A couple of hours in to the continuing (mis)adventures of bike courier-cum-reluctant super mutant Cole MacGrath, you are granted your first ‘Ionic’ power. Up until this point you’d be forgiven for thinking this follow-up to 2009’s Sony exclusive was just a prettier retread of the original formula. Open-world setting? Check. Story missions interspersed with side quests? Check. Black and white morality system in place with absolutely zero grey area? Double check! But the moment you stand in the middle of a busy street packed with pedestrians and vehicles and unleash your new power you’ll have a stupid grin slapped on your face and be thinking to yourself “This is gonna be fun!”
Developer Sucker Punch introduced us to their new IP with the aforementioned deliveryman waking up, dazed, confused but largely unscathed at ground zero of a huge explosion that tore apart a large section of Empire City (Sucker Punch’s take on NY). The source of this devastation was a package he was delivering that contained a macguffin known as the Ray Sphere, a device that can enhance the electrical impulses in a human body. Imbued with electrical superpowers, Cole sets off to discover the what, why and where of the device and, in doing so, uncovers a conspiracy deeper than he could have imagined.
InFAMOUS 2 continues almost exactly where the first game left off. After a brief recap of key events that played out in the original (which it is almost mandatory to have finished) you are thrown in to a spectacular (scripted) battle with the prophesized Beast, a 400ft molten lava monstrosity, as it lays waste to Empire City. Needless to say, you get your ass handed to you and, with new character NSA Agent Kuo and original tubby buddy sidekick Zeke in tow, you hightail it down south to New Marais (read New Orleans) to recuperate and figure out how to defeat this ‘destroyer of worlds’.
The trouble with a lot of ‘sandbox’ games these days is a tendency to veer off the central narrative at any available opportunity with a myriad of side-quests, collectables and other non-story related missions. This can cause a loss of interest in the game as a whole as you end up chasing that final hidden package in the hopes of attaining the 100% completion stat. The beauty of the inFAMOUS games is that almost everything you do feeds back in to the main story and you never lose track of what you need to do next. Even the collectables give back-story or enhance your character’s abilities. And there’s a lot going on this time round. The Beast is your main worry, as you are constantly updated with it’s location in relation to yours throughout the course of the game, but there is also a Militia group to deal with and a mysterious plague that is slowly taking over the inhabitants of your new home town. Punctuated with hand-drawn cut scenes, this is comic book territory through and through.
Gameplay, on the whole, is a delight. You start the story bereft of all but your most basic powers, but this is enough to get you back in the swing of things as you start grinding and gliding your way around New Marais. Climbing is still a single button-mashing affair and you really do wish notes had been taken from the parkour elements of Assassin’s Creed or Uncharted 2, but this is a minor gripe and there are so many ways to traverse the expansive map you’ll quickly forget about it. As you obtain new and upgraded powers you are actively encouraged to mix things up in combat and, before you know it, you’ll be thunderdropping, force pushing and rocket launching your way to glory. Even melee has been enhanced with your new toy, The Amp. Although close-quarters combat can be hampered by an indecisive camera it’s still hugely satisfying, and hurling a militia member face first into the tarmac never gets old.
What powers you receive are largely dependent on which side of the morality coin you decide to play. Yes, the ability to play through the game as a good Samaritan or ruthless badass makes a return and it’s as cut and dried as before. There’s no benefit to playing the middle ground. But this essentially gives you two games in one and that really is no bad thing. As hero Cole you’ll be paying more attention to keeping collateral damage to a minimum and saving innocent bystanders left and right. As evil Cole you simply couldn’t care less as you charge through each set piece with reckless abandon. Playing through inFAMOUS 2 twice gives vastly different experiences and access to missions you will have missed out on during your first playthrough. The only downside here is that Sucker Punch may be painting themselves in to a corner if they have ideas about a third game in the series.
Another problem with open-world games is that after everything has been exhausted and the story finished, all you are left with is a pretty play area with nothing to do. Sucker Punch have seen fit to address this issue with the inclusion of User Generated Content. Taking their cue from LittleBigPlanet and Sony’s own ‘Play, Create, Share’ ethos players are encouraged to create their own missions with an incredibly in depth set of tools at their disposal. These can then be uploaded to the servers and dotted around every player's map for them to jump in and play at their leisure. Only time will tell how this will pan out, but it’s an inspired addition and something that I’d like to see a lot more of in future titles.
There’s a lot about this game that shouldn’t be mentioned in a review at the risk of spoiling players enjoyment. Beautiful visuals, an engaging story with rich characters and fluid controls are just the tip of the iceberg, but special mention must go to a beautifully written cutscene towards the end featuring Cole, Zeke and a couple of beers. It’s one of the most affecting scenes of any current game and Sucker Punch should be applauded for this one thing if nothing else. Rest assured this is a vast improvement over the already brilliant original and that stupid grin will remain with you until you’ve seen both end credits.
InFAMOUS 2 is out now on PS3