Rating: ★★★★½

The tale of Infamous was an interesting one. Cole McGrath wakes up with electrical powers, has to make some pretty harsh choices, and ultimately saves a city by killing his future self, which somehow managed to time travel only to wreak havoc on his own past. Yep. Now Infamous 2 comes around wagging its tale begging us to play, and I’m glad I did.

Infamous 2 is a 3rd person action “shooter”, if you will. It’s a shooter because the majority of combat revolves around playing Zeus, the lightning juggler, though Cole has plenty of other bright and shiny powers. Following a good/evil narrative, players can decide whether to act charitably or selfish, which developer Sucker Punch Studios defines as kind-to-the-point-of-stupidity or being a practical guy, but a jerk. How you behave has minimal influence on the world…in-game characters will either cheer you on or run in fear, and main characters have similar reactions, though choices made in either direction will have different dialog and different reactions to the events unfolding.

Meet the new Cole McGrath…Dammit, why do I keep wanting to say Phelps?

This time, McGrath is saving the city…oh, just a different one. Unoriginal, but it works. All the parkour returns in its clumsy super-powered fashion, and players can take a breath of fresh air knowing they won’t spend 50% of their time scaling buildings. Climbing is faster, and more powers have been added which improve on the need to get in the air. It doesn’t help though that Cole is no longer the only super-powered human, and that everyone else can fly. Thanks for rubbing it in our faces Sucker Punch.

As expected, the world looks brilliant, and it’s no longer about the “urban jungle”. The fictional city of New Marias – a blatant representation of New Orleans, all the way down to a character Nix with a Cajun accent, and plenty of swamp areas and water to avoid. As a sidenote, Cole can’t touch water because it hurts him…how does he drink? How do rainy days interfere with his life? How can this man not make an electrical umbrella, and for that matter, turn himself into a bolt of electricity and just fly? But I digress, the PS3 exclusive looks great and runs very well, though an initial, brief installation is required, which is surprising because Infamous didn’t require an install.

Instead of Cole fighting, well, himself, the game begins with him evacuating Empire City (aka New York) from “The Beast”, a giant monster of ridiculous power. In this battle things seem to go well until it becomes clear that this boss is indestructible. Fleeing the city to New Marias, Cole and NSA pal Agent Kuo, along with the backstabbing sidekick Zeke search out a number of blast cores to make Cole more powerful. Phew, that was a mouthful. The convoluted plot is actually very well represented, far better than is generally expected from a videogame. Nearly every character is a true product of their lives, and fans of the original game will within minutes forget about Cole’s complete makeover from nasal bike-boy to thoughtful hero-type. Zeke’s constant search for redemption is heartwarming, and the tension between him and Cole is constant. Kuo has her life turned inside out when she is forced to becoming a Conduit – someone with powers – and in her struggle ends up losing grip on reality. Meanwhile the residents of New Marias are often the dumb AI inhabitants we all expect, but once activated for missions can be exceptional. Even the bad guys have reasonable motives, deranged as they may be. Expecting a game like Infamous 2 to have a proper story would be expecting too much, and Sucker Punch kicked those expectations to the curb and really delivered. I only wish there were more characters to help flesh out the fiction even more, because frankly there are so many places it could have gone. The handful of actual characters, however, is so limited that the game is stuck to whatever we can learn from those eight.

Traversing the giant city, a chore/adventure of its own, is the 2nd part of this trifecta game. The final piece is combat, which is hardly electrifying. Cole has his standard set of lighting bolts, deflections, and hovering abilities. The newer attacks aren’t magnificent in any sense, and they’re certainly worth playing with and investigating. Enemies continue to get more powerful and the standard attacks just stop doing damage, forcing players to adapt. The environment is rarely a component to combat, which is a shame considering how vast it is. All surrounding buildings are good for to steal electricity from. To really get the most out of combat requires ingenuity. Pick up a car, throw it at a group of gun-wielding maniacs, then throw electric grenades at it until it explodes. Unfortunately there’s no incentive for inventive combat, because Cole is so weak that leaving yourself open for attack long enough to do that will likely leave nothing but Swiss cheese.

As Infamous 2 progresses, Cole will earn experience points which can then be used to purchase new powers. Primary and secondary missions, as well as general kindhearted behavior/jackassery will earn XP, though many of the better abilities require playing through quite a few secondary missions. These often range from boring to “well, at least it isn’t another waiting screen in Duke Nukem Forever”. Interestingly, the “multiplayer” aspect of Infamous 2 is mission creation, where players can make secondary missions for anyone to play. Some of the user created missions are amazingly fun and creative, which makes you wonder why all of the in-game missions are identical and oh-so-dull. Why is every hospital and medical clinic in need of the exact same thing?

What makes Infamous 2 great is that it’s a strong game with only a few relative flaws that has excellent fiction. Combine that with strong combat and platforming, and the chance to play for a very long time by playing user-created missions and making your own missions in the enormous city and beyond, and Infamous 2 is a definite keeper.

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.