missed any of the previous action, fear not as a stylized motion comic introduces you to the story thus far. Cole and Zeke prepare for the arrival of the prophesied city-devouring entity known only as The Beast. Cole attempts to have a few “words” with The Beast but is too weak to make a significant impact. He and Zeke meet NSA agent Lucy Kuo who knows of a doctor that may be able to help Cole defeat The Beast. Thus they beat a hasty retreat to New Marais, with The Beast in tow.
New Marais is the new battleground. The city, which reminds one of the charm of New Orleans, is under the control of an unhinged individual and his militia army. Understandably, Cole bumps heads against many of them and other more repulsive creatures in his quest to gain new powers. Speaking of powers, from the beginning Cole has access to the same ones he had previously so the game has an instantly recognizable feel to it. He handles a little better, and certainly feels more powerful from the get go. The goal is to be even more powerful, and to this end, inFAMOUS 2 has you working through the main missions to advance the story and a plethora of side quests. These side quests can be terribly mundane and repetitive at times but they are not pointless unlike the ones in other games (I’m looking at you, L.A. Noire). They not only help you remove the militia influence from an area, but also help you gain extra XP.
XP—or experience points—enable Cole to add more weapons to his arsenal, be it upgrades to the types of bolts he can shoot, or the electric grenades that he can toss, or augmentations to his new melee attacks. Gifted to him by Zeke, Cole now has a melee weapon called the “Amp”. It looks like a rather large tuning fork which he can use to bludgeon enemies at close range. The melee attacks are simple at best but they are gratifying to perform, especially with the slow-motion finishing moves that you can perform with a tap of a button. To unlock some of the powers for Cole to purchase, you are required for perform certain stunts (stick 10 enemies with grenades or kill four enemies in quick succession). This motivates you to be a little more creative in fights. You can customize the way you use your powers, and you can do that on the fly, allowing you to adjust to the situation at hand. The roster of enemies are varied, from the low-level grunts to building-sized mutants, although they’re not terribly difficult to dispatch. In fact, the game is altogether easy if tackled on the normal difficulty. While there are some large-scale, cinematic boss fights, they’re more “bark than bite”. There was never a moment where I stopped to wonder how on earth I would be able to topple the behemoth as it usually devolved into tried-and-tested (read: cliched) tactics. It’s a tad disappointing.
Like its predecessor, inFAMOUS 2, has a Karma level at its core. Most of your actions in New Marais will award you with Karma points which help to raise or lower your Karma level. Cole can be a hero to the masses by healing the sick, disarming bombs, or clearing areas of militia. Or he could be just plain evil by beating people up, stealing stuff, and attacking hippie street performers. The freedom to makes choices alters the direction of the game. Cole has strange bedfellows in NSA agent Lucy Kuo, and the explosive Nix that Cole meets along the way. These two characters represent the good and evil that Cole has to wrestle with and leads to the difficult decisions that he has to make at several junctures in the game. If you choose to go with the heroic mission, then the evil one falls away, and vice versa. Also, some powers are only unlocked if you take a certain path. To experience everything in inFAMOUS 2, you really do have to play through it twice.
inFAMOUS 2 is a pleasure to look at. The city of New Marais has been wonderfully created and provides a playground for you to explore. From the fancy downtown areas to the devastated areas of Floody City, to the industrial gas works, each of the neighbourhoods has a different look and feel to it. The accompanying music is in tune with the game, from the quiet ambient scores when you’re exploring the city at your own pace to the tense chords when you’re mid-battle. The voice acting is good too, although Cole’s original voice has been replaced by a new, equally gravelly-voiced guy, Generation Kill actor Eric Ladin. The change was necessary because when Sucker Punch was doing the motion capture for the game, they wanted to do action and audio at the same time.
With Cole’s abilities (especially the ones he has accesses to later on), it’s fun to traverse New Marais, although it would have been great if he had attended a master class in parkour, presented by Ezio Auditore da Firenze. The climbing mechanic in inFAMOUS 2 is a little cumbersome, and can be a tad unresponsive if Cole is falling and attempting to grab a ledge. There is an incredible amount of things to do in New Marais. Blast shards (hundreds of them!) are hidden throughout the city and collecting them can become surprisingly addictive. Dead drops also make a return, this time though the game has you indiscriminately zapping pigeons out of the sky to listen to the audio diaries that are attached to them. New Marais is also full of user-generated content (UGC). UGC enables you to play custom missions that have been created by Sucker Punch. With the UGC tool, inFAMOUS 2 players can create their own missions and to share them with everyone. When you are connected to the PSN, you can download these extra missions, and they pop up on the map in addition to the story missions and side quests. Play these to earn more XP.
There is a lot to like about inFAMOUS 2. Its open-world, sandbox city is wonderfully rendered and very inviting to the player. There is certainly a lot to see and do in New Marais, and warrants at least 20-odd hours on playthrough. Our protagonist handles better than in the first game, and blasting enemies (be it in the face, headshotting them from a distance, or dropping a car on them) is incredibly fun. The unlock system is good and encourages you to mix up your attacks. The story is a compelling one, and even the seemingly mundane sidequests serve their purposes. There may be some missteps in the climbing department and the game may not be all that challenging (on normal difficulty) but that doesn’t prevent inFAMOUS 2 from being one of the best PlayStation 3 third-person action games out. It’s certainly a must-play for the gamers that thoroughly loved the first one.
Score: 8 prawns out of 10