This last week Sucker Punch released inFamous 2, the sequel to the shockingly good (pun intended) first game.  The first inFamous game was a PS3 exclusive (as is this sequel) that generated praise from fans and critics, won an IGN award for “best story,” and even spawned a DC comic that bridges the gap between the two games!  At the 2010 Emerald City Comicon I had the chance to talk extensively with game and comic writer, William Harms (super nice guy), and I have eagerly been awaiting this sequel ever since.  I loved the first game; but could lightning strike twice?  Would inFamous 2 live up to expectations?  The answer, for this reviewer, is a resounding YES!

Premise

The story in the first game has protagonist, Cole McGrath, receiving superhuman powers as the result of a disaster in his hometown of Empire City.  Cole gains the ability to channel and manipulate electricity, kind of like a kick-ass version of that 90’s movie “Powder,” but not as albino.  Cole can throw various electrical attacks from his hands, as well as drain electricity from cars and the power-grid to recharge his abilities and heal himself.  From there he navigates an open-world sandbox city to discover new powers and restore order and electricity to the city through good or evil actions.  Maps, the HUD, and way-points make navigation simple.  The mission choices and actions you make in the game influence a “Karma Meter” that determines what powers will become available to Cole, how the citizens will react to him, and even how he and the city will start to look.  Choose the good path and an evil mission will be locked out until you replay the game, and vice versa.  Carefully take enemies down and try not to harm citizens or destroy everything?  Make the people love you or rule by fear?  Have them cheer your name or run in terror?  This is a fun premise that does superhero or villain better than most comic-based games.  Didn’t play the first game?  No sweat, inFamous 2 will have you up to speed right from the beginning with a motion-comic cut-scene that easily initiates new players to the events that have transpired.  You can also play the first game for FREE as part of Sony’s “Welcome back customer appreciation promo.”

Story

inFamous 2 starts out with a big set-piece battle with a huge new enemy referred to as “The Beast.”  Cole mixes it up with this new baddy, only to find himself not powerful enough to emerge victorious.  A character from the first game, an NSA agent named Lucy Kuo, informs Cole of a Dr. Wolfe, that lives down the coast in the city of New Marais (a fiction surrogate for New Orleans) that may hold the key to making Cole powerful enough to defeat this new enemy.  With that Cole, Kuo, and friend Zeke set off on their quest.  New Marais is a beautiful city with problems.  It is under control by a radical fundamentalist militia run by a leader named Bertrand, and under siege by Conduit monsters.  Looks like Cole will have his work cut out for him.  New and old characters will emerge to tempt Cole to take good or evil paths.  Will Cole become powerful enough before The Beast makes its way down the eastern seaboard to New Marais?

What stays the same?

This sequel does not stray very far from the things that made the first game great.  The controls are nearly the same, with the addition of L2 being able to activate the radar pulse.  The controls will instantly come back to you if you played the first game, and fit like a glove.  Cole retains a few of his abilities from the first game, and thankfully the power of electro-gliding is one of them.  This power makes it fun to navigate the city.  Make impossible jumps from a rooftop to a power-line with ease.  In this game, as in the first one, you can climb any and all buildings and structures and falling will only bruise your ego.  It really is a blast.  Though many of Cole’s powers from the first game are stripped away (it would have been nice to retain the ability to charge up by grinding power-lines), you will quickly gain new ones by finding blast shards and gaining experience points that can be used to purchase new abilities.  inFamous 2 has an excellent balance between exploration and action.  There are so many side missions and things to do, you never lack for new tasks.

What’s new?

In many ways inFamous 2 adheres closely to the first game, but there are a few noticeable improvements.  The graphics in this installment are leaps ahead of the previous game. The character animations, city, and backdrops are beautiful and vibrant.  There are breath-taking gulf sunsets and atmospheric moonlit nights. The city looks lived in, with rich and poor districts, paint peeling on structures, animated Times Square-like signage, swamps, flooded neighborhoods, industrial zones, and so much more. Characters move in a move flourished and fluid manner.

The character of Cole was redesigned a bit superhero-like early in the game’s development, but fans were not happy with the new look.  As a result, he was redesigned yet again with a more tattooed messenger type of look.  New skins aren’t the only change you may notice.  A new actor, Eric Laden (Left 4 Dead 2, Generation Kill) was brought in voice Cole since this game would require more motion capture.  I must admit, the new voice is not as good.  Laden comes off too throaty and gritty.  Cole’s lines feel contrived and almost seem like a parody of Batman.  Less may have been more in this case.  The motion capture performance turned in by Laden does look good, however.

New weapons and abilities are sprinkled throughout inFamous 2.  Melee fighting is now done with a two-pronged weapon designed by Zeke and called “The AMP.”  New powers and electric bolts are introduced, my favorite of which is “The Bolt Stream,” Think of it like the machine-gun of electrical charges.  After unlocking this ability, I wondered how I ever lived without it.  There is no shortage of innovative and fun ways to disbatch with enemies.

Probably the biggest addition to inFamous 2 is the user-generated content.  That’s right, players now have the ability to create missions to share online, or play missions others have created.  UGC missions appear as green cones in the game, and can be sorted by different filters.  While not as extensive as say, LittleBigPlanet content, this new feature is a welcome addition and makes a very re-playable game even more so.

Summary

Some people have complained about the camera in infamous 2.  I personally had few problems with the camera, even in tight melee situations.  Lose track of an enemy combatant and they may flank you.  The HUD makes this less of an issue, so take such complaints with a grain of salt.   I did have instances where my melee attacks would miss my intended target if I wasn’t lined up just right.  I did have a couple of times that Cole became stuck in the environment, but nothing to excess.  Other complaints have been about how the screen fades to black and white as you take damage and near death.  Again, this method is employed in many games at this point, and wasn’t a problem for me.  Another complaint I have heard is that the moral choices are too black and white (or red and blue in this case) obvious.  There is some truth to this.  It would be nice to have some choices that weren’t so obvious and inhabited the moral “gray” area.  In one mission I dumped oil all over like I was BP, set it on fire without considering the citizens below, and still received a heroic rating on the mission.  I think this game missed a great opportunity to import your moral choices from the first game into this installment.  The first half of the game has an excellent story, but does seem to become a little muddled in the second act.  The ending has a nice twist that I won’t spoil for you here.  In the end these complaints are small.  This game is excellent, and most importantly, REALLY FUN TO PLAY!  If you own a PS3, you would be remiss not to play such an excellent exclusive title.  I rate inFamous 2, 9 out of 10 and happily look forward to replaying it!