inFamous 2

It’ll do. That’s what inFamous 2 gives the impression of having as its design principle and intended player reaction. The first game was a fun if choppy-and-changey action adventure, and the sequel does very little to improve upon this. So little, in fact, that while the game engine itself is nicely polished, everything else feels like a first draft.

InFamous 2 carries on its predecessor’s cliffhanger: an enemy called the Beast is coming, and only Cole can stop it (of course). All Cole’s miseries at the hands of evil scientist Kessler were in fact a mentor’s exercise in preparing Cole for his inevitable showdown. Erm, thanks? You goit.
The game takes place in New Marais – a bonsai send-up of New Orleans replete with French architecture, swampland, a flood-damaged zone, and a tram service. It’s here that Cole must find six blast cores, which will amplify his powers and enable him to charge up a Beast-debuffing device. Wacky hijinks ensue as Cole searches for the cores, tangling with local crime bosses and swamp monsters on the way.

InFamous’s schtick is that you can choose whether to play urbexer-turned-electric-badass Cole McGrath as a goodie or a baddie – answering that old question of ‘why does everybody who develops superpowers turn into a vigilante?’ with ‘sometimes they don’t’.
The first game drew criticism for forcing the player down one path or the other and making it very hard to play a neutral Cole. 2 goes a little way to remedy this: far fewer powers are heroism/infamy-dependent, and while clearing a good mission still locks out an evil mission and vice versa, there is no longer any reputation requirement for taking a mission; so should you regret your wickedness, or want to turn infamous, it’s easier to start changing your ways.
Unfortunately, two sets of missions doesn’t come with two sets of cutscenes: Cole has the same dialogue in every cutscene regardless of karma, making for some sloppy characterisation and jarring gameplay/story segregation.

The electric man Cole is joined by new characters Nix and Kuo, who wield fire and ice and can even stack their powers with yours. This is pretty nice in gameplay, but is a poor piece of storytelling. The duo inexplicably hate each other – presumably the writers wanted to add a level of tension, but couldn’t be bothered to think of a reason for it. If feels as though there’s a missing cutscene in which Kuo trod on Nix’s jam sandwich. Just a couple of lines of exposition dialogue could have made this much more cohesive.
It’s also disappointingly similar to the first game, which has evil Sasha (cf Nix) trying to seduce you and goody-two-shoes government agent Moya (cf Kuo) directing your missions.

There are some problematic stereotypes in inFamous 2. Kuo is an Asian businesswoman who wears a modest business suit, and Nix is a black woman who wears very revealing clothing. There are two layers of tropes here. One is that (in the US at least, where this game was developed), Asian people are often portrayed as the ‘good’ or ‘ideal’ minority (stereotyped as being hardworking and intelligent) and black people are often portrayed as the ‘bad’ minority (stereotyped as being aggressive and uneducated). Kuo and Nix fall right into these categories. Nix is a particularly lazily-written character; chaotic neutral bordering on chaotic evil with no motivation for her destructive actions.
The characters’ clothing also falls in with the idea that ‘good’ girls are modest, and women who are open and comfortable with their sexuality are evil. Even their powers reflect this: Kuo uses ice (cool, suave, maybe even frigid) and Nix has fire (passion, anger, volatility). Ploddingly unoriginal.

InFamous 2 gives you some new abilities, including picking cars up with telekinesis and chucking them at helicopters. (Which means there’s no need to play Prototype any more; inFamous now has the best thing from that game.) It’s also got a little easier, and not to its detriment – checkpoints are denser, and the vehicle escort missions have been downgraded from buttock-clenchingly hard to a nice challenge.
Climbing is still an annoying endeavour, considering how much the game relies on vertical space as a player stratagem and to give the illusion of the city being much bigger than it is. Cole’s moves are slick but trying to get him to climb up a piece of scenery instead of magnetically pinging back to the previous hand-hold is sometimes ridiculous.

The game’s minimap is still really tiny and dark, and blast shards (power-up nuggets) still show up as indigo dots on the dark grey background. Amazingly, there’s no longer any altitude indicator for the enemy radar: enemies now always show up as red squares, instead of changing to indicative triangles pointing to enemies above or below. That was really useful and there’s no reason to have taken that out. The dead drops (exposition nodules) are now carried by messenger pigeons instead of being stuck to satellite dishes, and there’s no means of homing in on the birds like the dishes. You just roam around hoping to find a pigeon on your travels. Rubbish.

The user-generated missions are a lovely idea; it’s just a shame that they’re all a bag of wank. Sucker Punch have made the same mistake as Media Molecule, creators of Little Big Planet: assuming that people who aren’t actual developers have any level of game design ability higher than ‘suck’.

inFamous 2 is… good. You can’t say it’s not, and you can’t say it warrants a more exciting word. Its gameplay is more polished than its predecessor, but its story and characters feel like placeholders whose final versions were never implemented. Too often inFamous 2 feels like ‘I’m having fun pressing buttons’ rather than the ‘I’m immersed in this adventure’ it’s trying to be.