In Infamous 2, you can play as happy-go-lucky Cole MacGrath, or as a violent serial killer. It is possible to switch halfway through, but you are better off choosing one path and sticking with it. For some players, that may feel like a needless hamper on gameplay, but once I chose to be as evil as I could, I enjoyed rampaging though Infamous 2‘s gloriously rendered New Orleans knockoff scenery.
Sucker Punch provides a “Previously on Infamous” segment in a stylized comic book cutscene that explains how Cole was transformed from menial bike messenger into electric superpower by an exploding device. (These cutscenes needlessly repeat information in the early stages, but they begin delivering important plot points later on.) Cole needs to be strong enough to kill a huge monster seemingly made of molten iron – The Beast – but he starts off the game fleeing from it. The Beast levels Empire City and begins carving a swath of destruction southward on its way to New Marais, where Cole is looking for the man who might help him gain new powers. Once there, Cole is thrown into a conflict with the leader of the anti-freak Militia, Bertrand, and is tasked with tracking down six Blast Cores which will unlock more of his potential, as well as power a device to weaken The Beast. Honestly, the whole superhero story is not the game’s strongest element, although the reminders of the impending attack are a nice way to keep up the tension.
The real selling point of Infamous 2 is New Marais. Sucker Punch certainly drew from the recent flooding in the Gulf Coast due to Hurricane Katrina as inspiration, but didn’t dwell on it too much. Instead, the designers lovingly recreated the architecture and feel of the French Quarter, the industrial oil yards and the graveyards of New Orleans, all threaded with cable cars and surrounded by swampland as far as the eye can see. New Marais is a fitting homage to The Big Easy, and a welcome departure from NYC or American City X as the setting of an open world game.
Just flying around the city is a joy. No, Cole can’t fly – at least not right away, heh – but he can do something better and more active. Because he’s all electrical, Cole skates on power lines and can float through the air with a brief spark. He’s also excellent at climbing, and thanks to the many fiddly-bits, window sills and drainpipes on each building, Cole can scale any height in moments. The quickest mode of travel is to hop onto cable car lines and zoom around for convenience, but nothing beats the feeling of freedom you get from leaping over building tops and floating to reach the next power line. It sucks when you fall, or miss a target line, but that makes it even better when it works. Not since the web-swinging of Spiderman 2 has it been so immensely satisfying to just move gracefully through a game world. And while navigating the city is fun in and of itself, there are enough collectibles, side missions and random events to keep moving around New Marais meaningful.
As you progress, these travel abilities get even more useful, as do Cole’s combat powers. I liked that Cole carries a weapon around with him now – the Amp made by his portly friend Zeke – because it’s great fun to beat people unmercifully with electric shocks. Over time, Cole can eventually string combos together, and the slowdown animation effect never gets old like it does in other games. Perhaps that’s because you are often mixing in Cole’s other powers in fights by shooting lightning missiles, tossing electric shocks that explode like grenades and even firing electric rockets for the big explosions. All of these powers can be upgraded in neat little ways, like being able to shoot three shocks at a time, grenades that stick to targets, and dual rockets fired with an electric tether between them. The upgrades you have available depend not only on how much XP you’ve earned, but your “karma” level – or how much of a dick you are.
That’s right, the binary morality system is intact from the first Infamous, but Sucker Punch did a great job refining it. Good and Evil powers are more balanced so that you don’t feel like you are hamstringing Cole by picking one side or the other. There are a few branching missions but the choice between Good or Evil doesn’t feel obvious like “Save this boy” or “Burn these kittens alive.” I also loved how just screwing around in the city can be a form of roleplaying. You gain blue XP from doing good acts like healing people and red XP from dastardly deeds, but it’s easy to switch if that’s your inclination because of the many random events peppered around the city. Kill off a few policemen, and you get a little more evil. Stop that mugging and the people will love you a little more.
Of course, what’s the point of a sandbox if you can’t knock over a few castles? Once you unlock the awesome Kinetic Pulse power, you can lift up cars and other objects and lob them fantastic distances. And if the resulting explosion kills a few citizens and nets you evil XP, that’s just a bonus, right? Maybe I’m just a jerk, but I had fun beating up the bucket drummers and those stupid people who paint themselves gold and stand on boxes. I’m glad that Infamous 2 let me act out in a way that I never would in real life, and even rewarded me for it.
The good and evil spectrum is symbolized by your relationship with two NPCs: fiery New Marais native Nix and an ex-NSA agent Lucy Kuo. At first, Nix is all about exercising her powers, while Kuo is more compassionate, but both their characters develop in ways you might not expect. The final acts of these two feel a bit out of place, though, as if it was written for shock value rather than a natural character progression.
It’s hard to achieve a satisfying conclusion to a story that essentially has two different protagonists, depending on whether Cole is evil or good, but Sucker Punch made a valiant effort. One specific cutscene starring Cole and Zeke has almost no dialogue but clearly demonstrates their friendship, and it works really well no matter which direction your character is leaning. But these moments are few. Without spoiling anything, there is some drama in the closing scenes, but neither side of the tale resonated with me like other games have.
The endings for good or evil tell two very different stories, but again you are not forced into making one decision or another. If the final choice open to you due to your karma level is not to your liking, you are given the option to go back into the world and earn the XP needed to switch your morality. That in a nutshell proves the designers listened to critics of the first game and delivered excellent combat mechanics in a beautiful open world, with an engaging morality system that doesn’t feel like it punishes the players for making choices. Now if only Sucker Punch can figure out how to provide a narrative that matches the mechanics.
Bottom Line: Infamous 2 improves upon the original in nearly every way with a fantastic setting and great mechanics but the story just wasn’t quite a home run.
Recommendation: Definitely worth a buy, if only to skate around New Marais and toss some cars. And shoot guys with lightning. And beat up bucket drummers.[rating=4.5]