Monday, June 20

In case you haven't played it: inFamous 2 Review (PS3)

The original inFamous was an interesting beast. It started off strong: with an original aesthetic, solid third-person shooting and exploratory platforming but lost it's way into the second act. The painfully-frustrating side quests, inconsistent difficulty and almost complete lack of pacing caused me to lose interest (although I did return one year on to finally complete it). Cole McGrath was an interesting protagonist, he wasn't muscle-bound, foul-mouthed or overly arrogant: he seemed human. The supporting cast was nowhere near as strong however, with Zeke Dunbar ranking as one of the most irritating and disingenuous characters I've come across. Moya and Trish also failed to be overly endearing and their fates didn't mean a great deal to me while playing as a hero or villain. Funnily enough though, upon announcing the sequel, developers Sucker Punch opted to make changes to the protagonist's look in order for him to appeal to a broader audience. Thankfully, the fans (and trolls) protested, and Cole was again returned to a gritty, almost ugly state. After some time with the beta, I had feared that inFamous 2 would be a clumsy mess: the camera hugged the player too tightly, and New Marais was nowhere near as cold and desolate as Empire City. Thankfully, those fears were unqualified and the game proved to be a great sequel, and a brilliant sandbox superhero game in its own right. inFamous 2 continues to chronicle Cole's battle against "The Beast," which is tearing a destructive path down the East Coast of the United States. Read on for more thoughts on superpowers, inconsistent plot and pacing, deadly firearms and an expansive new environment.

The Good
Freedom of movement - Particularly towards the end of the game, no other sandbox titles make movement anywhere near as joyful as inFamous 2. Thankfully, Static Thrusters - which allow for players to slow their descent - are available from the beginning of their game; but their eventual upgrade coupled with the Lightning Tether - which is essentially a grappling hook - ensures that flying around New Marais is as fun as it is simple.

Time flies when you're hanging with Cole

Rewarding story - Sucker Punch should be applauded for creating a real sense of continuity with this sequel. Not only are you given an XP boost if you've completed the first game and other trophy-related milestones, but much like Mass Effect 2, choices made in the first instalment also carry over to the sequel, which is great to see. Furthermore, while I can only speak in terms of the Good side of the story, inFamous 2 has a definitive ending. It is so satisfying to complete a game and not be slapped in the face by a teaser for the next installment as a "reward," for all of my hard work. There are some missteps throughout the campaign, but on the whole I was very happy with the story and the various nods to the original. It's also worth noting that Zeke is far more bearable in the sequel, and his character is even redeemed somewhat towards the end.

Hell of a city - New Marais has three distinctly different areas that are a joy to explore. The city centre is heavily-populated with party-goers and tourists. The mass of neon signs and parkland draws parallels to Empire City, but New Marais does have a genuinely different feel to the cityscape of its predecessor. Flood Town is such a drastic change in terms of visuals and pace from the standard New Orleans-esque landscape of the city centre, with structures submerged in deadly - to Cole at least - water. The Gas Works is a large industrial space which is home to many silos, warehouses and towering structures. It's a little dull in this quarter of town, but the larger buildings allow for some experimentation in terms of travel. All things considered, the play area in inFamous 2 is sufficiently different to that found in the original game. It's also worth mentioning that the entire city looks amazing, with an expanded colour palette, impressive draw distance and lighting effects. Even with dozens of enemies and civilians on screen - including some of the larger monsters - the frame rate rarely staggered. inFamous 2 is easily one of the best looking sandbox action titles released on current generation hardware.

Like a Boss - inFamous 2 is all about the boss fights. So much so that it makes you experience each of them at least twice. Most of the imposing boss creatures are then woven into side missions, or can even be found wreaking havoc as you traverse New Marais. As each of them can be bested by remembering simple patterns and weak spots; they are usually enjoyable and rarely cheap. Even the helicopter - I know it's not a monster, but it's a boss encounter all the same - is a cake walk once you learn to time blasts to redirect rockets. You'd think that fighting some of these creatures twenty-something times would lessen their effect or impact on your psyche, but a Devourer is always daunting, and always dangerous. Some the fights towards the end are even more awesome in terms of scale. Godzilla-sized beasts and some creative set pieces lead to some unforgettable battles that simply need to be experienced.

Believe it or not: that's not the biggest boss creature that you'll come across. 

On the side - The quality of the side missions found in inFamous 2 are far greater than those in the original game. Gone are unbelievably-frustrating surveillance missions and satellite uplink races. The uplink races have been replaced by overcharge challenges, which task players to reach a certain point without touching anything other than grind rails (you can touch surfaces, but only for a short amount of time). The time limit has been removed and I found it less frustrating and much more enjoyable than the alternative presented in the first installment. Even Dead Drops are better this time around: with the recorded messages being carried by pigeons that make a delightful sound upon hitting the ground. What were distractions in the original turn into worthwhile experiences in the sequel.

Impact - Camera problems aside, the new melee combat system looks like it hurts your victims. There's a real sense of impact to every hit you land on an opponent, while finishing moves and ultras look nothing short of devastating. Despite my fears from the beta, the close camera actually works pretty well and rarely got in the way of a good fight.

Radar - In sandbox action games I get distracted; easily. For this reason, I'm very thankful that Sucker Punch included the ability to sense nearby Blast Shards so that I can discern whether or not I'm wasting my time. The map also does a great job of displaying periphery tasks - depending on your moral persuasion - which allow you to act like the hero (or villain) that you want to be.

Authentic score - I loved inFamous 2's score, a mix of Creole jazz and lofty superhero movie music. Towards the end you hear more of the latter, but the scratchy street music and melancholic string arrangements made for a truly compelling aural experience. It's also a vastly different sound to that found in your average sandbox action game for that matter: no licensed tunes, just original brilliance.

Forgive - In spite of inFamous 2's shortcomings as far as combat is concerned, the checkpoint system is reasonably forgiving and - in most cases - manages to counter the frustration you'll suffer upon being killed hundreds of times by standard grunts equipped with rocket launchers. Suicidal grunts with rocket launchers I might add; where in most games, enemies equipped with explosive ordinance would switch to something safer for close range encounters, inFamous 2's militia members maintain fire with a frustrating rate of success.

The Bad
Forget - In some of the more hectic combat situations which feature multiple objectives, you'll find yourself dying a lot; and with death of course comes confusion. The best example can be found in the raid on Fort Philippe, where players are tasked with destroying varying forms of gun emplacements. First comes machine gun turrets. I died after dispatching the first of three, then spawned atop a tower with two left to destroy. After finally demolishing the other two turrets, I then had to take care of three mortar positions. It took several attempts until finally I managed to destroy two in quick succession. I died on my way to the third and respawned where that part of the mission had first started. It took a few minutes to realise that in spite of the spawn point, I was still near completing this particular mission. Most games would force you to battle through the entire sequence again, but inFamous 2 conspicuously allows you to pick up where you left off. I would think it's on account of the powerfully-frustrating damage model which becomes all the more ambiguous in the sequel. Like in its predecessor, the colour on-screen drains upon Cole taking damage. Difference being this time is that it happens much faster, so it's hard to tell how far gone you really are.

Fort Phillipe: Where confusion reigns supreme!

Drowning Pool - I can't even think to remember how many times Cole McGrath met his end in a puddle. In the midst of some of the more heated firefights, with a monochrome screen I often found myself unknowingly walking in ankle-deep water. This coupled with explosives and minigun fire led to many a cheap death.

Lightning gun - Some of the new powers in the sequel are so creatively-derivative, you'll wonder why they didn't just give Cole a gun. There's the Pincer Shot, which is your shotgun. No points for guessing what gun the Magnum Bolt can be likened to. There's also the Bolt Stream which is like a minigun. With regards to the other aspects of Cole's arsenal, the elemental twist is disappointingly handled. In most cases, the ice powers are only different to the lightning equivalent in terms of appearance. Ostensibly speaking, a blast or grenade with a frosty twist essentially does the same thing: push or explode respectively. There's no ice beam or Iceman-like surfing. Most of the powers are brought over from the original game and - with the sole exception of the Lightning Tether - most of the new ones were not used very often.

Tres Sexy - Nix and Kuo very obviously represent the north and south poles on the moral compass in inFamous 2; and even though I'm often prone to playing the good guy, Nix proved to be no incentive to switch to the dark side. With a voice that sounds like John Leguizamo crossed with Lil' Wayne, Nix should have been oozing Creole charm but instead ended up sounding like "The Pest." That said though, Kuo is far too vanilla and vulnerable to sustain any interest either. Both female supporting cast members fail to be endearing to the point where I would consider Zeke to be better company; and for anyone that has played the original, that's a bold statement to make.

Get stupid. Get retarded. Nix will get the party started.

The Ugly
Sticky - One of my biggest problems with the original game was the sticky nature of the platforming action. Whenever I wanted to drop somewhere, or move somewhere that was close to a cluster of grips, I could never quite get where I needed to be. It was infuriating sometimes, trying to maneuver myself towards a Blast Shard only to overshoot, or drop seven stories below it. This hasn't been remedied in any way shape or form in the sequel: if anything, it's worse. It even manages to transfer into other aspects of the game, such as draining power. Whenever I needed to drain power out of an explosive, I had to be wary of cars or any other power source and often found myself sucking watts from one or two objects before I got my intended target. Even combat suffers from sticky targeting, as I often found myself brutalizing the people I was trying to save. It was nothing of a "game breaking," nature, but these events happened often enough for it to be superpowerfully-frustrating.

Second Act - Much like its predecessor, inFamous 2's momentum grinds to a near halt upon discovering Flood Town. After one of the most spectacular boss fights I've ever come across, Cole must then power up this sinking part of New Marais. As much as I ended up enjoying my travels through this part of the play area, the introduction does little to make this near Atlantean section of the city appealing early on.

No Ninja - I could never get the drop on standard militia thugs. Whether on rooftops or wandering the streets, these redneck thugs had superhuman hearing and Spidey Sense. What's worse than that is that you are extremely susceptible to gun fire, and these guys are dead-accurate with anything from a rifle to a minigun. Even when I thought I was behind sufficient cover, these common enemies found a way to sneak in a shot. What's worse is that as above, any grunt with a launcher had no regard for their own safety and did not hesitate to fire at close range. I would argue that the standard enemies in inFamous 2 were far more deadly than any boss creatures I came across.

If you see these guys: run. RUN!

The Verdict
8.5/10 - inFamous 2 was a genuine surprise. In spite of some recurring issues, superficial additions and narrative stumbles: it proved to be a great sequel and offers some genuinely new and compelling experiences. Most essential of all being the grand boss fights that eclipse all competitors in terms of scale. The periphery activities have also seen much improvement and are almost all worth playing. Strong visuals, fan service and authentic score also served to enrich my time with what is the best game I've played this year.

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