Rated Teen; Reviewed on PS3
Sucker Punch Studios “Sly Cooper” along with with Naughty Dog’s “Jak and Daxter” and Insomniac’s “Ratchet and Clank” made the PS2 the undisputed home of platform adventure gaming. With the power of the PS3 those companies have all moved on to more realistic adventures. Naughty Dog with “Uncharted”, Insomniac with “Resistance” and Sucker Punch with “Infamous”.
“Infamous” was an experiment for Suck Punch. A team that lived and breathed platformers rife with mini-games took on an enormous open-world game with coherent super-powers and a storyline based on the player’s moral choices. They mostly succeeded.
Where “Infamous” failed was in the depth and the details. The moral choices were completely binary but had almost no effect on the story. The characters were somewhat two-dimensional and the game had quirky gameplay and graphical issues that nagged rather than ruined.
“Infamous 2” improves on the original in almost every conceivable way. Some of the improvements are subtle, but important. For example the cut-scenes in the original were wooden and stiff. Here they’re fluid and engaging which draws you in all the more. The story in the first was good but fragmented. Here the story is tight and smooth with clear goals. Oh, and here you can climb chain-link fences.
The combat is solid, again, but the enemies are more dynamic and believable. Your powers have also advanced and the introduction of Ice or Fire powers (which you receive depends wholly on the choices you make) is handled well and logically as part of the story. There is the expected loss of power at the beginning of the game, but it’s handled as well as can be expected and you don’t ever actually go back completely to square one.
The much-discussed new melee combat is somewhat of a letdown. While it’s very cinamatic the tight camera also tends to cause confusion and some cheap deaths. The lack of any real depth is dissappointing and, especially on “hard” difficulty, you’ll often be killed by gunfire while performing even simple melee attacks.
Difficulty is again very even with “hard” mode accessible to most people (thanks to Sucker Punch for not leaping onto the “punish the player” bandwagon). Also, unlike the first game the last boss won’t send you into fits of rage at the spike in difficultly. Some missions are definitely irksome, but there’s always a method to succeed even if it’s hit-and-run-and-hide-rinse-repeat. The biggest problem is the tendency to be hit (and killed a single hit) by a stray rocket or grenade but this is rare enough and the checkpoint system generous enough that you never feel truly cheated.
Moral choices are still pretty black-and-white, but this time are handled a little more organically as they’re made by chosing who you’ll follow, the noble and heroic NSA agent Kuo or the selfish, anarchistic swamp-child Nix. The game falters a bit here as this brand of evil tends to be more the “ends justify the means” type than truly evil. Nix, standing in the game as “evil” incarnate, is instead portrayed as broken and haunted. You sympathize with her more than anything else.
Where the first game took your choices and, sometimes through rather cheap means, maintained a single major storyline regardless “Infamous 2” rewards your dedication with two completely different end-game scenarios. While the main aspects of the game are still the same throughout regardless of your choices the last hour or so is radically different depending on whether you’ve decided to be “good” or “evil”. So different, in fact, that it’s completely unclear how any sequel could possibly tie them together.
The city of New Marias has some of the same problems as the first game’s Empire City. Clearly the same engine was used as, still, there are no real indoor areas which lead to many of the same awkward settings (living rooms on rooftops make a triumphant return). The people are pretty much the same as the first game: aimless wanderers. New Marais is little tougher to get around than Empire City in some ways as there aren’t as many power-lines to be had, but this is offset by several new or improved movement powers later in the game.
On the plus side New Marias is simply a more fun city. You’ll find many small inside jokes on posters and marquees and strewn throughout the red-light district. Several excellent set-pieces are put to great use throughout the game and major decisions create persistent changes to them. Decide to risk civilian lives by smashing a street-car loaded with explosives into the enemy stronghold? Well, that burned out husk of a streetcar becomes a permanent fixture.
The characters are still a bit one-dimensional, but are well-acted and more importantly react appropriately. Zeke, your stalwart friend, is still the centerpiece and Sucker Punch deepens that relationship throughout the game. In a master-stroke one “mission” is nothing more than spending some time relaxing with Zeke drinking beers and watching bad TV.
Although I’ve barely scratched the surface of it myself Infamous 2 is also extended indefinitely by a rich and powerful user-generated content system (the first of its kind in the genre). Like all user-generated content the quality is definitely hit-and-(mostly)-miss but there’s no denying the depth of the experiences you can generate.
Infamous 2 is a highly polished game from master story-tellers. It’s fair to say that Sucker Punch is still a force to reckoned with. As I said, it’s really unclear how they could possibly follow-up this game given the endings, but whatever they come up with, I’ll be in line to play.