Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Infamous 2 Review

-------My Rating System-------

A(-)(+) A top notch experience all the way through. It may not necessarily be perfect, but whatever flaws it does have won’t take you out of it or make it any less worth your time. (Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2)

B(-)(+) A very fun experience bogged down by some significant problems, whether they’re related to the story, gameplay, or both. However, it’s still a good or even great game and worth the price of admission. (Kingdom Hearts: Recoded)

C(-)(+) A mixed bag. Generally fun to some extent and may shine in some areas, but is either too flawed to fully recommend or far too short for its price. Conisder it for a reduced price, at least if you’re a fan of its genre. (Rayman 3D)

D(-)(+) Subpar. It may not be terrible, but it is severely flawed and whatever it does well ultimately fails to save it. Even if you’re a fan of the genre, this is barely a bargain bin purchase. (Sonic Heroes)

F Insipid, disgusting, despicable, and insufferable. It is a scar on the face of human accomplishments that time shall never heal. The best thing we can do is avoid playing it at all costs. It is the only way to prevent its parasitic disease of awfulness from spreading. (Shadow the Hedgehog)


And so once again, I am taking a look at a game made by Sucker Punch. For those not in the know, last summer I did a gigantic review of all three games in the Sly Cooper trilogy. It’s a very nostalgic franchise for me, and all three games still held up quite well by my standards today. After the Sly Cooper franchise, Sucker Punch would move on to make the game Infamous for the PS3 in 2009, and it was quite a big hit. Well, since I was such a fan of their earlier work, you would think I would be just as impressed by Infamous, right? Well…kind of. A lot of people love the original Infamous, and while I do like it, I have quite a few gripes with it. The whole good/evil thing was not executed very well at all; the choices were very one-sided and didn’t seem to have much effect on the story. The story itself wasn’t exactly paced very well either, with the giant plot twist at the end coming almost completely out of nowhere with little build-up. The main character was also subject to some questionable decisions, such as his design and raspy voice that sounded somewhere between Solid Snake and Christian Bale Batman. Side missions were also very repetitive, and the gameplay felt sort of unrefined and unpolished to me. Oh, and the character animations fell smack dab into the uncanny valley.

That said, the gameplay was quite fun even if it was unrefined. Blasting people in the face with lightning is really satisfying no matter how you look at it, and the climbing was very well done. The game’s huge world with lots of side missions to complete alongside the main missions – even if they did get repetitive – felt like a natural evolution of the open-world, objective-based style of gameplay used in the latter two Sly Cooper games, and the story was very interesting even if the pacing could have been much better. So, while I would say that calling it a great game would be a bit of a stretch, I would definitely say that the first Infamous is good. Now, what about Infamous 2? It came out a little over six months ago for the PS3, and now I’ve finally gotten to play it. Does it address any of my complaints or not? Time to find out.


(The below paragraph contains spoilers for the first Infamous)

Infamous 2 takes place right where the first game left off. Cole meets with Dr. Lucy Kuo, who can take him to a man named Dr. Wolfe, who in turn will give him a way to increase his powers to better prepare for the battle with The Beast, the world destroyer whose coming was foretold in the ending of the first game. Dr. Wolfe resides in a town called New Marais (based on New Orleans), and just as he, Kuo and his friend Zeke are about to depart from Empire City, The Beast makes his appearance and starts tearing everything up. Cole tries to fight it but the effort proves fruitless. Fortunately, they are able to escape and head to New Marais. Unfortunately, more trouble awaits them there as a man named Joseph Bertrand is controlling the city with his redneck militia and they are executing random citizens for fear that they may be “deviants” – those who have powers. Needless to say, Cole is one of his main targets, and he even televises messages referring to him as “The Demon of Empire City” and urging citizens to turn him in. All the while, strange monsters are popping out of the local swamp and killing everything they see. Cole finds Dr. Wolfe, who explains that he needs to find five Blast Cores to increase his powers so that he may use the Ray Field Inhibitor – the only thing that can defeat The Beast, and the rest of the storyline involves Cole, Kuo, Zeke and a woman with fire powers named Nix attempting to collect these Blast Cores while enduring various hardships along the way.

The storyline was one of the original game’s strong points, and Infamous 2’s is even better. In addition to just being more complex and interesting, it is also told a lot better. In addition to the stylized comic book cutscenes from the first game, Infamous 2 has normal cutscenes where most of the important exchanges take place, which helps the pacing a lot. Characters are also handled far better – Cole, in addition to having his design and voice changed so that he looks and talks like a normal human being, has had a slight characterization overhaul that makes him a bit less “brooding and serious business”, and in my opinion, the change is for the better. Zeke is also a lot more likable this time around, and I also really liked all of the new characters as well as the villain. Oh, and the storyline is affected far more by good and evil choices. There are many points where you will have to choose between a good and evil mission, and the ending can be entirely different depending on which moral path you take. Not to mention that the choices aren’t nearly as one-sided; they’re not so much a choice between being a hero of men or a selfish psychopath as they are a choice between being a hero of men or a reckless butthole whose cause is still for the greater good. That is what the first Infamous should have been like.

Aesthetically, Infamous 2 is a significant improvement over the first. Animations are far better this time around and make the characters and civilians feel less like lifeless puppets and more like actual people. The comic book-esque visual style is pulled off even better than before, and it looks great. The music is pretty good too; for the most part, the BGM’s are blood-pumping battle themes, but they’re pretty nice.

So, having said all that needs to be said regarding story and aesthetics, how do the important things fare? Well, from the minute I started playing Infamous 2, I could tell that it was much more refined and polished than the first game. Everything from doing the parkour to just shooting people with lightning just feels so much better than it did before and there are far less glitches along the way. Like I said in the introduction, a lack of refinement and polish was one of my foremost complaints with the first game, and it was great to see that this was fixed. Honestly, for me, this alone elevates the experience from a “good” one to a “great” one, but we’ve still got quite a bit of ground to cover here.

So now, I will explain how the gameplay works. Infamous 2 is an open-world game where you have to complete various missions for the story to progress, and you have plenty of side missions to do as well. There are three things that set Infamous 1 and 2 apart from other open-world games, however: the fact that Cole has a variety of lightning powers at his disposal with which he can take down his foes, the Karma system that goes up or down depending on whether you make good and evil choices both in the gameplay and storyline – which, in turn, affects which powers you unlock, how the people of the city react to you, Cole’s appearance, and even the state of the city – and the fact that Cole is also well-trained in the sport of parkour. Most of your lightning powers are done by holding the L1 button down to aim and then pressing the R1 button or one of the face buttons, very much like third-person shooters. R1 is your standard lightning bolt attack, while X sends out a shockwave that blows enemies away and Square allows you to throw a lightning grenade. As the game progresses, you will learn abilities that allow you to pick up and throw objects, fire lightning rockets, create gigantic tornadoes, zoom in to get more precise shots, and even use lightning as a grappling hook. As you gain EXP and perform stunts (kill an enemy in a certain way), you will gain quite a vast amount of versions of these moves that vary in both strength, area, and effects, including – depending on your moral path – fire and ice variations. Blasting people in the face with lightning bolts was something that was already really fun in the first game, and the amount of variety in Cole’s powers makes taking enemies down that much more fun. It is worth noting here, though, that using the more fancy moves will cost you energy, which you will have to replenish by absorbing it from sources of electricity in the city. This can also be used to heal Cole when he’s injured. It’s a pretty interesting mechanic that’s handled quite well.

On the subject of combat, Infamous 2 has introduced a new melee system to the series. Cole now has an electrified weapon that he uses to bash enemies with. As you attack enemies, you build up a combo, at which point you can do a finishing move, or, if you get a certain upgrade, an Ultra Attack. It’s a lot more fun and involving than the original Infamous’ melee system, and you’ll probably find yourself using it a lot more as well.

In gameplay, there are a lot of factors that affect your Karma. Killing random civilians is, of course, going to give you more Evil Karma, whereas healing the injured or sick ones will give you more Good Karma. Karma is also affected by exactly how you take people down. You can use the Arc Restraint ability to merely hold a person down – which will gain you extra Good Karma if it’s an enemy – or you can use Bio Leech to steal energy from people, which will, of course, get you extra Evil Karma. Several other factors affect Karma. You gain more Good Karma when you stop muggers or defuse bombs, and you gain more Evil Karma if you kill street performers or kill civilians who are holding Blast Shards – fragments of the Ray Sphere that are scattered around the city and can increase the amount of energy you hold when you collect a certain amount – in order to steal them. There are several “levels” of Karma that, as mentioned before, affect Cole’s appearance, what powers you can buy, how people react to Cole and the state of the city. If you keep performing good actions, you will move through the Guardian rank to the Champion rank to the Hero rank, and if you keep performing evil actions, you will move through the Thug rank to the Outlaw rank to the Infamous rank. This is another thing that, gameplay-wise, was handled really well in the first game and Infamous 2 handles it similarly well. Not much else to say, really.

Finally, there’s the parkour. Things haven’t changed very much in this area, but they didn’t really need to. Parkour, above all else, was what the first game did best. The system is actually very simple – you only need the control stick and the “X” button for it - but that simplicity actually works for it given how much of it you’re going to be doing just to get around. All you do is find a ledge or something you can grab onto on a building, hold forward while pressing “X”, grab on, rinse and repeat. Further aiding this aspect of the game are Cole’s abilities to hover by pressing the “R1” button in mid-air and Cole’s ability to actually grind on power lines. Freaking. Awesome. In short, it looks great and it feels great. No more needs to be said.

For all the gushing I’ve done over the things this game does better than the first Infamous and the things it does just as well, Infamous 2 still has a couple of areas in which it screws up. Mostly, the side missions are still too repetitive. It’s better about it, I’ll admit, and in the first third of the game it actually gave me the feeling that it would be averting this flaw as well. Unfortunately, once I got past that part, they did start to repeat themselves a lot. Yes, I understand that it’s only side content, but in the Infamous games, a pretty great deal of the game’s longevity comes from those side missions, and quite frankly, I don’t see that as much of an excuse anyway. At least half of the content of the 3-D Mario games is optional, yet they tend to have an incredible amount of variety in spite of that. I’m not expecting the same amount of variety from every game I play, but I am expecting more than what I’m getting from the Infamous games. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is far from game breaking, but it did annoy me.

Another flaw is that the city in the first third of the game felt way too similar to Empire City for me, and I don’t really think I’m nitpicking here. New Marais is more or less Empire City surrounded by a swamp and with more palm trees, and it really wasn’t until I got to Flood Town – about ten to twelve hours in - that I felt like I had entered a place I hadn’t been to before. And New Marais is a city based on New Orleans whereas Empire City is a city based on New York. I’m sure they could have done more to make it feel different than they did. My last complaint is that they’ve put a needless limitation on searching for Dead Drops: you can longer find them with your Sense ability. Hunting down all of the Dead Drops and learning more about the continuity of the game was one of the big joys of the first Infamous, but thanks to this limitation I deemed it to time-consuming to find them all and I just can’t see why they put this limitation in place. Not a big problem, but it annoyed me.

There’s one last thing worth mentioning: you can create your own missions for the game and play those made by other players if you’re signed into PSN. Due to my lack of patience and creativity with such things, I didn’t mess around with the mission creator all that much, but it did seem pretty comprehensive. Now, I can’t say any of the user-made missions I played were anything really amazing, but some of them were pretty fun and I can see creating and playing these missions adding a lot of longevity to the game for many players. It’s not for me, but it’s a nice feature.

The Good:

+ Great storyline
+ Great aesthetics
+ Cole looks and sounds like a human being now
+ Good and evil choices are handled a lot better
+ Feels a lot more polished and refined than the first
+ Features many new powers and more upgrades to existing ones
+ New melee system works great
+ Karma system works really well
+ Parkour is just as good as it was before
+ Supports user-generated content

The Bad:

- Side missions are still too repetitive
- First area of the game feels too much like Empire City
- You can no longer sense Dead Drops


Infamous 2 is a much more fun game than its predecessor, and the original was pretty darn fun to begin with. It improves a lot on almost every aspect of the first and gets rid of most of my problems with its predecessor. While the first Infamous was definitely good, Infamous 2 is great, and that's just what I want to see from Sucker Punch. I say give it a purchase. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: B+

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