inFAMOUS 2 is a Beast.
There's an easy distinction between an open world game, and a sandbox. Open world games primarily use their open world mostly as a setting alone to portray realistic interactions, show off impressive environments and to mostly push the story forward, like Mafia 2, L.A Noire and for a less recent example, Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Sandboxes, on the other hand, are mostly striving to give you a giant playground full of opportunities for mayhem, carnage, destruction and many more terms relating to mayhem, carnage and destruction. Games like the Saints Row series, Just Cause series Red Faction: Guerrilla, and Prototype are most obvious that attain to that criteria.
inFAMOUS 2 is a solid hybrid of the two, akin to maybe GTAIV, mixing a well told comic book sequel style story, but also giving you a vast amount of tools to cause havok (or try to prevent it) across a world that is incredibly fun to maneuver through. For anyone who's played the prior inFAMOUS, they'll know exactly what kind of balance they're heading into, since for better or worse, inFAMOUS 2 is a better looking inFAMOUS with an extra bundle of tricks to show off. But even with a strong sense of day-jar-vu, the technical and artistic improvements, and a well varied single player experience, are here to remind why you enjoyed inFAMOUS so goddamn much in the first place. Or possibly couldn't get behind at all.
The opening of inFAMOUS 2 gives a strong impression, with it picking up what feels like mere minutes after the end of the original inFAMOUS' story, with Cole still firmly fitted within his sports coat. In actuality it's been a few months since the defeat of Kessler, and we have NSA Agent Kuo, sort of taking the position of Cole's previous NSA Guardian Angel, John White. She's briefed Cole about the brilliant scientist, and creator of the Ray Sphere that forced Cole's powers upon him, Sebastian Wolfe. Cole, Kuo and Cole's faithful friend, Zeke plan to sail to the seedy New Marais, to unite with the professor and come up with a plan to try and beat the prophesied Beast. Before Cole is even on the boat, however, the aforementioned apocalyptic deity-like Beast has already arrived in Empire City, forcing Cole to steal all his might and best the creature without the help of Wolfe. With this being the beginning of the game it's pretty easy to predict how that outcome pans out. It's still a fantastic way to kick-start this entry, and gives a great identifier to raise the perspective towards the grander direction inFAMOUS 2 has taken the series. It also settles as a convenient way to force Cole back to stage... 3? Once you have your bearings back as Cole you'll notice a lot of your powers to be missing from their holster you might say, but Cole is still readily equipped with a lot of the basics - with most importantly his electric thrusters and power-line riding traversal abilities at the ready.
While the game does pull away a lot of what veterans may of grown fondly of, there's still enough here to reintroduce Cole in a very comfortable position with his trademark force blast thing, and the fan-favourite: pulsing grenades of electricity.
It won't take too long before you'll be adding more fancy, shiny stuff to your repertoire, with a very early introduced ability that allows you to pick up and fling just about anything that has physics across the map, which usually results in an explosion - no matter what trivial piece of trash you're actually flinging. Down the line you'll receive all kinds of electric doo-dads, like rockets (a staple from the original) a sniper-like electric ability and even Cole's rendition of a grappling hook. All of these powers also have multiple variants, such as your standard electric shots being able to be switched out for a type that'll inflict explosions with every head-shot, or rockets that'll split into three and stick to the enemy for a few short seconds before exploding. Then there's even the added ice/fire powers that you'll eventually be able to choose between, and then there's still Cole's ionic powers which act as like inFAMOUS 2's equivalent to a SMART bomb. Suffice to say, there's a lot of variety all lined up here for you to ogle and let loose. Though not all powers can be attained and unleashed in a single playthrough with half of them once again being locked up to their own morality alignment. The more chaotic (read: fun) powers reside on the side of Evil, while Cole St. Cole on the side of good receives more singularly damaging powers that reward precision more than AOE. But more on that later.
Now even with all of those glorious toys of death and destruction, it wouldn't matter so much if the game itself wasn't altogether fun to play. Fortunately as it happens inFAMOUS 2 does in no way skim on its quality to make up for its quantity. The game is an almost complete mimic from the original inFAMOUS, with super-slick controls, both for the combat and traversal. The combat, along with its substantial set of powers also includes an equally filling roster of baddies. You'll start off with the simpletons: assault rifle wielding hicks, but then other enemies with powers begin cropping up, and even monsters, of all sizes, begin to patrol the streets and infest the story. The standard militia are easy enough to take down, though with also retreading a complaint from the original inFAMOUS, they all appear to have a striking amount of RPG's to pass around, and while Cole is a fairly thick skinned fellow, a point blank shot to the face (and they will shoot you even at that range) is enough to topple our hero. It wouldn't matter so much if it was just the one amongst a squadron of AK'ers, but sometimes you'll have swarms of rockets and grenades from every direction, and it replaces the fun with frustration. Cole can always still absorb electricity from whatever is around to heal--and there's enough of electrical machinery littered around that simply pressing L2 (by default) will allow Cole suck up some juice from somewhere--but there are moments where you just can't keep up with the raining rockets.
The monsters are all easier to manage, since the best way to deal with them is via the new and improved melee system based around Cole's weapon: The Amp. A large tuning fork, basically, running with electricity. It's your basic mashing the square button, with the potential finisher, but like everything else in the game the smooth animations and fluid transition manages to replace the tedium with entertainment. And some of those finishers are also pretty darn fun to watch. The bigger enemies do fall under some cheap tactics, however, like one such that just loves to burrow itself after only appearing for around a second over and over - which is made all the more of a nuisance through its invincibility during the actual beginning-to-burrow animation. The later enemies who are fortunate to find themselves with ice powers also like to routinely launch themselves into the air for safety, and like the burrowers they too are invincible during that animation period - even from force blasts. Kinda lame.
Alongside the combat is the platforming, which takes up just as much of your time whilst playing through inFAMOUS 2, and is predictably just as so damn polished as the combat is as well. Near enough anything you can see you can climb, and with Cole's traversal abilities (and no fall damage) from the get-go this allows you to easily adjust into the games user-friendly platforming and find yourself scaling 60ft casino buildings with ease. Putting it alongside the combat is like spreading butter on bread. Scaling buildings just to launch off and slam down stayed fun throughout the 20-25 hour length the game will give.
How the game progresses is much like your traditional open-world story. You'll have the main story missions, with plenty of diversions along the way as well, including another batch of blast-shards to collect, dead-drops to find (and shoot off of pigeons) and listen to, side missions and the contextual morality missions you encounter across the city are in full force once more as well. And much like how I spent my first few hours with inFAMOUS, once I had access to the entire first island and the tutorials were brushed aside, I literally wandered around just collecting blast shards, dead drops and blasting fools off rooftops. It was easily enough to keep me entertained for my first sitting. Afterwards I did head into the story, and while the game does promote a morality system, it's exceedingly basic. inFAMOUS 2 is less about making choices, and more about deciding from the start whether you want to be a clean and serene, true blue Cole, or take the route of the grungy, pale, vein-festered red and undead-looking Cole. They're miles apart from each other and are very true to the basics of comic-book traditionalists, with good Cole being entirely selfless and like the third coming of Jesus, while evil Cole is an all round asswipe; selfish, stubborn, and evil enough that I'm surprised he doesn't end with a secret lair based in a volcano.
The two stories of good and evil, black and white (or red and blue, technically) are at least very diverse, and given that each morality has powers exclusive to one another--and that the story itself can go into awfully different places depending on what side of the spectrum you're leaning on--it leads to two takes on the same story that are different enough that I'd certainly recommend a second playthrough. The story itself is well done, with some pretty solid voice work across the characters. Cole's new VA may of garnished a great deal of uproar, but he fits in pretty nicely as Cole, and after playing along with these tones for so long I (naturally, I suppose) couldn't imagine Cole being voiced by anyone else. The supporting cast turn in some satisfactory performances too, with Nika Futterman, continuing her eerily Cree Summers sound-a-like performances, joining the returning cast of Phil LaMarr, and Caleb Moody as Zeke - who I must say was considerably less annoying during this appearance, and if anything was made to be kinda likeable through his solid devotion to Cole as the best friend.
The sound quality isn't reaching quite as high within the actual game front, however. The sound effects are all superb, with Cole's trademark buzzes and crackles off his electric standing strong. The city itself, much like the first, is still a little muted. The pedestrians never have anything to say unless it's directed at you, and even then there'll always be the moments after thwarting a mugging or what have you that'll end with so much silent clapping that it almost looks like New Marais is made up of casual-dressed mimes. The music is subtle, and strikes the right notes when is required, but some of the times the only audio that'll fill the air is the patter of Cole's footsteps.
New Marais most certainly looks significantly better than Empire City, though. Empire City on its own delivered a great world to explore for the sake of the awesome traversal mechanics. But it was all solely reliant on that very gameplay (and the blast shards of course), more than its own identity and style. Cole's latest stop on his road for powers is instead filled with bright lights, neon and a whole lot of admirable sleaze. The first area you're introduced to quite literally has you completely circled by a stream of porno shops. Not-so-subtle easter-eggs persist across the billboards and movie theaters too. It actually gives that you curiosity fuelled incentive to reach into the unknown and see what you can pull out. It'll most likely be more blast shards, but the eye-candy may not be far ahead.
What is entirely new for inFAMOUS 2 now are the User-Generated-Missions. A strange twist permitted by Sucker Punch, now you and every other inFAMOUS 2 player with a PSN account can actually create your own side missions. And from the few I've played, the potential is certainly there. Unfortunately, as you'd most expect, a great deal are lazy spam-fests of enemies swarming with the objective to ''kill everything''. Most have even simply posted a tutorial template with a single minor tweak to label it their own as well, but that's no doubt for the trophy. What the Sucker Punch created missions do suggest is that the tools are here for the more creative players amongst the PS3 user-base to make themselves some rather snazzy missions. The main issue is how not-very-user-friendly the entire thing is. Like I mentioned earlier there are templates that give you some pre-made missions based around certain genres--like small narrative stories, minigames and the like--but there's no actual tutorial. The mission creator itself is also a lot more complex and in-depth than most would expect as well, and with no hands to hold, most people will most likely move on and let their own imagination rot. There's evidently no shortage of people who are willing to learn the intricacies of the creator, with dozens of missions already littering the map, but that number (and the creativity) could dramatically increase should people actually have some solid, easy foundation to work their way through with. At least with so many filters available, that gives an appreciative amount of flexibility towards how you want to embrace the UGC as a player.. You could only leave the most highly rated missions to flutter across your world; you could instead check out what's new (and most likely regret it); or you could even just turn them all off entirely and play along as if the feature didn't even exist.
It's a surprising addition, and one that technically does give an infinite amount of replay value. Only time will tell just how much effort people are willing to shill for their own inFAMOUS 2 side-mission wishlists, though.
Piling on the UGC to the already hefty stack of stuff in here, it leaves inFAMOUS 2 almost right for bursting. It may not bring forth a great deal of new and refined content outside of the admittedly innovative Mission Creator, but it's all designed so expertly, is as fun--if not more--than its predecessor, and the love of the craft so strongly resonating across the entire package declares that inFAMOUS 2 still has the spark going strong. Judging by both story endings it's very difficult to decipher whether this series is already finished, or at least the adventures of MacGrath anyway. But if this is where the series makes its stand, then it's one I'm proud to stand alongside it.