Emil loved the first game, so we put him in front of the sequel to see what would happen. Still love at first sight, or has it changed too much for the beautiful relationship to continue?
Think about it: How often do you experience something that feels completely new? For me, the original Infamous managed to do that and create a feeling of pure electronic stimulation. It was, and still is, virtual escapism in its purest form. It felt like a bucket of cold water right in the face on a hot summer day. It's been two years since then, and the time has come to once again step into Cole's superhero shoes and float across the rooftops, tap the city's sources of electricity and choose between being good or evil.
We meet Cole right where we left him and after saving the day in the last game he gets a vision of a terrible monster, The Beast, that will destroy everything in its path - including our hero's home town, Empire City. In order to defeat this terrible monstrosity, Cole has to leave Empire City and take a trip to the south and the city of New Marais, Sucker Punch's fictional version of New Orleans. Here a scientist called Wolfe has invented a machine that can strip The Beast of its powers, and at the same time give Cole's electric superpowers a well needed boost. The only problem is that the machine works by using Blast Cores, remnants of the same kind of Ray Sphere explosion that gave Cole his powers to begin with.
New Marais isn't a vacation paradise, it's actually quite the opposite. It's not only plagued by a mysterious disease, floods and a special kind of supermonsters - the law has fallen into the hands of a fascist and fanatic militia, that captures and tortures anyone that is different. They quickly catch wind of Cole and his powers, of course. The story is bigger and more complex this time around. In the original it mostly focused on Cole developing his powers and finding his place as a superhero, in Infamous 2 Cole's role is already established which allows for the focus to shift to what happens around him.
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New Marais is beautiful in all its variation, and the criticism against the first game's rather bleak environments is put to shame here. Sucker Punch clearly listened to that criticism, and the different districts are all a pleasure to explore. The city is filled with the beautiful aesthetics of the American south, where poor slums are mixed with fashionable theatres and swamp areas with the colored lamps hanging from large villas. Quality has clearly replaced quantity.
The improved visuals aren't restricted to the environments of course, and the characters have also received a revamp. Cole himself feels tougher, with his detailed tattoos and facial animations, and the enemies have seen their own evolution. When you're not fighting the militia in all kinds of big and small firefights, the monsters all play in a league of their own. One of the more memorable enemies is the Devourer, who looks like a mix between a rhino, King Kong and a turtle. And while you have to think strategically to bring it down, it should be said that the AI isn't that impressive. Especially during the sidemissions, it can get a bit weird - waves of enemies can spawn, only to despawn as soon as Cole finishes his objective. It's like there wasn't time to tweak the difficulty curve in a more progressive way, or even to teach the AI to pull back if needed.
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Luckily the fun fight system makes up for the problems with the AI. Depending on if you choose good or evil, different powers are unlocked. There's a couple of really cool ones, and one of the really nice ones is the ability to pick up heavy objects - like cars or trucks - and throw them at your enemies. At the start you have to settle for lesser powers of course, but as you smash your way through the game you collect XP and soon you'll be able to learn all kinds of different attacks. The melee has seen an improvement as well and finally Cole feels powerful at close range as well.
If you thought that importing your save from the first game would have as much impact on Infamous 2 as it had in, say, Mass Effect 2 you better think again - all it means is a bit of extra XP, some extra health and small changes in the story.
But how have the missions developed since we last saw Cole? There's no doubt that Infamous 2 is a much stronger title than the original, at least most of the time. There is a lot more variation here, which is another point where Sucker Punch have listened to their fans. In one mission you have to sneak across power lines to take photographs of people trapped in trains, in another you have fight to protect the inhabitants of the slum area Floodtown from invading swamp monsters. The boss fights are spectacular as well.
During Cole's hunt for Blast Cores we're introduced to two female superheroes, Nix and Kuo. They represent good and evil, which means that you'll have to make the choice between the two before you start a new mission. Choose good, and the evil solution is locked out and vice versa. It makes the game feel a lot more structured and it's hard to feel very powerful, instead it feels more like you're simply running errands for other people. If Sucker Punch wanted to reinvent the wheel, I wish they had stayed away from the karma system which felt much more dynamic in the first game. Luckily you can always take a stab at all the sidemissions that are spread across the city. Some characters from the main story shows up in them from time to time, which gives more substance.
While there's quite a lot of variation in the sidequests as well, you can always take a stab at making your own - or play missions created by other players. It's a rather complex tool, and no Stephen Fry to keep you company, which might scare off some potential mission-makers. It's a cool feature though, and should give Infamous 2 a much longer lifespan. You also have the ability to "remix" other players' missions, which should increase the quality of the available missions over time.
Up until now you might think that Infamous 2 is a given winner, but despite all its superpowers it does have a couple of problems. Some of them are technical in nature, like the lack of anti aliasing. Normally this isn't much of an issue, but it quickly becomes too obvious here. The animations vary a lot in quality as well - Cole might move elegantly across buildings and up walls, but other NPCs look stiff and unnatural. That's nothing compared to the camera though. Most of the time it does its job well, until it's time to fight in more narrow passages when it has a hard time to keep up - especially when in melee range. It can create some frustrating moments, where you're no longer in control and have to see Cole bite the dust. It's sad that it couldn't have been done better.
But the biggest problem with Infamous 2 isn't technical. Where the first game had a tight story, that focused on Cole and his powers, it's all over the place in the second game. With all the new antagonists and protagonists that show up during the story, we never get the chance to really get to know any of them. It feels like Sucker Punch have gone down the same path as Michael Bay or Modern Warfare 2. Bigger, more epic and more focused on looking good than actually offering any form of depth.
As mentioned before, the karma has also been put into a system that takes away our freedom to think for ourselves. Sucker Punch simply fumble with their own success, and their intentions to give us a more simple and better game take away the most important feeling of all - the feeling of being powerful and actually control Cole and his actions.
If the first game was a short sharp hit from a can of Coca-Cola yanked from out of a ice bucket on a blazing hot summer's day, the sequel replaces that iconic red with the dulled silver of a Diet Coke that's been sitting on the sidewalk. Your thirst is slaked, but it's lacking the zing factor that made the first such a invigoratingly fresh innovation.
Don't get me wrong though, Infamous 2 is far from a bad game. If you can accept the new game's structure, there's a really good experience to be found in Infamous 2. If you can't, then there's a big chance that you will feel let down by it - and not even superpowers can change that.
8 / 10
Beautiful environments, exciting enemies, good and varied missions, long lasting appeal
The karma-based missions feel stiff, minor technical issues, uneven quality