Review: Infamous 2

Upon finishing Infamous 2, I realized it was definitely the sort of game I was going to have to put off reviewing. Not because of any particularly unusual aspect, but I was still scratching my head. Of course, if the game was unusual in any sort of manner, I’d probably be scratching my head, all the same, but that’s besides the point. Rather, I found myself scratching my head because I couldn’t come up with a clear, concise opinion about the game.  I know I had fun with the game, but something felt off, and I was having the hardest time finding out exactly what. Nonetheless, I did have fun, so that should very well be enough.

You may be asking, “Hey Laevatein, what about the first game?  How come you’re skipping it?”  Well, if you wanted my opinion of the last game, it was a pretty fun game that could’ve benefited from more variety, the removal of some silly fun-stoppers, and not releasing so close to Prototype.  Of course, it still did pretty well, but for the longest time, you couldn’t mention Infamous without bringing up Prototype.  Anyway, for this review, I’ll often be referencing the first Infamous, so I hope that suffices.

The Infamous series utilizes a comic book style for its cutscenes, with still art (and some very limited animated effects) with voice overs narrating events, though only the main character, Cole McGrath, speaks during these cutscenes.  Infamous 2 uses these types of cutscenes far less often than the first game does, however.  The two games also use regular rendered cutscenes to move the plot along, though they were pretty bland in the first game.  The second game uses mocap for the cutscenes, which made things a lot better this time around.  You also have characters chatting with your through your walkie-talkie, which just about rounds out the main forms of storytelling in this game.  Additionally, you may also find dead drops in the two games, which are basically audio diaries, used to relate some backstory to the player.

The plot continues the events and revelations of the first game, which is a bit refreshing, considering Infamous 2 is not a tacked on sequel.  Of course, that has more to do with the first Infamous ending on a sequel hook, but that’s not Infamous 2’s fault.  Infamous 2 sends Cole to a different town, giving him the opportunity to train enough to defeat the Big Bad.  Along the way, he has to deal with a bunch of racist hicks, some mutated monsters, and special forces that all happen to have powers.  As an aside, enemy variety here is a lot better than what it was in the first game.

As is the number of ways to deal with them.

However, I thought Infamous 2’s plot was rather lacking, for the most part.  The plot’s nothing bad, per se, but the way it’s structured made it feel shaky.  I guess the best way to examine this is through the morality system.  Now, the Infamous series uses a good/evil system, that influences pretty much everything about the game, from plot progression and missions, to powers and aesthetics.

Or at least, in theory.  Infamous 2 struggled with the morality affecting plot progression part.  The best way I can describe the plot is a pretty linear one.  At certain points, Cole can partake in either a good mission, or an evil one.  He also gets presented good/evil choices much more often.  And it’s only in these moments does Cole’s character act appropriately.  He’ll only act “evil” (or, more accurately, selfish, angry, and uncaring) in the evil missions and directly after making evil choices.  Similarly, he’ll only act “good” (read: more selfless and level-headed) in the good missions and directly after making good choices.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  In all other appearances, Cole acts more “good” than he does “evil”.  In fact, Cole’s predisposition for good warps the plot into something that makes so much more sense as good-aligned Cole.  This, as you can see, is rather jarring.  In fact, this is probably my biggest complaint about the game, and what made me hold off on my opinion for so long.  I think this is probably one aspect the first Infamous had over the second, as it made both sides pretty believable.

Unfortunately, the flawed morality system doesn’t stop there, as it even influences the characters.  The newest prominent members are decently written, but suffer from the morality system.  One new character, Lucy Kuo, is rather cold and calculating, but ultimately good.  The other new character, Nix, is really hot headed, and pretty fucking crazy.  Evil even, though not truly evil.  As you can see though, their personalities all line up quite nicely with the good/evil archetypes.  However, it seems they ultimately served to be the main character’s morality compasses, and they were often presented as something like this: “Pick me, I’m ___ (insert alignment here)!”

However, the other characters are handled reasonably well.  Your best buddy, Zeke, is a pretty awesome best buddy, but I thought he was pretty well written for a best buddy.  The game’s secondary antagonist, Bertrand, is literally one of those southern religious bigot-types, but I think he develops pretty well, and has some interesting irony to him.  Even the two I described above had their interesting perks.  And the game’s primary antagonist… well, you won’t see anything about it coming.

Zeke's really cool though, he's like one of the best bros in video games.

Speaking of which, the game’s endings are perhaps the best thing about the game’s presentation.  The game’s two endings pretty much took the entire game and flipped it on its head.  I don’t even know where to begin talking about the endings, as I liked them so very much.  Well, unlike every other choice in the game, it’s really hard to say one is ultimately good, and one is ultimately evil.  While one is more evil than the other, the the evil choice is a very sympathetic one.  Conversely, the good choice is very sympathetic one, too, but for largely different reasons.  Both of them are pretty depressing though, and ultimately wind up being bittersweet endings.  And both of them showcase the hidden depths of the two characters above.  Ultimately, there’s a lot to like about the two endings, and I really wish they showed off some of the things they did with the endings a bit earlier, to make the rest of the experience a tad bit better.

I fear I’ve ranted too much about the presentation though.  The basic skeleton of the gameplay is a third person open world action game.  Of course, Infamous is billed as a superhero game, so there’s a bunch of powers and stuff, too.  Infamous 1 had a variety of powers, from your standard lightning bolt to more unconventional skills like lightning grenades, rockets, and even storms.  Of course, there are a lot of techniques, and only a limited amount of buttons one can use.  In the interest of having as many actions as possible, L1 brings up a reticle and sits the camera just behind Cole’s shoulder (aka turns the game into a third person shooter), but with this perspective, nearly every button has a different context.  X in normal camera mode will just be jump, but X in TPS mode will be something like Force Push.  Square in normal camera mode is melee, but square in TPS mode throws grenades.

It worked pretty well, and the amount of context in the game allowed you to do pretty interesting things with your powers.  Fortunately, Infamous 2 further improves on this gameplay formula.  Though you can upgrade your powers in both games, there was a lot more variety in the second game.  Upgraded powers usually wind up being different from the power’s base version.  For instance, one particular upgrade turns the standard grenade into a cluster grenade.  Another particular upgrade turns the lightning bolt into a rapid fire version.  There are quite a few of these upgrades, which you can use to tweak your playstyle, and mold situations the way you want.

You also gain access to highly damaging supers, which are often pretty impressive.

Unlike how the game’s morality system affects gameplay, I think they did a pretty good job differentiating powers by alignment.  Going through two different playthroughs, I’ve noticed that the way I played good Cole radically differs from the way I played evil Cole.  Later on in the game though, you get access to either ice or fire powers (the nature of this I shall not reveal), which depends on your morality.  The fire powers are radically different from the ice powers, which really adds a bunch of much needed variety to the game.

Two gameplay problems I had with the first Infamous were enemy variety and mobility.  I’ve mentioned the enemy variety before, but I’d like to make that point again.  In the first game, you fought off gangsters, hobos, and special forces troops.  They all use guns though, and all act similarly.  While each faction has one or two unique mobs, you mainly fight their regular foot soldiers.  The differences between the three different types of these commons are largely negligible.  You’d probably only notice that the later commons get more vicious.

The three factions are all pretty different.  Only two commons use guns, for instance.  The first faction is the most generic, and involves guys with guns and vehicles like helicopters.  The second faction consists solely of mutants.  They’re pretty damned good at melee, artillery, and just swarming you in general.  The last faction is a bunch of elite soldiers with powers that know how to use them pretty well.  What’s more, you’d often find the enemies fighting each other.  Compare that to the one or two times it happens in the first game.  How’s that for variety?

Mobility was pretty improved in this game.  Thrusters, which are used to make you hover for a little bit in mid air, get an improved version, and generally allow you to glide longer distances.  However, with ice/fire powers, you get access to powers that are designed almost exclusively for getting you around.  The ice power launches you several meters into the air, which I found helped a tremendous amount.  The fire one sends you catapulting forward, which isn’t as useful, but it helped me cross purely horizontal distances quickly.  However, the energy cost was quite restrictive.  There’s one last power that acts as a pretty damned good tether.  It makes getting places extremely easy.  No more mobility problems.

Getting around town has never been easier!

My only real problem with the gameplay would have to be with how unbalanced it can be.  Specifically, I found good powers much more useful than evil ones.  Of course, evil Cole can cause as much destruction as he wants without any consequences.  However, it seems odd to say that good Cole’s powers are really efficient at taking people down without causing collateral damage.  Like a really skilled assassin, I suppose.  Even if people do get caught in the crossfire, one of good Cole’s passive powers heavily reduces any damage they take from Cole’s powers.  So you can also go nuts with him.  That makes evil feel pretty gimped.

One thing I forgot to mention was melee.  In the first game, melee was just… there.  In the second, Cole has a melee weapon, and with it, a whole new system.  It’s a bit more combo based, though it only really depends on deciding when you want to use up your finishing move.  It’s not the most complex system, but it’s certainly much better than what the first game’s melee was doing.

On the aesthetic side of things, well, I think it looks rather boring.  This was a problem I had with the first game, too.  The two games don’t seem to be too visually appealing.  I don’t think I can say more, because it’s not bad, but it doesn’t stand out much.  The visuals are just there, and only just does its job.  In fact, I think I’m more on the negative side of visuals, as I very much did not like some of the areas.  The only unique visuals in the game are the comic book ones, but they’re few and far between in Infamous 2.  On the sound side of things, music is very much forgettable.  I don’t even remember if it fit the game at all.  It probably didn’t.  However, voice acting was pretty decent.  Overall though, Infamous 2’s technical aspects weren’t its strongest.

Rating Breakdown
The presentation tries to be pretty good, but ultimately winds up suffering heavily from the game's silly morality system. At least the endings are strong.
Infamous 2's gameplay is very much an improvement over the (already good) first game's, with cool new powers and added variety .
Nothing really special here, save for the comic book scenes. Bland environments wind up hurting the game, though.
Nothing memorable here, though at least the voice acting is competent.
The good/evil mechanics make it impossible to see everything in one playthrough, providing a very good reason to play the game twice. There is also a lot of user generated content.
Infamous 2 is a pretty fun game with a lot of variety, but is sadly hampered by underwhelming graphics and sound. The game's presentation suffers under the morality system, but the endings are highly satisfying, and are definitely the best part of the plot.


Miscellaneous details:
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Available on: PS3
Genre: Action-adventure
Rating: T
Release date: June 7th, 2011

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A mad scientist who's so cool!


A mad scientist who's so cool!

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