Even though fans of video games are often fans of comics, the two rarely seem to go hand in hand. For a long time, comic book fans have been treated to shoddy movie video game tie-ins whereby the only connection to the super heroes they are trying to emulate are the passing resemblances to the stud muffins who play them on the big screen. Of course, this all changed recently with Rocksteady’s magnificent Batman: Arkham City. As with Arkham Asylum, the developers understood that the best way to win the hearts of comic book fans is to treat them with respect and deliver a well-developed fictional world instead of some hastily cobbled together diatribe.
This is also the greatest strength of InFamous 2. The story begins where the last game left off. You play as the sullen ex-delivery boy Cole McGrath who gained super powers during the first game when a package he was trying to deliver — the mysterious Ray Sphere — exploded. After defeating the nefarious Kessler and saving Empire City, Cole is suddenly faced with the gargantuan task of defeating “The Beast”, a two hundred foot tall being of immense power who was only alluded to during the first InFamous. After failing to fell his mighty foe and watching Empire City burn to the ground, Cole travels south 1200 miles to New Marais. The swampy paradise is a charming place if you can ignore the military coup and swamp mutant infestation. Here, Cole finds Dr Sebastian Wolfe who worked on the Ray Sphere and has invented a device called the “RFI”, which is capable of stopping The Beast. But there’s only one problem; Cole has to find enough blast shards to charge the device before The Beast arrives in New Marais, or before he is stopped by the power hungry Bertrand and his anti-superhero militia.
Even though quite a lot happened in the original game, the story of InFamous 2 doesn’t actually rely upon you having played it too much. The fact that the story is so straightforward is both a blessing and a curse as people will find it easy to follow what is going on, but they won’t become too involved in the backstories of the characters. This was always going to be a bit of a problem for a game like this though, as it simply doesn’t have the decades of material to draw upon that most superhero properties do. Having said this, the central characters of Cole, Kuo, Nix and Bertrand are actually fairly well rounded and manage to give the story some emotional weight. Amazingly, Zeke isn’t the first class tool that he was in the first game either. I daresay I even felt a pang of sadness at the game’s close. Whatever you think of the plot though, I think it’s fair to say that the cut scenes used to convey the story are very well done. They all have a comic book style flash animation quality to them that breaks the pace up nicely. This style carries over to the game’s graphics engine as well. Colours pop off the screen and characters are rendered in an exaggerated cartoony style that really suits the game’s story. This slightly light-hearted aesthetic doesn’t take away from the mature nature of the game, but it does inject some comic relief to the game’s frequent violence. The less detailed character rendering also helps it to chug along at a healthy 40-50 fps, which is good when you consider the large amount of on-screen action that can take place.
The basic idea of the game world revolves around the sandbox concept. New Marais itself is split into several areas, most of which become available once a certain point in the plot is reached. The places that Cole can explore include swamp lands, a gas works, a large central business district and a flooded historic quarter. Luckily, the downtown area of the city is available from the start of the game, and it is by far the most interesting place to do free running. Anyone who has played the series before will know just how fun it is to explore the city areas, and that it isn’t so much about getting from point A to point B, it’s about how you get there! Cole’s brilliant electric superpowers make grinding along power lines, hovering between buildings and vaulting over the heads of gawking onlookers feel as smooth as silk.
Sucker Punch have also been clever in allowing Cole to retain the powers he had at the end of the first game, equipping him with a vast arsenal of attack options from the get go. To their credit though, these powers never become too difficult to master, and the player is slowly drip fed controls through the use of well paced tutorials. The actual mission structure of InFamous 2 is pretty well paced too. Main story missions are spread about the city and can be tackled whenever the player feels like it. Until then, there are plenty of side missions and other mischievous distractions to delight and entertain. This is where the much championed split morality system comes into play. It is entirely up to the player whether they want to win the hearts of the citizens of New Marais, or whether they want to be an unrelenting bastard who will kick someone’s teeth in for a measly 5 XP points. These moral quandaries usually involve choosing to murder street musicians or save people from muggings, but sometimes they can be a little more interesting and actually affect the main storyline. This actually culminates in two alternate endings for the game, and different good and evil power abilities depending on which karma points you develop. Couple this with the vast amount of collectables in the game and the value for money is practically doubled! You will want to play through it at least twice to see the two possible outcomes and collect all the loot.
Unfortunately, not everything is a vast improvement on the original. Even though there are more different enemy types that are great fun to bring down (particularly the giant monster types) the enemies still seem a little bland. After pumping about twenty hours into the game, you will be feeling quite used to beating up cloned ski mask militia troops, swamp mutants and ice troopers. It’s not quite as bad as the first game with the armies of hooded goons, but it’s still a bit samey. Also, even if the morality system does add some replayability, it doesn’t really add much to the story. You will find yourself quite often just doing a good or evil mission to advance that particular XP set, and not to satiate your guilty conscience; which is a shame. The most annoying thing about exploring the city by far though is the reused audio loops. Having Lucy Kuo congratulate you time and again for saving citizens with the monosyllabic “You’re a good man, Cole” is enough to drive even the most righteous vigilante to a life of crime.
Even though InFamous 2 doesn’t entirely fix the problems of the original, it does provide PlayStation 3 owners with a fantastic open world superhero game. Sure, the game world might feel a little empty at times with reused character models and a slightly bland story, but what is here leaves a lasting impression. Fights are challenging and frenetic, free running is rapid and easy to control, conflicting moral choices can be interesting and the character of Cole actually makes for a compelling series’ protagonist. If you’re looking for great PlayStation exclusives but haven’t tried this game yet, then do yourself a favour and pick it up!