Wednesday, September 11, 2013

GOT 'IM - inFamous 2

Hey, it's a game I beat in 2011!  Well, I beat it again, and I still love it dearly.  inFamous 2 review incoming. 

I'll try and keep this one short-ish.  inFamous 2 was one of my favorite games of 2011; it expanded and improved upon the foundation of its predecessor while being a hugely entertaining experience.  You again play as Cole McGrath, a bike messenger who happens to acquire electricity-related superpowers.  In the first inFamous you fought street gangs and other powered beings ("conduits") in Empire City (fake New York).  In the second, you're up against a disingenuous demagogue, his army of redneck militia, elite mercenaries with Iceman powers, and mutated swamp monsters. how does that sound?  inFamous 2 pits you against those forces in a story with an impending catastrophe looming: the advent of The Beast. Well, not ten minutes into inFamous the Beast lands in Empire City and lays waste.  Cole, his buddy Zeke, and his new NSA agent ally Kuo barely escape with their lives on a boat to New Marais (fake New Orleans).  There, Cole meets some new folks connected to the conduits phenomenon, namely the teleporting anarchist Nix and the anti-conduit demagogue Bertrand.  By locating supercharged crystals called Blast Cores, Cole can incrementally expand his powers enough to take on the Beast, while it trudges towards New Marais leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

So that's the story setup.  Over the course of the game, Cole remains a focused, mostly neutral protagonist with a sarcastic streak while those other four (Zeke, Kuo, Nix, and Bertrand) provide some really interesting contrasts and character turns.  Like its predecessor, inFamous 2 has a karma system that rewards Cole's behaviors with Good or Evil powers; typically Good powers involve more stuns, bystander-friendly attacks, and ice powers while Evil powers involve more explosions, life-draining attacks, and fiery powers. It's... a little more complicated than that, but in general finding more Blast Cores in the game's story, performing stunt maneuvers, and increasing Cole's Karma ranking will unlock new powers, and it's a consistently rewarding experience curve. 

But wait, New Marais? Karma system?  inFamous is really about three things: the powers, the city, and choosing your path.  New Marais is smaller and less vertical than Empire City, but its four neighborhoods are very distinct and seem more alive that just about all of Empire City.  The party quarter is lively and amusing, the Flood Town area is depressing and sort of resonant, and the final area is very vertical, varied, and the most "impressive" of the sections of New Marais.  Basically, New Marais is a beautifully crafted environment with lots of personality and variety.

New Marais is a pleasure to explore in inFamous 2 in large part because of Cole's mobility.  Cole can race along power lines at impossible speeds, glide/fly off surfaces, launch himself up power poles, and climb with Spider-Man-esque aptitude on virtually any jutting surface, from wall signs to windowsills.  Many pieces of the environment are destructible, including balconies, train cars, and just about any vehicle.  Using a combination of damage and utility powers, players can blow up, toss around, or climb up and down a huge number of things.  And it's awesome.  If you aren't in a specific story mission, inFamous 2 is great at just letting players fuck around. 

Now, the powers.  Cole's powers are technically electricity-based, but truthfully he just has a weird variety of kinetic and energy powers that are sort of tinted with blue or red electrcity.  Cole's basic suite of powers are electricity-charged shots, grenades, pulses, missiles, summoned lightning bolts, and melee strikes supplemented by a few less-justifiable abilities such as telekinesis, draining the health of other humans via touch, locking criminals in place with electric shackles, healing others, and hovering in the air with electricity "jets" emitting from Cole's hands.  It gets weird. 

inFamous 2 makes these powers available via obtaining new Blast Cores as well as feeding from a slow trickle of experience points earned by performing just about any power- or mission-related task.  Roughly half of the available powers are limited to either a good Cole or an evil Cole (more on that in a paragraph or two), but regardless of your Karma Cole will have an impressive array of powers.  At one point in the game, Cole can add oil/smoke/fire abilities OR ice powers to his arsenal.  I think the ice powers have a little more utility for the standing ice jump alone, but both options are fun.  They're also tenuously tied to a karmic decision, which brings me to....

Karma.  Both inFamous titles have a "Karma meter" of sorts that judges Cole's good or evil actions and moves him along the continuum accordingly; I mentioned this earlier in the review.  However, well, this Karma meter isn't very special.  The decisions  you make are of the black and white variety, along the lines of "do I rescue the captured policemen or blow up a trolley car" or "do I heal the injured people at the clinic or murder the irritating street drummer?"  The evil side is strictly chaotic/evil and lacks the pragmatism of Mass Effect's Renegade alignment or even Skyrim's moral choices.  Basically, inFamous 2 only makes sense if you go full good or full evil, and while I found both branches entertaining, some gamers enjoy exploring good/evil quandaries rather than choosing a singular path.  inFamous 2 isn't about making difficult choices - it's about choosing to be a superhero or a supervillain.

The story to inFamous 2 would fall flat if it wasn't for its payoff.  It continues the foreshadowing of The Beast from the first inFamous and makes the Beast the central conflict, but adds Nix and Kuo to act as "guides" for the two karmic pathways and brings back Zeke to act as a ground for Cole, essentially reminding our protagonist of his humanity.  Zeke has improved so much from his mostly-annoying inFamous 1 incarnation that it's stunning - inFamous 2 is practically a bromance and I enjoyed every Zeke scene.  Eventually, inFamous 2's endgame results in perhaps the only truly thought-provoking and surprising karma option in the game, and boy howdy is it awesome.  The two endings are wildly different and both shut the door on a possible inFamous 3, which Sucker Punch circumvented by beginning the series anew with a new main character.  That's the right move.  inFamous: Second Son is the PS4 game to which I'm looking forward the most.

So I avoided talking about things like missions (there are a lot) or territory (also a lot) or user-generated content (surprisingly strong), but I don't want to bore you further.  inFamous 2 is an open-world action game of a GTA III lineage that places a superhuman in a vibrant city.  If running across rooftops and defeating monsters and gang members with lightning powers sounds fun to you, then we're on the same page.  Both inFamous games are worth it, but inFamous 2 is my favorite.  Hell, it might be my favorite PS3 game. 

Games Beaten: 2013 Edition
1. Persona 4
2. Pokemon White Version 2
3. 10,000,000
4. Persona 4 Arena
5. Persona 3 FES: The Journey (NG+)
6. Hexyz Force
7. Persona 4 (NG+)
8. Psychonauts
9. Tales of Vesperia
10. Guacamelee!
11. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
12. Final Fantasy VI Advance
13. Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4
14. inFamous 2 Evil Finish
15. Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis
16. Torchlight II (Classist)

Targets: 6/13


Yeah, I got sidetracked again.  Decided to beat two old favorites from 2011 and 2012 instead of get on with Metroid Prime or Lords of Shadow.  Plus a Wii game that I probably should have saved for 2014.  I'll hit those targets soon, I promise!  Just after I catch up to Orange is the New Black....

...and hey, at least I beat Tactics Ogre.  That review is in the pipeline.  

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