Cole McGrath served up some punishment while getting the hang of his reluctantly procured electric powers during Sucker Punch’s inFamous. Usurping the gangs of Empire City, the apparently evil Kessler, and even the US Government, Cole allowed players to choose his destiny over the course of the game.
The original inFamous, for all its peaks and valleys, was a delicate house of cards. It never instilled confidence that its physics engine wouldn’t glitch or that Cole wouldn’t get stuck within geometry, so a careful, methodical approach was required to ensure progress with minimal incident.
The sequel retains that house of cards feel, but Sucker Punch increased the top weight with an extra deck–without reinforcing the support beams.
The same lackluster engine endures, but it at least ensures a smooth transition back into Cole’s shoes. Taking down enemies with his ranged attacks feels as good as ever and a bevy of new powers only adds to the potent superhero badassery the original captured so well.
However, Cole’s new melee weapon, the Amp, renders close-ranged combat with multiple baddies almost frustrating enough to warrant a rage quit. The lethargic pace of his swings, combined with his inability to change direction, cancel moves, or dodge in the middle of these attacks, allows ranged enemies easy windows for headshots, rocket fire, or grenade throws, all resulting in his rapid expiration. Either speeding up the Amp swings or keeping the AI from attacking during these lengthy combos is a no-brainer and inFamous 2‘s failure to do so made avoiding all melee essential.
The pile-on effect is most apparent during mid-level boss encounters, which are often scripted within story missions, but can also wreak havoc on a free roam session. These monsters, though few in variation, all share common explosive attacks and grab moves. A direct hit by the former often whips the camera 180-degrees towards Cole’s face, causing extreme disorientation that’s amplified by the accompanying dense smoke and particle effects. Should you survive one of the monsters’ standard attacks, you’d better hope you have full health before they grab you from range. This leads to a restricted button press quick-time event playing out and requires multiple hits on the enemy’s weak point, but if you miss and have medium to low health, it’s always a one-shot kill.
Until I learned to keep all enemies at long range, inFamous 2 was an exercise in patience and anger management. This kept the story elements at the forefront of my motivating factors. The standard contrived moral decisions of inFamous return, though choosing evil over good (and thus, fire powers over ice) actually streamlines combat in the later missions, making the toughest enemies less frustrating.
What hurts that, however, are the characters’ responses to situations around them. Though I suspect the trappings of drawn-out video game storytelling ail the writers’ vision, Cole and his compatriots neglect to react accordingly to drastic circumstances. The ever-coming, potentially apocalyptic final encounter (though powerfully presented between chapters) doesn’t seem to resonate with any of the main protagonists in game. The usually stoic and gritty Cole resorts to dick jokes to add levity to the situation, resulting in facepalms aplenty.
Even on the eve of the penultimate mission, Cole and Zeke have a minor bro-down on their rooftop abode, ignoring seemingly urgent phone calls and nearby screams to continue chugging beers and watching TV. In an earlier setting the attempt at light-heartedness would be acceptable, but with the main baddie beating down the city’s metaphorical door, it falls into the territory of inhuman behavior.
New Orleans-inspired New Marais offers characterization by itself. The stereotypical trappings of New Orleans culture is dense, complete with street performers, references to “The Storm,” and Mardis Gras-esque (and borderline offensive) Southern, Cajun, and voodoo themes and characters.
Getting around New Marais is much easier, thanks to electrically-charged vertical pipes and additional movement powers that are all (sadly) unlocked near the end of the game. Knocks against the original game’s lack of flight mechanics are referenced throughout the story and Cole himself can nearly fly by the end of things, so maybe we’ll see something implemented into his third adventure.
Completing both karmic paths allows free roam with all powers unlocked, which provides each side’s improved movement powers and makes collecting all those blast shards that much easier. The manner in which the narrative reaches finality is similar to that of Fallout 3, except it automatically plops you back into the story right before the final decision. Each ending is impressive in its own right, though a slight tell in the Good side gives the edge to the Evil, which concludes with a powerful ironic twist that almost makes up for the rest of the game’s shortcomings.
Player-created content is new to inFamous 2, allowing a variety of different missions to be crafted. Only Sucker Punch’s levels were present at the time of review and felt devoid of play testing, which bodes poorly for the potential of future levels. There’s a sorting feature that only shows featured levels, which should sort out the lazy “World 1-1″ constructions that are inevitably on the way. I hope the talent-laden LittleBigPlanet crowd dedicates some time to inFamous, even though the creation tools are much more limited.
There aren’t many games that allow for superpowered conquest over a sandbox world, but inFamous 2 succeeds where the original succeeded and fails in whole new ways. Exploration, ranged combat, and movement techniques are improved in near-perfect manner, but the game’s melee combat is unforgiving, unsatisfying, and plain not fun. It’s an ugly, but mostly avoidable black mark on what would be a strong entry in an already impressive franchise.
Things We Liked: Retains inFamous‘ fluid ranged combat. Improves player movement in spectacular fashion. Great sandbox gameplay.
Things We Disliked: Unforgivable melee combat. Buggy engine remains buggy. Boss battles are the epitome of frustration unless fought at extreme range.
Target Audience: Superhero and comic book fans. Gamers unreliant on melee combat. Those who need to find more blast shards.
(inFamous 2 – Developer: Sucker Punch. Publisher: SCEA. Available for PlayStation 3. Unfamiliar with CFD!’s review system? Read our newly revised explanation here.)