Friday, 29 July 2011

inFamous 2 Review.

Every man at some stage in their lives wants to have superpowers, it’s a simple part of life like playing air guitar and lying to a girl about your age. In 2009, inFamous allowed us to live that dream (the superpowers, not the mime music or saying you’re actually twenty three). We followed the story of Cole McGrath, a gruff anti-hero who had been involuntarily gifted with electric superpowers after a massive blast in his New York-esque hometown of Empire City. The game took many influences from comic books and that served it well. It was a well presented experience that mixed games like Grand Theft Auto with modern classics like Uncharted. With a solid engine and graphic novel style cutscenes inFamous played like any third person shooter but was original and identifiable enough to make it a game that Sony could be proud of.  It also had quite an interesting plot twist that not only left the door open for a sequel but rather ripped the whole thing from the hinges leaving us all waiting for the second half of the story.

Now here we are in 2011 and inFamous 2 is upon us hoping to secure its place as one of PS3’s leading exclusive series. We once again find ourselves in the shoes of our reluctant hero. Still reeling from his shocking revelation at the conclusion of inFamous, Cole is departing Empire City in the hopes of achieving more powers so he’ll be capable of facing The Beast, a very evil, very powerful conduit (mutant) that was foretold in the conclusion of inFamous. 

This game is clearly one that takes inspiration from Uncharted 2 (these days, every sequel does), the story is bigger, more emphasis is placed on cinematics and the action is certainly turned up to eleven. The game opens big with a massive fight with The Beast which features an impressive sprint through a collapsing boardwalk and hundreds of civilians running for their lives. The fight ends badly and Cole finds himself on the shores of New Marais, a ruined city based heavily off of New Orleans. He discovers that he needs to collect pieces of radioactive crystal to power a device that is capable of destroying The Beast. The change of scenery is welcome, as by the end of inFamous Empire City felt a little samey. The new marshy setting adds colour to the world and also adds new challenges to the gameplay. The aptly named Flood Town section of the world is particularly fresh as it forces you to be far more cautious to avoid killing yourself in the water while also opening up way more opportunities for electric water carnage. We’ve got all of Cole’s powers from before like electric grenades and the spectacular Ionic Storm but now a few new powers have been implemented as Cole grows more powerful. These powers are pretty unimpressive save for the new Ionic Vortex which works like a miniature tornado that sucks cars, debris and enemies into a swirling pool of badness. Unfortunately the same can be said for the new cryokinetic and pyrokinetic powers that Cole gains during the adventure. While they’re certainly a departure from the electric powers and add a little colour to the gameplay, you’ll still find yourself using the same powers that you’ve been using since the first game. The sad thing is that new powers are all that’s really new to the table in terms of gameplay in inFamous 2. You do join conduit newcomers Nix and Kuo (more on them later) in battle which opens up for some satisfying power combos but generally this feels like you’re replaying the last game instead of really evolving or changing. Also new to the game is Cole’s “Amp” a large metal rod that looks just like a tuning fork and can beat the bad guys to a pulp. This adds a little meat to the lacklustre melee system but I’m afraid that’s offset by just how ridiculous the thing looks. The new setting also brings new enemies. The Militia are your standard shooter enemies and fit perfectly fine into the world while the Corrupted are a nice touch because they only have melee attacks. I like, it adds a little variety to the formula and also motivates the new melee system. The last enemies to be introduced are the Ice Men, hulking supersoldiers with cryokinetic abilities. A deeper story is introduced for these guys but I regret to say it’s never really fleshed out and they end up being just another set of enemies. One annoyance I have with the game is that there are some ridiculous enemies in the game that take a good five minutes to dispose of. Not because they’re challenging, but because they just take ages to wear down. This really marred the flow for me and I really hope I don’t see this again in inFamous 3.

While the gameplay still might be a little stuck in 2009, the rest of the game has luckily moved forward. The graphics are far beyond that of the previous game, which was certainly no visual slouch. Lighting is way better this time and the character models are a great deal smoother now. This is particularly evident in the cutscenes. The original adventure did most of it’s storytelling in the form of flashy comic book style cutscenes. They were an interesting change but didn’t really sell it for me. InFamous 2 has taken a little emphasis off these and decided to split the cinematics between in-engine scenes and little motion comics and it’s worked really well. This also gives the motion capture a chance to shine. I never expected to be complimenting inFamous on its ability to portray emotion without dialogue but, here I am. There are some excellent deep moments that actually take inFamous to places I didn’t think it was capable of going. There are some truly touching scenes in the game that really made me feel for the characters, both old and new.  Unfortunately, not all of the characters fall in to this . . .

There’s one sizable problem with inFamous as a series and unfortunately it shines in inFamous 2, the morality system. From the very beginning it’s made clear to you that you always have a choice. You can do the morally righteous act of heroism or you can be a bad guy and kill everyone. In theory it’s great, especially in the realm superheroes, but as a game it simply doesn’t hold together. At various points in the adventure you’re given the choice between being good or evil, and every act affects a karma meter. The problem is that, if you want to gain any new abilities, you have to be either good or evil, you can’t just be you.  If you’re playing as a hero and you suddenly decide toward the end that you want to jump ship, you simply won’t advance your powers in any way, which kind of sucks in a game which boasts about freedom. The other side of this annoying little coin can be seen in the cutscenes. I’ll gladly say that inFamous 2 has a genuinely strong story and they’ve made characters that you can actually care about, but this karma system is a massive handicap. Most of the cutscenes are clearly constructed with ambiguity in mind so that they can be used in both a good or evil context, essentially by keeping Cole’s dialogue slim and non-committal. Not only is this uncharacteristically lazy for Sucker Punch but it’s also very unbalanced in two ways. For one thing it creates a large imbalance between general cutscenes where Cole is as bland as a soviet birthday party and the specifics scenes where he actually does something. The other problem that it simply doesn’t match up to the gameplay. In the evil campaign you can commit mass murder and then walk into a cutscene where you’re all talking about saving the world. This was forgivable in the first game when Cole’s peers were just as dense as him but the character development has progressed, the story’s stakes have gotten higher and Cole is being held back. I honestly don’t think the game needs a karma system, I really enjoyed my hero playthrough and would have been perfectly satisfied if that was all there was to it. The only way I think the morality system can actually work is if you’re just given the choice before the game even starts and have an entirely different campaign based on that one choice instead of the one-size-fits-all approach that has been taken here.

While Cole is still left stuck between two levels of morality, I’m glad to say that the other characters are rich and interesting. In my opinion Zeke really steals the show this time around, a pleasant surprise since he never really interested me in the last game and ended up walking that funny line between traitor and friend. I’m very glad to see someone has given him way more depth this time around as he slowly tries to regain Cole’s trust after the last crusade. By the end of the game I cared just as much about Zeke than I did Cole, possibly even more and I take my hat off to Sucker Punch for achieving that. New to the cast are Nix and Kuo, Kuo being an FBI agent who has apparently been sent to look after Cole (or something, I’ve the sneaking suspicion that this was explained in the comic and I’ll be very pissed off if I’m right) and Nix, a New Marais native who’s out for revenge. Both characters are nice additions even if they do have “good karma/bad karma” tattooed on their foreheads.  I give special mention to Nix, she starts out as the typical crazy bad girl meant to give contrast to straight laced agent Kuo but by the end she shows herself to be just another victim of circumstance that’s just trying to survive along with everyone else.

Another area where I’m glad to say inFamous has improved is in sound, more specifically music. Many times during my experience of the game I found myself consciously acknowledging how good the soundtrack was. Even now having finished it I find myself listening to some tunes from the game on my iPod. It’s one of those things that didn’t necessarily need to be improved upon but I’m certainly pleased that it was.

The final new feature to be added to the game is a level editor. This also falls into my little book of “things inFamous didn’t need”, but I guess this will find it’s market and is less of a cliché than “let’s add multiplayer!” (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed). I tried out a few user generated levels to get my Platinum trophy and it was fairly uninspiring if I’m honest. I’d say it’d be worth checking out in a few months when the hardcore players have given it a go. The tools are fairly comprehensive but like many other games with the same mode it’s not particularly inviting to the casuals. It’s worth checking out but not something I’d consider being a defining feature of the game.

Overall, I’m glad I’ve played inFamous 2. It’s a good game that you will get enjoyment out of, especially if you played through the first game. While the gameplay hasn’t made any massive leaps, the story arc is brought to a nice conclusion while leaving the possibility of a third instalment, the characters have been given some great development and we’ve had loads of fun along the way. I don’t believe the game needs two versions of the same campaign and I think the evil playthrough adds nothing to the game. If you just play through the hero story then you’ll be seeing the best side of the game while the evil story just highlights the games wrinkles.
Go out and buy inFamous 2, you owe it to your PS3.