Maybe it was too much time spent watching Charlie Brown holiday specials in my youth, but I find something fundamentally appealing about seasonally-themed games. With all its emphasis on monster archetypes and sinister atmosphere, Halloween is as ripe as any holiday for the game treatment, and around this time last year we got a double dose of creepy little downloadables with Costume Quest and the brilliant Red Dead Redemption add-on Undead Nightmare. This year it's Sucker Punch getting into the act, with a standalone Infamous game rife with vampires. Festival of Blood might be a little short on content, but there are things about it that are genuinely better than Infamous 2 itself, and for only $10, it's hard to argue with how much is included.
As all good what-if games ought to, Festival of Blood works within a framing story that doesn't take itself seriously. Your old pal Zeke is at a bar spinning a yarn to some comely lass, about that one time legendary electro-guy Cole MacGrath became a vampire for one night. That gives the game carte blanche to get as crazy as it wants with undead monsters overrunning the city during a booze-soaked nocturnal celebration known as Pyre Night, which dresses Infamous 2's New Marais up in some attractive seasonal decorations. The city also feels more alive than Infamous 2 did, with more and better ambient sounds, and street parades and revelers almost everywhere you look. The crux of the story here is Cole's transformation into a minion of the sly vampiress Bloody Mary. You've only got until dawn to kill Mary and break your enslavement, and the game does a great job of indicating the passage of time by reminding you at certain points during the story how many hours you have left, and subtly changing the world by lightening the sky to give the sense that time is in fact running out.
Festival of Blood is built on the Infamous 2 engine and assets, which is to say it feels almost exactly like Infamous 2 (which in turn felt a lot like the original Infamous). That means a lot of dodging and rolling in between hurling bolts of lightning and electric grenades and rockets at enemies. Since the game is still Infamous 2 at heart, it's worth noting that the same combat issues are here--mainly, it's easy to get ganged up on at inopportune times, or occasionally stick to a piece of the level design when you're trying to dodge. There's one meaningful new ability in here--the power to turn into a cloud of bats and soar right over all those buildings you had to climb up slowly in the previous game--that really changes the feel of how this game plays. It's incredibly fast to get around the city now, so fast that you might have a hard time going back to Infamous 2 after this. Festival of Blood reminds me of BioShock 2's masterful Minerva's Den in the way it accelerates the progression of your abilities over a compressed timespan; you start out with basic Infamous powers at the beginning and quickly advance to more powerful weaponry by completing combat challenges. The game works the vampiric theme into the gameplay pretty well, since you're fighting (and staking) other vampires almost constantly, and you get a "vampire vision" sort of mode that lets you reveal disguised vampires walking among the populace, as well as some nifty hidden collectibles.
It's those collectibles that add a little bit of meat to what is otherwise a pretty lean experience. You could burn through the story missions alone in a couple of hours here, especially since the flight ability makes it so quick and easy to get from place to place. But there are 100 items scattered around that increase the length of your flight time, as well as 10 invisible glyphs painted onto building walls that reveal some voiceovers from Mary about her past, stretching all the way back to Colonial America and even earlier. Those voiceovers do a surprisingly good job of fleshing her out as a character, and I found myself seeking them out not just to earn a trophy but because I wanted to hear everything she had to say. The glyphs are also fun to hunt for, since slipping into your vampire vision will show you ghostly arrows that point in the general direction of more arrows that will eventually lead you to a new tale. Hunting those down makes you feel a little sleuthy.
Infamous 2's user-generated mission tools make their way into Festival of Blood as well, though you need to finish the story before you can make your own stuff. There's a nice upgrade to the editor that lets you pose character models in specific positions and then take still images of them, then overlay comic book-style talky bubbles on the image to create a little narrative to go along with your mission. I long ago made the life choice not to create my own content with these sorts of tools, but I could see people creating some decent stories if they put some work in. You can play as many user-made levels as you want after the game ends, though I tend to think open worlds feel a little lifeless once you've completed the storyline that runs through them.
Anyway, the game is $10. In my mind, that throws any quibbles about how long it is right out the window, especially since it contains the visual fidelity and gameplay of a full retail title. Sucker Punch made a laudable decision taking Festival of Blood standalone, rather than casting it as an add-on that requires Infamous 2. As a result, you've got a three-gigabyte download to chew through, but that opens this game up to anyone who didn't bite (ha!) on the previous game. Whether you're curious about trying Infamous for the first time, you wanted more after finishing Infamous 2, or you're just looking for a quick experience in a well-constructed Halloween setting, Festival of Blood is worth a look.