June 20, 2011

Review – Infamous 2

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — Brad Johnson @ 8:42 am

Infamous 2
Like its predecessor before it, Infamous 2 is a game that teeters on the edge of greatness; it may not be quite there yet, but it surmounts its flaws with solid core gameplay and a consistently satisfying experience.

The player once again controls Cole MacGrath, the gravely-voiced electro-kinetic who must choose to follow a path of light or dark to defeat his enemies. As detailed at length across the internets, Cole is a little bit different from before; he’s no longer afflicted by an Infinite Scowl, and a new actor provides a slightly more human voice. Both alterations serve to make Cole more comfortable and relatable, though some of the changes to his design squander cool elements of his look from the first game.

Like most heavy-hitting franchises in the industry (Call of Duty, Gears of War) the plot of Infamous 2 is characterized by a solid concept and weak execution. Core concepts aren’t satisfactorily developed, competent voice actors are given very little worth saying, the emotional story is lazy and the core threat never really materializes the way the plot promises.

Infamous 2
There are glimmers of hope scattered here and there, and the concepts have potential—but in the end it’s clear that the Infamous franchise needs to recruit a talented lead writer to craft a more satisfying narrative out of the pieces. Cole, in particular, feels like a cool character wasted on a bad TV-movie plot.

The lazy writing bleeds into the gameplay with the franchise’s signature morality moments. As with the original, the choices are black and white and a little silly. The choice is often between doing something smart and noble or unnecessarily stupid and evil, like winning over a potential ally by A) bringing her candy and fluffy kittens, or B) disguising yourself as the enemy you want her to help you fight against, and punting her dog directly into the sun.

Additionally, because the power system is linked to morality, one must effectively choose a path and stick to it—there is no middle ground, and no nuance. The player is not crafting a character, he’s choosing one, and the choice is between absolute evil and absolute nobility.

The aforementioned power system, however, sees massive improvement from the days of the original Infamous. Of course, powers are what make Infamous what it is. It’s why people played the first game, and why they’ll buy the second. The design of Cole’s core abilities remains unique and clever, existing somewhere between a third person brawler and shooter, with neither fully describing the reality.

Infamous 2
Cole begins the game with most—but not all—of his core abilities from the original, and picks up some new and familiar powers in the substantial upgrade path. Each morality path offers a series of unique powers and upgrades that substantially modify the game experience, including a set of mobility powers that will make navigating the world infinitely faster and more satisfying—and are a welcome break from Cole’s floaty, imprecise climbing.

Most interesting is the solution for mapping these powers to the controller. The player may end up with three or four different variants for each core power, and there’s a comfortable, quick system for instantly cycling through which of these variants is mapped to their respective face buttons at any given time. The only flaw in this system is that several miscellaneous powers are mapped to R2, meaning they cannot easily be used in tandem—which is a little disappointing.

Additionally, Cole can chamber a set of ridiculous new large-scale powers that can decimate multiple enemies at once. Charges for these powers are claimed off fallen enemies, making the ability to unleash a volatile electric cyclone a satisfying reward for smashing through waves of grunts.

The bottom line is as such: Sucker Punch knows why you play Infamous, and they’ve got you covered. Cole’s powers are expanded, refined, and a blast to use. Combat can become a whirlwind; a frantic battle of flying cars, explosions, monsters, and thunder—making Infamous 2 perhaps the strongest attempt to bring super-powered gameplay to the market today.

Infamous 2
The improvements to melee combat, meanwhile, are much ado about nothing; the button gets mashed until Cole has the power to unleash a finisher, and that’s all there is to it. Though it’s more fun (and cooler looking) than the awkward melee combat from the original, there’s nothing particularly special here, with melee only being a significant tactical advantage against one type of enemy in the entire game.

Graphically, significant steps have been taken to provide a more visually satisfying product. Though, as with any open world game, not everyone in the world looks good, Cole and the main cast have excellent models and solid facial animations.

Equally, the new setting of New Marais offers much more variety than the previous Empire City, with an urban center, and industrial district, and flooded-out suburbs all well designed and well rendered.

On the sound design side, I encountered a handful of in-game audio glitches, and though these weren’t particularly hampering, they really shouldn’t be found in a triple-A release like this. Meanwhile, there’s a solid soundtrack at work here that nicely punctuates some of the more important moments—but it’s far too often absent, leaving exploration and many action sequences too silent.

Infamous 5
The title also boasts a new mission creator and user-generated content. Missions can be created from scratch, from existing templates, or by editing the creations of others. UGC (User-Generated Content) missions will appear spontaneously in the world based on your settings; there’s a filtering system for locating what sort of missions you’d like to play, though noticeably absent is a filter for missions created by friends.

The system is fairly comprehensive, allowing for a variety of mission types to be created, though the game offers no real instruction on its use, which is bound to discourage potential creators. Still, the feature means that fresh content is everywhere, offering something I didn’t even realize I was missing: the opportunity to drop into an absurd mega-battle any time I want, without having to wait until the next opportunity comes along in the campaign.

The campaign itself is reasonably lengthy, presenting a large offering of story missions and optional side-quests. The side missions can become repetitive, but there’s a reasonable amount of variety here. The real impetus for taking on side-quests, though, is that the core gameplay mechanic is simply so much fun, while the upgrade path offers so many cool powers that there’s always good reason to play just one more mission.

Between the mission creator, the lengthy campaign, and the wealth of powers that require two full playthroughs to fully appreciate, the game offers far more value than you’re likely to find in other single-player-only experiences.

There are a lot of superhero games on the market right now with heavyweight licenses behind them—Green Lantern, Thor, and the impending Captain America come to mind—but gamers would be better served to spend their sixty dollars on Infamous 2, which solidifies Sucker Punch’s franchise as perhaps the premiere super-powered gameplay experience available.

Sucker Punch

Sony Computer Entertainment

PlayStation 3


Release Date
June 7, 2011

*A copy of this title was purchased by Gamesugar for review

1 Comment »

  1. I’ll give part 1 a run on July after getting it from the welcome back program… which is why Sony gave it to all of us so we would go out and buy the sequel.

    Comment by EdEN — June 23, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

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