inFamous 2 review (PS3)

inFamous 2 is the sequel to Sucker Punch’s inFamous, released over two years ago. It was considered to be a breakthrough PS3-exclusive title and a showman for what the system could bring to the superhero genre void. Every critic on the planet raved on about its deep storyline, impressive visuals and smooth gameplay whereas it seems I am pretty much the only person who has a strong distaste for it.

Now inFamous 2 is trying to sweeten this sour relationship and come back with a more colourful environment, a revamp of certain gameplay elements, and by doing away with many of the story problems. Unfortunately, many of the same flaws are prevalent in inFamous 2 and it all boils down to a shallow, repetitive and often frustrating experience which has a surprisingly interesting conclusion.

The game is set around Cole McGrath and his buddy Zeke journeying down to New Marais (an alternate New Orleans) to try and battle a big bad known as the Beast. The story assumes you played the first game which is certainly a more meaty fan service than some games. For the most part it’s still its own story but starts to throw in annoying elements and there are strong, strong problems that come back to haunt it.

The story’s characters just aren’t interesting or even approachable. All of the relationships are forced upon you and the moral choices of good/evil (we’ll get to that) each pertain to a separate character, and when you’ve got full Karma at the end of the game there isn’t even a choice any more. Zeke, the “best friend” from the first game isn’t the “comedic relief” and there are signs of a good exploration of a relationship, but his “friendship” is simply forced upon you.

It was a problem of the original when the player was asked to care about Trish, Cole’s girlfriend, almost to the nth degree. Many choices revolved around her and it became annoying when the game asked you to care about a character that you'd apparently known and “loved” for so long. Trish’s memory comes back to haunt Cole for about two seconds so it doesn’t get in the way of the actual story.

The gameplay has been revamped ever so slightly but still revolves around the same structure of running around, talking to boring characters, doing side-missions and emergent situations (such as a bomb defuse or stopping a mugging). The pacing is certainly improved and you start the game already powerful and climb your way up to feeling like a god. The progression here is positive, but it all ends up feeling quite wasteful.

Your body absorbs electricity to fuel your powers, having to utilise the environment and alter it to help you fight bad guys. The enemy variety has been switched up to a bigger dynamic of small guys, medium guys, big guys and mini-bosses which means a giant whirlpool of battles forming around bigger battles. The excitement here is refreshing from the almost dawdling pace of the first game’s combat.

Melee has been improved and the flow of combat reminds me of the good aspects of Assassin’s Creed. It’s a shame, then, that the game suffers from “slow-mo cinematic zoom-in”, which completely kills off the pacing and actually subjects Cole to be shot in the face. The actual use of powers such as firing off electric bolts, rockets and grenades all feel way too familiar but they’ve been smoothed out thanks to two fresh ideas.

The upgrade system is more fleshed out this time and powers become more varied but take oon greater uses. R2 now lets you pick up cars or put up a shield that absorbs bullets and turns them into energy. The quick-swap menu on the D-pad allows you to mix up fights and alter your stance depending on who you’re fighting which all adds to a more welcoming random and emergent experience.

The other fresh lick of paint is the addition of completely new powers in the form of either ice or fire. It’s odd that these two also pertain to the shallow morality metrics of good/evil but it’s refreshing to see a game actually strong in where it’s going. Once you choose, you cannot have both, which mixes things up and the ice/fire elements mix into your upgrades stew to create almost an entirely new experience half-way through the same one. Like a dream within a dream...

The sad thing is that firing off electric bolts becomes repetitive, the mix-up of fighting stances becomes boring once you find all of the ways to adjust yourself, and the quick-swap feature makes the game quickly feel like it doesn’t have enough buttons. When you’re switching between lifting up cars and a grappling hook then you know that something is wrong and it really hurts the flow of the game.

The ending is particularly ballsy and I for one wholeheartedly support the darkly nature of either conclusion. This is an honest ending to whatever choice you’ve taken throughout the game and that motivation from Sucker Punch really does pay off. The separate Good/Bad karma missions I am still questioning, given there’s no point in the choice when you’re already at Hero level and going the other way of the spectrum actually punishes you.

inFamous 2 is a step up from the first game by a fairly good degree, but nothing to redeem its lack of empathy towards the player’s space in the narrative. There’s also a lack of any smooth gameplay but the visuals are now striking and often brave in setting a new tone away from the shallow grey of Empire City. This is an enjoyable but still often sedated experience that stretches itself out and wears thin, but once in a while, it shines with genuinely shocking moments Heh... shocking.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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