inFAMOUS 2 Review
Infamous 2 is a game that lets the action do the talking. Six months after the campaign credits roll, action is going to be the thing you remember about it; the electricity, the giant bosses, the scaling of tall buildings and the throwing of cars like they’re tennis balls. Any sense of story, setting and character is quickly forgotten in a blaze of mundane, average and conventional.
Series protagonist Cole MacGrath is, quite simply, vacuous. The shaven headed, yellow shirted, backpack wearing tough guy’s personality defined more by his visual appearance than his speech, choices or relationships. He’s a typical videogame/B-movie action star, all flash and no substance. Still, he manages to get away with it to an extent because the flash he brings is vivid and I like vivid flash.
Cole’s ability to control electricity generates some nice (if unoriginal) results. Fill up your gauge by sucking power out of cars, fuse boxes, television sets etc and you can unleash it as attack beams, bullets, shields, lightning, blast waves, hover jets and other forms of attack and/or defence. Right from the off you feel more powerful than you did in the first game, not only because of the expanded and strengthened moveset but because you’re given access to these abilities much more quickly.
One of the greatest sins action games can commit is withholding the good stuff until the end (either that or giving the good stuff for a level, only to take it back and for you never to see it again – I’m looking at you Killzone 3). Infamous 2 doesn’t fall into this trap, it seems the team at Sucker Punch understand just what it is that makes the game tick and go out of their way to provide it to you. The result is that you feel awesomely powerful, a true Stallone/Schwarzenegger/Seagal at their prime… with all the characterisation, meaning and insight that comes with them.
In terms of the overall picture, you’re powers must be put to use stopping a giant fiery man/beast from destroying Empire City (a generic New York lookalike that succeeds brilliantly in providing a sense of déjà vu from the first game). There’s also a plot thread involving a group known as the ‘Militia’, an angry bunch looking to stop the spread and proliferation of the ‘Conduits’, humans able to wield superpowers (of which Cole is one). If you’re thinking X-Men right now then you’re bang on the money.
While the open-world city structure is a great playground for the showcasing of your abilities there’s an odd sense of emptiness to the place. It reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons in which Bart sells his soul to Milhouse, physically everything is there but there’s no sense of life, nothing to connect with. The result is that the environments feel more Crackdown than Grand Theft Auto or Saint’s Row, lacking in that busy hustle bustle that makes the most skilfully woven virtual urban environments feel like the real deal.
This leads to an issue involving Infamous 2’s moral compass and the choices you must make in order to influence its direction. The game’s story and Cole’s personality can be altered slightly depending on whether you choose to position yourself as the ultimate do-gooder or as a surly anti-hero ready to save the world but not caring about anyone within it.
Because I couldn’t care less about the environment (and therefore the people ‘living’ in the game world) I choose the surly, ‘morally bad’ route. This meant that when a mission could be completed more quickly at the cost of innocent lives I embraced it, when a civilian was being mugged on the street I ignored it and when I passed cops or street musicians I attacked them. Playing in this manner was a lot of fun; my electricity attacks changed from a puny hue of blue to a powerful statement of red, I was able to go about my business without worrying if innocents would be caught up in the collateral damage and surly, cold-hearted Cole is more appealing than sappy, teacher’s pet Cole.
If the game had done a better job of making me care for the world though, it might have been a different story. I might had actually thought twice about throwing cars into groups of people and partaking in other acts of horror in a bid to get my morality rating as far in the red as possible.
There are story missions that divide themselves into the good and evil category but they play largely the same; instead of killing cops you’ll kill the bad guys, instead of blowing stuff up you’ll be preventing explosions etc. It seems a little unnecessary in all honesty, things would have been improved by simply having a linear set of missions but allowing you to complete them in a number of different ways; thereby ‘naturally’ aligning your good/bad guy status.
It all goes back to what I said earlier in this review, when Infamous 2 concentrates on action it’s fun to play, when it tries its hand at story-telling or structural complexity it falls on its ass.
Thankfully then, there are ways to concentrate on pulling as much of that action from it as possible. Bizarrely, it involves moving away from the content held on the disc and sourcing missions from the community. Infamous 2’s content creation feature is far and away the most impressive aspect of the game and it’s clear a lot of work has gone into it to make sure it functions properly (perhaps going some way to explain why the main game has progressed so little since the original).
To the best of my knowledge this is the first time user-creation tools have been included in an open-world game of this type. Rather than mess around with different menus, community missions are highlighted on your in-game mini-map depending on which options you’ve selected – all experience points and character progression retained once the mission is finished and you return to the campaign.
As with LittleBigPlanet the editor is easy to use but, depending on your skill and imagination, difficult to master. Determined creators can create stories of their own thanks to speech text options and A.I. sliders that determine who is friendly to whom and who is hostile to whom. A selection of templates and example set-ups are included to help beginners learn the ropes, much in the same way as those that feature in PSN title Under Siege.
When it comes down to it, Infamous 2 is not the game we were hoping it would be. It starts off fun but, due to a lack of personality, originality and complexity, soon feels tiresome and repetitive. Were it to strip out a number of its half-heartedly designed features and concentrate more closely on its strengths it would have felt more polished and possessed a much greater sense of direction. The user-creation tools go a long way to saving it and will improve its longevity no end but, the fact remains that we should be praising the content that shipped on the disc rather than that which has appeared/will continue to appear post-launch.